By Dan Yaxley, Good Food Nation Ambassador (@danyaxley)
The food system in Scotland is broken. Nearly 1 in 10 Scots experience food insecurity – a figure which rises to 21% for single parents. Food bank use is on the rise, with more than 200 providers handing out increasing numbers of emergency food packages in 2018, a number which is growing faster than anywhere else in the UK. More children than ever are experiencing ‘holiday hunger’ when they are away from schools, with more than 14500 given free meals during last year’s summer holidays. Despite Scotland’s rich food heritage and globally recognised produce, many of the food sector’s workers – whether in production, processing, distribution or service – are poorly paid, over-exploited and undervalued.
The system is designed primarily to drive profits and not in the interest of those who live within it. Wage freezes, the rising cost of living and changes to welfare have meant that many people are struggling to nourish themselves and their families. The Scottish Food Coalition (SFC) – a group of organisations who work collectively for food justice – believes change is needed, and right now Scotland has the opportunity to fix the broken system and improve the lives of its citizens.
The Good Food Nation Bill, which is currently at the public consultation stage, seeks to improve Scotland’s relationship with food on both a personal and systematic level, and is the best chance Scotland has to transition to a food system which is fair, ethical, and socially and environmentally just.
What does it mean to be a Good Food Nation?
It means that food workers earn at least the living wage, and food producers are paid fairly for their produce. The food that we produce is nutritionally sound, and food waste is minimised. The need for food banks is eliminated and access to healthy and sustainable food is not dependent on income. Public spaces, including schools, hospitals and care homes offer a high standard of food and can lead by example to influence change in other industries. Aside from this, a Good Food Nation protects the food environment, ensuring that land is used appropriately and animal welfare is of the highest standard.
The most significant way that we can make that transition is by invoking the Right to Food. This is guaranteed by international law but cannot be enforced until it is incorporated into Scot’s law. This would mean that food must satisfy three demands: availability (from shops or natural resources); accessibility (affordable, without having to compromise other basic needs); and adequacy (culturally and nutritionally appropriate, and safe to consume).
The legal framework to fulfil these food rights is essential in the fight to end food insecurity and poverty. For example, the Good Food Nation Act could push the government to increase social security for people who are struggling and to look at ways of improving access to food for those who currently go without. But this will not only help those who are struggling – if this right is enshrined in law, the government will be legally required to give everyone in Scotland access to a food system which works for them and their planet.
A Good Food Nation will set measurable targets which will be reviewed at regular intervals: the reduction in food insecurity; the reduction in food bank use; the increase in the number of food and drinks businesses paying the living wage, and more. It will create an independent statutory body which will enable the Good Food Nation agenda to be scrutinised and will ensure the government is held to account when implementing its changes. It will seek to form a Food Commission which will enable policies to be evidence-based and shaped by public experience. It will establish a Nation Food Plan, working towards the Sustainable Development Goals and with links to the National Performance Framework.
This is the Good Food Nation that the SFC wants to see realised. It’s the Good Food Nation that those living in Scotland deserve.
How can you get involved?
The best way to support the campaign for a Good Food Nation is by responding to the consultation. To make the biggest impact, you should respond directly to the Government’s own four questions. The questions are difficult, so the SFC have put together a guide which explains how to respond.
Or, if preferred, there is an e-action form available which allows for a less direct response which can be completed quickly and easily.
The consultation closes on March 29th. Be sure to have your say and help shape the future of Scotland’s food system.
By Ruth Boyle, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at Close the Gap
One of the key messages of this year’s Challenge Poverty Week is that poverty affects us all. At Close the Gap, we know that it affects women. We know this because the evidence shows that poverty in Scotland is gendered.
By this we mean that women are more likely to be in poverty than men; women are more likely to experience in-work poverty; women find it harder to escape poverty and are more likely to experience persistent poverty than men.
We also know that women’s experience of poverty is directly linked to women’s experience of the labour market.
What’s more, in line with the multiple labour market barriers experienced by different groups of women, the risk of poverty is even greater for black and minority ethnic women, disabled women and refugee and asylum-seeking women.
So why are women more likely to experience poverty than their male counterparts?
That women have profoundly different experiences of the labour market than men is a pivotal factor in women’s experience of poverty.
Women comprise the majority of low paid workers, and work that is seen as “women’s work”, such as cleaning, care and retail, is systematically undervalued in the labour market. Women are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities and therefore face the additional pressure of finding work that allows them to balance earning with caring. This sees women further concentrated into low paid and insecure work, as most part-time work is found in the lowest paid occupations and sectors.
Women’s employment is becoming increasingly precarious with women accounting for two-thirds of workers earning less than the living wage and 55% of workers on zero-hour contracts are women. The gender pay gap also means women earn on average 15% less than men, so it’s hardly surprising that employment is a key factor the high rates of women’s poverty.
This labour market inequality is compounded by gender-blind policy decisions. For example, social security is a major policy area that impacts women’s wellbeing and income. Women are twice as dependant on social security and over the decade of austerity from 2010 to 2020, 86% of net ‘savings’ raised through cuts to social security will come from women’s income.
We know that women are more likely to be in poverty and we know why, so the time has come for solutions.
Challenge Poverty Week asserts that poverty in Scotland is solvable and we agree. However, we can only challenge women’s poverty if we actively boost women’s incomes and challenge women’s inequality in the labour market.
Gender-blind anti-poverty measures may actually serve to entrench women’s inequality. Different groups need different measures. Anti-poverty measures must explicitly consider and integrate women’s needs. However, we also need an intersectional approach that recognises that women are not a homogenous group and so incorporates the specific needs of disabled women, refugee women and BME women.
There are a number of solutions to women’s poverty including addressing gendered undervaluation and increasing wages in low-paid sectors, creating a living wage for carers to which all carers are entitled, topping-up child benefit by £5 per week and, as the Scottish Government have recently committed to, a strategic action plan on the gender pay gap.
Implementing these solutions won’t only benefit women. Where women’s disposable income is reduced, spending on children decreases and the links between child poverty and women’s poverty are widely recognised. As such, solving women’s poverty will go a long way to solving child poverty too.
Challenging poverty is a gender equality issue. If poverty is gendered, our solutions to poverty must be too.
For more detail, take a look at our new ‘Women, Work and Poverty’ factsheet.
By Young Scot
Young Scot is working on a three-year National Strategic Partnership with the Scottish Government to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap while minimising stigma felt by young people.
Young Scot are supporting three initial pilot local authorities (Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire and Highland) to offer a different approach to reduce the attainment gap, challenge rural poverty and tackle inequalities in a non-stigmatising way. This will develop and test models of practice and delivery that can be shared across Scotland.
The first strand of the partnership involves Young Scot working with local authorities to deliver bespoke entitlements using the smart technology of the Young Scot National Entitlement Card (YSNEC) to overcome barriers to learning by improving health and wellbeing. This will minimise stigma: one young person can use their Young Scot NEC to access standard Young Scot discounts, whilst in addition to accessing these universal discounts, another young person can use their YSNEC to get an enhanced discount or localised free entitlement.
The second strand uses Young Scot’s existing platform of information, Rewards and discounts. This includes creating web and social media content with young people from each local authority to provide localised and targeted information. For example, co-created content which offers tips from young people in each of the local authorities about how you can look after your wellbeing. Young Scot are also working with partners to provide bespoke Rewards opportunities and experiences and are working to increase local discounts in the three authