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Minister for Social Security- Thank you message

Jeane Freeman, Minister for Social Security, sends her thanks for your involvement in the development of Scotland’s social security system

The publication of the social security Bill is not only another significant step in Scotland’s social security journey, it’s also a historic moment for our country.

We now have the opportunity to decide on what works for Scotland and what we have published is an approach that works for the people who need it.

I want to thank you all for the role you have played in helping us to get to this point.

I have always been clear that the best way to create this new public service and a system that works is to build it from the ground up, using the lived experience of people currently in the UK benefit system, those working to support them and those with other relevant experience. With your help, ideas and challenge over the past year we are, together, making real progress towards our shared goals of a rights based social security system for Scotland that has the principles of dignity, fairness and respect at its heart and in its everyday work.

These rights are there clearly in this Bill and are embedded in our approach throughout – whether it is how entitlement to benefits is determined or in a more just review and appeals system.
We’re taking a planned approach to setting up that new system because it’s a large scale and very complex task and I am very conscious of our primary objective to deliver a safe and secure transfer of the benefits we will be responsible for.  Whatever else we can achieve, we must make sure that as the powers transfer, everyone continues to receive the support they are entitled to, at the level they are due and on the day they expect it.

We will not lose sight of the fact that investing in our people is investing in the future of our country.
Now, with the publication of the Bill, we take our next important step and I look forward to working with you, with colleagues across the Chamber, the Expert Advisory Group, our stakeholder interests and our Experience Panels to make the best decisions we can.

We have made a good start. But there are challenges ahead if we are to deliver a system of which we can all be proud. Thank you again for your work in getting us to this historic point.

 

Respecting the voice of experience

Carla McCormack and Rachel Thomson from the Poverty Alliance’s policy team look at the stigma of poverty and what it can mean to speak out

In last night’s television debate ahead of the General Election, a nurse admitted that she had been forced to use a foodbank.  This blog isn’t about nurses’ pay, or the election, but about the reaction that this statement provoked online and the impact this can have on people with direct experience of poverty.

The first area we want to address is the idea that someone on a nurse’s salary would not need to use a foodbank.  There were many tweets online about why someone on this amount of money would need to go to a foodbank, and many accused the woman of lying.  However, we already know that nurses are having to use foodbanks – we’ve seen evidence from the Royal College of Nursing on this.  With the cost of living rising faster than people’s incomes (both for those in and out of work) people are likely to come to pressure points and this is when they find themselves having to rely on food banks.  Housing costs, childcare and transport are taking up more and more of people’s incomes and one unforeseen circumstance could push many of us into needing help.

It is not up to us to make a moral judgement about how people spend their money.  The nurse in question had recently tweeted about a bottle of rose wine.  Many seized upon this as evidence of either lying or fiscal irresponsibility.  The problem with this is that it ignores the realities of living in poverty or on a low income.  It is the same argument that we see every time an episode of Benefits Street is on TV and people ask how someone could be in poverty and have a big TV.  People move in and out of poverty, very few people remain in poverty throughout their entire lives.  Items can also be gifts, bought on finance or with a credit card.  It is also important to remember that people on low incomes deserve the same treats we all enjoy – there are very few of us who can say we have never bought a treat when the money could have been better spent elsewhere.  There is often a clear double standard when we talk about how people experiencing poverty spend their money – for those who are well off a treat is deemed just that – a treat.  However, when people on low incomes do the same they are often deemed irresponsible and to blame for their own situation.

Finally, we want to raise the fact that by attacking someone online for saying that they have had to go to a foodbank to feed themselves or their family, we reduce the likelihood of people experiencing poverty speaking out.  People with lived experience are the experts but a stigma exists around poverty, and it is a brave and difficult decision to speak publicly about what it is like to live on a low income.  We work to support activists to do this on a daily basis but the reaction from many people last night will no doubt cause some of our activists to think twice about doing so in future.

People relying on foodbanks for food is a sign of societal failure, not individual failure, so let’s stop blaming people for their poverty and start addressing the structural issues that cause it.

You can find out more about the myths of poverty by checking out our Stick Your Labels campaign.

Give me five – The campaign to top-up child benefit in Scotland

Hanna McCulloch, policy and parliamentary officer at CPAG Scotland, outlines the case for a £5 top up of child benefit

In the last few weeks official figures have shown that rates of child poverty in Scotland have leapt from 1 in 5 to 1 in 4.

Despite receiving very little media attention, the figures are big news for the 260,000 children now classed as living in poverty in Scotland –  many of whom will have their prospects and hopes for the future dashed by a lack of the basic resources their friends and classmates take for granted.

Worse still, these latest figures could be just the tip of the iceberg. The Institute for Studies has forecast that by 2020 the number of children living in poverty in the UK will have doubled compared to 2010. And while a lack of good quality, decently-paid jobs is key cause of child poverty   the key factors driving up poverty are dramatic cuts to the UK social security system.

UK government policies  such as the decision to freeze the value of working age benefits (regardless of how much the cost of food or clothes or nappies rise) and cuts to tax credit and universal credit for working families have been cited time and again by independent analysts as key drivers of the ongoing rise in rates of poverty.

It’s a bleak picture and it can sometimes seem overwhelming. There’s a real temptation for us to throw up our hands in frustration and defeat. After all, what can really be done here in Scotland to make a dent in such massive rises in poverty and such swinging cuts in spending?

We should, however, steel ourselves and remember that, in reality, a huge amount can be done.

No, child poverty cannot be eradicated overnight in Scotland. But well designed, adequately funded policies could start to turn the tide on child poverty – and make a significant difference to the tens of thousands of families that are struggling to make ends meet. The Scottish Government knows this. It’s one of the reasons for its decision to introduce a Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill to eradicate child poverty in Scotland by 2030.

One policy that would set the Scottish Government well on its way to this goal would be using newly devolved social security powers to top-up reserved benefits.

CPAG along with the Poverty Alliance, One Parent Families Scotland, the Church of Scotland and the Children’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and many others are calling on the Scottish Government to use its new social security powers to top-up child benefit by £5 per week for every child in Scotland.

To some, £5 a week sounds like small change. Enough for a latte and a Sunday paper. But we know that it’s enough to make a significant difference both at national level (by reducing levels of child poverty by up to 14%) and at household level (by making a significant contribution to the everyday cost of living).

£5 a week could mean seven breakfasts of cereal, milk, fruit juice and a banana for a child. Over two months it could mean a good quality coat to see a child through the Scottish winter. Over the course of a year it could pay for a child to go away on a week-long P7 trip with his friends. These are real, tangible resources and experiences that could make a significant difference to the health, wellbeing and attainment of Scotland’s children.

£5 could also help to ease the pressure on stressed out parents that are struggling to make ends meet. Rebecca, a lone parent living in Inverness told us that an extra £5 a week “would be beneficial. With so many bills it would be one day less crying”.

While many support the idea of using top-up power to invest in family benefits, they are less convinced that child benefit is the right one to top-up. Surely it makes more sense, they argue, to top-up benefits that are only paid to families on the lowest incomes. Why not add £5 or even more to the value of means tested benefits like universal credit or child tax credit that are targeted at those on the lowest incomes?

Indeed, at a time of strictly limited resources and competing demands for government spending such an approach makes a lot of sense and it’s an approach that we have given a great deal of thought here at CPAG. The real difficult, however, is that getting extra money only to those at risk of poverty can be administratively problematic – even impossible – and would result in many of the children in the greatest need missing out.

Problems with making a Scottish top-up dependent on the family being in receipt of a ‘means-tested’ benefit include the following.

Means tested benefits are unpredictable

Cases that CPAG has gathered through its early warning system highlight the fact that means tested benefits are often subject to long delays, sanctions and suspensions – often with little rhyme or reason. The resulting sudden falls in household income often drive families into income crisis and to the doors of their local food bank.

A young couple with two small children have been left with very little income for five months and substantial rent arrears as they were repeatedly incorrectly advised that they were not entitled to UC. Initially their claims were not accepted and they were advised to claim tax credits, but this was refused as the couple live in a full service area. After three months a claim was accepted but immediately erroneously closed.

In terms of the Scottish Government’s powers, the problem lies in the fact that topping up unpredictable benefits would make that top-up unpredictable too.

Child benefit on the other hand is administratively simple. It isn’t based on complicated income calculations that can be botched. It isn’t subject to sanction or suspension. Indeed it is very often the only source of income that families presenting at food banks have when their means tested benefits and the system delivering them have failed.

Fewer and fewer families get means tested benefits

There was a time when most families with children at risk of poverty were in receipt of some kind of means tested benefit – whether that be income support or child tax credit or both. Cuts and restrictions to benefit entitlements, however, mean that the pool of families eligible for those benefits is shrinking. So while six out of ten families with children were eligible for tax credits in 2015, only five out of ten families will be eligible for universal credit by the time it is fully rolled out. In this way, making the Scottish Government’s top-up contingent on eligibility for UK benefits could chip away at its value over time, leaving many of the 70% of children in poverty  that live in working households at risk of missing out.

It can be hard to know who gets what means tested benefit

Finally, families move in and out of eligibility for means tested benefits over time as their incomes rise and fall with changing earnings, redundancy, pregnancy and the many other complexities of everyday life. Again if the Scottish Government’s top-up was linked to receipt of means tested benefit then it too would come and go as families circumstances changed. The real difficulty would be keeping up to date with who is and who isn’t entitled to these means tested benefits. Much of this information is held by the DWP or HMRC so making the Scottish Government dependent on those agencies ability and willingness to share that information in a timely way.

So while any use of new powers that significantly boosted family incomes in Scotland would be welcome there are strong arguments for prioritising a £5 top-up to universal child benefit.

Above and beyond administrative and practical concerns topping up child benefit would send a powerful signal that all children in Scotland are worthy of support. In terms of Scotland’s relationship with its social security system, sending a message like that could be invaluable.

If not now, when? Tackling poverty in Scotland’s BME communities

Rebecca Marek, policy and parliamentary officer at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, looks at how anti-poverty and anti-racism agendas could be better aligned

In the 2016 report “Shifting the Curve” from the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality, it was noted that minority ethnic communities are among the most disadvantaged groups and may have additional barriers to face in escaping poverty. Despite this, the report said there was not to be “detailed work on these groups at this stage.”

It is CRER’s hope with the upcoming Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and Social Security Bill – alongside several other anti-poverty initiatives – that the time for detailed work to eradicate poverty for BME communities has finally arrived.

BME individuals are twice as likely to be in poverty in Scotland as their white British counterparts, with racial inequality cited as one of the contributors to the widening gap between the richest and poorest in society.[1] Despite school leavers from BME backgrounds having better qualifications than white ethnic groups[2], the employment rate in Scotland is considerably higher for white ethnic groups (72.0%) than for BME groups (55.2%) aged 25-49.[3] Clustering in low-paid work is another significant factor in explaining greater in-work poverty among some BME groups, with BME individuals with good qualification levels facing greater barriers to finding work which matches their qualifications than their white counterparts. [4] Research demonstrates that BME groups have fared worse during the economic recession (since 2008) due to a range of labour market disadvantages.[5]

Despite all of this, BME groups have a lower rate of benefit take-up than white groups, whether due to lack of awareness of entitlement, stigma, discrimination, or other factors.[6]

This was the motivation behind a Scottish Government commitment in the Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030: “Work to fill the gaps in current knowledge on how and to what extent minority ethnic people are accessing the benefits they are entitled to and work to ensure that relevant policies developed to address benefits take up and provide access to advice services are equality impact assessed.” [7] This commitment underpins a key goal in the Framework in relation to racial equality in income and poverty.

Given this, CRER believes that a one-size-fits-all approach to anti-poverty work and social security work will not serve BME communities. This approach, while it may lower poverty rates overall, will not address the poverty gap between BME and white communities, leaving BME groups all the more disadvantaged.

We have seen this whitewashed approach reflected in the Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) for the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and the Partial EqIA for the Consultation on Social Security in Scotland. The EqIA for the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, while it acknowledges specific issues raised in response to the consultation, simply states that the evidence collected satisfied the Scottish Government that there was clear support for establishing the Bill. There is a significant lack of detail and consideration paid to the ways child poverty may manifest different in BME communities. The partial EqIA on Social Security – while not finalised – also has a concerning lack of detail about issues facing BME groups in particular and would benefit from the inclusion of quantitative information specific to the devolved benefits.

Equality must be embedded throughout the Scottish social security system, with processes built in from the beginning to ensure robust equality monitoring which informs policy and initiatives. The experiences of BME communities must be taken into account to ensure a Scottish-specific approach is free of the discrimination and stigma experienced currently.

For too long, anti-racism and anti-poverty agendas have been resigned to separate silos, with the particular causes, experiences, and routes out of poverty for BME groups often ignored in favour of policies that suit only the white majority. To deliver a social security system truly focused on dignity, fairness, and respect, racial equality must be a key consideration. If the time to undertake work on this is not now, when will it be?

 

[1] Kenway, P., Bushe, S., & Tinson, A. (2015) Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland.

[2] The Scottish Government. Summary statistics for attainment, leaver destination and healthy living.

[3] Scottish Parliament Information Centre. SPICe Briefing: Ethnicity and Employment.

[4] Kelly, M. (2016) Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Poverty and Ethnicity: Key messages for Scotland.

[5] Fisher, P. and Nandi, A. (2015) Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Poverty Across Ethnic Groups Through Recession and Austerity.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Scottish Government (2016). Race Equality Framework for Scotland.

 

 

 

With friends like these

A couple of months ago there was a widespread feeling of grievance in the voluntary sector when the Daily Mail carried a number of articles where leading figures and organisations were accused of being SNP ‘sock puppets’. This was a daft idea that didn’t stand up to any scrutiny. It’s unfortunate then that TFN appears to be feeding this idea in the article ‘The sound of silence: why won’t the third sector criticise the Scottish Government?’

This piece accuses the sector of having a ‘benign, lacklustre acceptance of pretty much everything’ and of refusing to criticise the Scottish Government – particularly around the new social security powers.

Unfortunately, this view just doesn’t fit with the facts. It doesn’t reflect our experience, or that of the other third sector and civil society organisations we work with. It not only fails to recognise the significant amount of campaigning done by third sector organisations in Scotland, but also the methods of campaigning.

On social security we, alongside our colleagues in the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, have been vocal campaigners for more than 10 years. Much of this has been focused on Westminster, but as new powers come to Scotland we have been increasingly pressing the Scottish Government to go further. So organisations like the Poverty Alliance and CPAG Scotland have been leading the call for the Government here to use its new powers to top up Child Benefit, lifting thousands of kids out of poverty. We could also point to the statement we issued just two weeks ago when the latest poverty statistics were released. In it we talked of Scotland’s poverty crisis and the need for Scottish Government to do more. Hardly the actions of ‘benign and lacklustre’ campaigners!

The article also fails to recognise where progress is being made with respect to social security. Setting up the ‘experience panels’ to enable people with direct experience of the social security to help shape the new system is a significant step forward. That kind of change should ensure that the future system in Scotland is more responsive to people’s needs, the kind of changes that many of us in the voluntary sector have been calling for many years. It would be churlish of us, at the very least, if we didn’t welcome it when the Scottish Government starts to implement some of the approaches we have called for.

Like most campaigning organisations, the Poverty Alliance works regularly with all political parties in Scotland, and at times this will mean working with opposition parties to table amendments to legislation or to call for questions in parliament.  At other times we will work directly with the Government, this is simply the reality of parliamentary work.  We will always welcome political announcements that will result in an improvement of circumstances for people on low incomes, regardless of which party they come from.

Of course, we have to be realistic.  There is little point in the sector wasting resources calling on the Scottish Government to do things that are outside of their control.  This doesn’t mean we have been silenced but it means we are targeting resources in a way to be most effective.

Are there organisations who are reluctant to campaign in a public way for fear of losing funding? Of course, but it is our experience is that it is often those who are service delivery focused, dependent on local authority funded. Rather than criticising campaigning civil society organisations, TFN would do better to continue to highlight where local organisations are being stymied because of unsustainable funding levels and practices.

There are many people who believe in an all or nothing approach to campaigning – if you’re not chaining yourself to railings or camping outside parliament, then you’re clearly not serious about change. Civil society organisations relationship with the state in Scotland is a bit more complex than this. No doubt there are some areas we don’t get right, and there is no question we need more significant change in the face of growing poverty and inequality. But criticising us for not mounting a real challenge to all of those who can make change, in the Scottish Government, is not only mistaken, but feeds an unjustified cynicism about the voluntary sector and about the possibility of real change.  As the ‘voice’ of the third sector, we expect far better.

Peter Kelly & Carla McCormack

The Poverty Alliance

20 things you could buy if your employer paid you the Living Wage

Today, we learned that the new Living Wage rate would be £8.45 per hour.  This works out as an annual salary, based on working 40 hours a week, of £17,576.  If you are under 25 but over 21 and earn the National Minimum Wage, working the same hours, you would earn £14,456.  A whopping £3120 less a year.  We’ve come up with a list of twenty things you could buy with that money!

  1. 120 driving lessons
  2. A two week all-inclusive holiday for you and a friend in Cancun with flights from Glasgow
  3. Prefer to travel alone? Spend ten nights at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas
  4. Treat you and 2000 friends to an original glazed donut at Krispy Kreme
  5. Buy 62 pairs of Adidas trainers
  6. Fashion your thing? You could buy 82 pairs of jeans from Topshop
  7. Keep yourself well fed with 4,500 tins of baked beans
  8. Pay 8 months worth of rent
  9. Buy a 2012 Fiat Panda
  10. Get over 200 pizzas from Dominos
  11. Or buy 600 Big Mac meals
  12. Embrace autumn with 960 Pumpkin Spice Lattes
  13. Get you and your family four of the latest iPhones
  14. Take 50 friends to a Justin Bieber concert
  15. Treat your mother with 100 bunches of flowers
  16. Look your best with 567 NYX lipsticks
  17. Keep warm with 20 pairs of Ugg boots
  18. You could buy 89 copies of the complete Breaking Bad Boxset
  19. See over 100 Partick Thistle matches
  20. Catch 328 movies at the Glasgow Film Theatre

 

Written by Rachel Thomson, Campaigns and Policy Assistant and Carla McCormack, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the Poverty Alliance

Living Wage Aotearoa Brings New Hope to Workers

Lyndy McIntyre Community Organiser, Living Wage Aotearoa Movement NZ

Three years ago, a new movement was launched in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The Living Wage Movement brought together faith groups, community organisations and unions — united in a concern about poverty and inequality and committed to calling for the living wage.

New Zealand is sometimes thought of as a land of plenty, even an economic miracle with a ”rock star“ economy.  The reality is growing inequality and poverty.  During the 1980s the wealth of this country increasingly shifted to the hands of a few and those on low wages became the working poor.

Concern about inequality in New Zealand has become one of the major issues, as an alarming number of working families sleep in cars and rely on foodbanks.  The low wages of cleaners, caregivers and workers in security, retail and other sectors are now at unliveable levels. Health and education outcomes are much lower for the lowest paid, who are likely to be Maori, Pacific or new migrant workers.

The Living Wage Movement in New Zealand was launched because of workers like Peniata Endelmann.  Peniata was 16 years old when he attended the launch of the Living Wage Movement with his mother. A single mum with three kids, she was struggling. Her cleaner’s wage was nowhere near enough to pay the rent, let alone for school sports, clothes and healthy food.  Peniata worked every day cleaning after school to help his mum.

Countless cleaners and other low paid workers in New Zealand simply cannot get by. Many work very long hours, often with one parent doing a day shift and the other working through the night. Many New Zealand workers struggle to survive, let alone participate in society.

Harsh labour laws, implemented in the early 1990s, decimated the union movement and New Zealand is one of the most deregulated countries in the world.

Unions representing some of the lowest paid workers in New Zealand looked for a way to organise differently to lift low wages.  Something that was working was the broad-based organising that led to living wage campaigns in the UK. The outcomes were inspiring.

That concern about the impact of low wages and the inspiration of the UK living wage campaigns, led to the formation of the New Zealand Living Wage Movement.

In 2013 a small group of unionists invited others from the New Zealand union movement and faith groups and community organisations with a common concern about poverty and inequality to join them in the new Living Wage Movement.  Local grass roots movements were launched in the largest city, Auckland, and Wellington, the capital.  Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ was born.

Three years later the movement has grown into an exciting, vibrant and strong movement, based on deep relationships and a partnership across the three streams of unions, faith groups and community.

The movement has over 70 member organisations and many supporting organisations.  Since a living wage employer accreditation programme was launched two years ago, over 60 employers have become fully accredited living wage employers, including two cathedrals, printing businesses, a software company, a range of ethical businesses and most unions.

But most importantly, the lives of hundreds of workers and their families have been transformed.

Like the UK Living Wage movement, the New Zealand movement can celebrate success with local authorities. In 2013 Wellington City Council became the first New Zealand council to vote to become a Living Wage Council. Local faith groups, community organisations and unions had repeatedly tuned out in large numbers to demonstrate that the people of Wellington want to live in a fair city and to call on their council to lead the way and pay the living wage to all workers, including those employed by contractors.

Since 2014 hundreds of workers at Wellington City Council have had their pay lifted as direct result of the campaign, including 40 low paid parking wardens who won a $4 an hour pay rise.  One of them said the pay rise meant he could be a “real dad” and reduce his hours from 60 to 40 a week.

In August this year the Living Wage Movement celebrated a major victory when 60 Wellington City Council workers employed via contractors won a 25% pay rise as a direct result of the living wage campaign. Those security guards, noise control officers and council cleaners were some of Wellington’s very lowest paid workers.

Angela Toa, a single mum who lived through the heartbreak of being broke with three teenage girls, has been a cleaner at Wellington City Council for 10 years. She said: “Cleaners can’t have decent lives on very low wages. The increase because of the living wage campaign will transform the lives of struggling workers and their families.”

In September New Zealand had local body elections across the country.  Local Living Wage Movements organised and through people’s assemblies challenged mayoral and council candidates to commit to the living wage should they be elected.

Hundreds and hundreds of local people from the faith groups, community organisations and unions who are part of the Living Wage Movement turned out to churches and community halls to challenge candidates to make a public commitment. Council cleaners and other workers told their stories of lives on poverty wages.  Local school children and other cultural groups performed. Faith leaders joined leaders from trade unions and health advocacy groups, refugee groups and homelessness organisations to call for fairer cities where councils took a lead on decent wages. The would-be politicians were challenged to make specific commitments.

The votes have been counted and the Living Wage Movement has won commitments in councils all around the country, including Auckland and including a commitment to finish of the job in Wellington and seek accreditation as a living wage employer.

Now the New Zealand Living Wage Movement is celebrating. We have a long way to go, but we have a growing number of living wage employers and we are set to call on the promises made by the new mayors and councillors in key local authorities.  Most importantly, we have begun to build a new kind of movement which is broad-based and rich with the diverse contributions of different faiths, mainstream Christian, Quakers, Muslims and others. It is rich with diverse communities, including refugee communities, advocacy groups for social justice and ethic and residents’ groups. And it is rich with a strong backing of the New Zealand trade union movement.

We are grateful for the movements which lead the way, including our friends in the UK, like the Scottish Poverty Alliance who are doing such inspiring work in winning the living wage for Scottish workers.

Greetings from the Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ to the Scottish Living Wage Movement. We are proud to be your friends and we look forward to sharing with you as we continue the living wage journey in our two countries at opposite sides of the world.

 

 

Child poverty – a time for action

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, he has recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill that seeks to set a new and binding UK child poverty target. The Bill will also require the UK Government to report on the impact on child poverty of policy decisions. Here he explains why it matters. 

 
In Scotland today 220,000 children face a future shaped by poverty, despite the fact that two-thirds of them grow up in a home where at least one parent works.

 
For those children this can mean living in a cold and cramped home, falling behind in school, and not being able to join in activities with friends. That is why in the wake of Challenge Poverty Week, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that child poverty is not part of Scotland’s future.

 
The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that over this parliament we will witness the biggest increase in child poverty in a generation. So the time for action is now.
I am introducing a bill into the UK parliament to set an ambitious target to reverse this trend. It is my hope that it can realise a common purpose to tackle child poverty.
A new and binding target will build consensus for action and hold those in power to account for the impact of policy choices. I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action across communities, employers and civil society.
I am pleased to receive the backing of the Poverty Alliance. As their director Peter Kelly says, “Poverty affects all aspects of a child’s life chances. In order to tackle poverty we need meaningful targets and a proper reporting mechanism.”

 
The last Labour government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. We have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

 
The UK government’s Autumn Statement in a month’s time is an opportunity to put children first and reverse the worsening trend. Planned changes to both taxes and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and shortsighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

 
Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. It is estimated that one in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. Poverty lowers productivity and limits spending power, undermining the strong economy we need for the future.

 
The Chancellor should also take the opportunity to make a cost-effective investment in all of our futures. The importance of a child’s early years in forming their life chances is well understood. A child born in a deprived area is likely to die nine years earlier than someone from a wealthier postcode. That is why intervention is crucial in those first years of life.
This approach recognises the link between children’s earliest years and their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

 
Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. It limits all of our potential because to succeed in the future we must create a country which makes the most of all our talents.

 
I look forward to engaging with Scottish charities and voluntary organisations in bringing my Private Member’s Bill to Parliament. I hope that it receives support from across political divides and we rediscover a cross-party consensus on child poverty. By doing so we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those children who need it most. That is the cause of our times.

 

 
This article first appeared in the Scotland on Sunday on 23 October 2016.

The Importance of Challenge Poverty Week – MSP Blog

Monica Lennon MSP, Central Scotland.

Poverty is a problem that affects 940,000 people in Scotland, including 210,000 children.

That means that, once housing costs are taken into account, one fifth of children, and almost one fifth of the whole population in Scotland, are living in poverty.

These are statistics that will be no doubt mentioned frequently during this week, Challenge Poverty Week, as organisations and groups across Scotland get together to highlight what they’re doing to address poverty and to discuss what action needs to be taken in response.

They’re also worth repeating again here, and at every available opportunity – that 940,000 people in Scotland live in poverty. And over half of those in poverty live in working households.

Challenge Poverty Week is about raising awareness about the impact of poverty in our society and about changing public attitudes about what poverty is, and what it looks like, and who is affected by it.

Public attitudes towards poverty in Scotland found that as recently as 2015, almost half of people thought experience of poverty is inevitable or just down to luck. But as a fair-minded society, how we can accept that it’s simply inevitable, or just a matter of luck, that a fifth of the Scottish population lives in poverty?

People in Scotland are struggling to get by every day due to a variety of pressures we’re facing as a society – low incomes, under-employment, lack of affordable housing, job insecurity, rising  food and clothing costs.

The causes of poverty are over-lapping and complex, but the idea that poverty is an inevitable part of modern life is a myth.

I’m joining the Poverty Alliance during Challenge Poverty Week to help raises awareness of how we can tackle its causes.

In the Central Scotland region that I represent as member of the Scottish Parliament, there are many impressive organisations actively engaged in tackling poverty and helping those struggling to get by.

R:evolve Recycle is a charity project run by Lightburn Elderly Association Project, which aims to get people to think differently about their textile consumption.

R:evolve operates three swap shops, including one in Hamilton, where all clothes are free and can be exchanged.

A third of members earn under £12k per year and 43% are families with small children. Since April, the charity has also donated over a quarter of a tonne of clothing to local people in need through a clothing bank. In the South Lanarkshire area, the average annual spend on clothing is around £440, which is only a quarter of what is spent across the rest of the UK.

Community Links is a charity which aims to tackle poverty through a variety of projects such as their food poverty co-op which aims to deliver a volunteer-led route out of food crisis to local people in need across South Lanarkshire and their SELECT project which helps people gain employability skills.

There’s also Loaves and Fishes, which delivers food parcels to people in need in South Lanarkshire.

These amazing third sector organisations are just a few local examples of where action is being taken to help combat poverty across a variety of causes – access to basic resources like food and clothing and as well as access to key skills and other requirements for employability.

We rarely talk enough about these efforts or raise awareness about the work that is happening in our local communities, or the  need for these services in our local communities in the first place.

Challenge Poverty Week to me is about taking the opportunity to raise awareness of these efforts, as well as focusing on how we can alleviate the causes of poverty.

Scottish Labour has proposed an Anti-Poverty Bill, which would implement all 15 recommendations of Naomi Eisenstadt’s report “Shifting the Curve”, which was published in January.

Labour’s proposal includes:

  • Abolishing the Council Tax and replacing it with a fairer system.
  • Building 60,000 affordable homes, including 45,000 for social rent.
  • Introducing a ‘living wage’ guarantee for all public contracts.

I’m also hosting an advice surgery on Monday 24thOctober at Fairhill Lifestyles Centre in Hamilton, to mark Challenge Poverty Week, where I will be giving out further information to anyone who needs it.

I hope by raising awareness about Challenge Poverty Week that others will be encouraged to take part, this year and every year thereafter, whether that be by finding out more about the situation in their local area, hosting an event to raise awareness or even by simply starting a conversation with someone you know about attitudes toward poverty. Together, we can start to change public attitudes and help to tackle the issue of poverty in Scotland, so that no-one has to live without what they need to get by.

The Importance of Decent Work

Francis Stuart, Research and Policy Advisor, Oxfam Scotland

‘Work is the best route out of poverty’ – or so the saying used to go. Sadly, while the risk of poverty is still greater for those without employment, having a job is far from a guaranteed way to lift people above the poverty line.

The growth of low pay, under-employment, zero-hour contracts, low-paid self-employment, and increasingly insecure work – much of which impacts most heavily on women – seems at odds with official statistics showing record levels of employment.

We can’t simply count the number of people in work; we must increase the quality of the work too.

Beyond money, when you ask low-paid workers about their working experiences in Scotland, a worrying picture emerges: from the barista paid less than the minimum wage, to the call centre worker who felt publicly humiliated by their manager for taking ‘too long’ in the toilet, to the sales exec who says she was made to take work calls while on maternity leave and then pressurised into returning to work six weeks after giving birth to her daughter.

These are just some of the stories revealed in new research undertaken by Oxfam in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland and Warwick Institute for Employment Research to examine what low-paid workers in Scotland prioritise in order to have ‘decent work’, and how far the labour market delivers on these priorities.

Crucially, this wasn’t research on low-paid workers but research with low-paid workers. Through individual interviews, focus groups, street stalls, and an online opinion poll, more than 1500 people across Scotland gave their views about what ‘decent work’ means to them.

Participants, who were recruited from low-paid sectors such as social care, hospitality and cleaning, prioritised 26 factors. Top of the list were: a decent hourly rate; job security; paid leave; a safe working environment and a supportive line manager.

These are fairly basic conditions which all workers should be able to expect. None are unreasonable or extravagant. But the experiences shared by participants, combined with an assessment of the labour market in Scotland, indicate there is still a long way to go despite welcome momentum on this agenda.

For example, despite a big push in Scotland, 445,000 employees – one in five – are paid less than the living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation. Job security is also a growing concern with 138,000 employees on temporary contracts and 78,000 on zero-hour contracts. Additionally, 324,000 working adults in Scotland do not feel supported by their line manager.

Our research discovered some important differences in what women and men value most from work. Women valued a number of factors higher, including having: a supportive line manager; appropriate support to return to work following an absence due to injury or ill health; access to financial benefits beyond pay, such as help with childcare; flexibility in working hours; and a job that is easy to get to.

And in many of these areas, women face extra barriers. Not only are women more likely to experience bullying and harassment in the workplace, they also face greater barriers in gaining a foothold in the labour market in the first place, are more concentrated in low-paid sectors and occupations, and continue to be paid less than men for the same work.

Our research also highlights important differences by age and disability status. With young people and disabled people more likely to be living in poverty, understanding these priorities is critical to attempts to address poverty in Scotland today.

What is more, the negative impacts of poor quality and low-paid work extend far beyond individual workers – they also make efforts by policymakers to reduce poverty much more difficult and negatively impact the whole economy. This is despite research showing employers who provide increased pay and improved conditions can benefit significantly through, for example, increases in productivity and lower staff turnover.

While we recognise the limits of devolved powers, our report makes a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government, as well as to employers. These include: giving the Fair Work Convention a specific role in investigating and improving employment conditions; ensuring public cash is used to incentivise and reward good employment practices; and the development of strategies to tackle low pay in sectors where it is endemic.

It is critical that efforts to deliver decent work for all are defined by the people who need it most. As our research makes clear, for low-paid workers, there is a significant job still to be done.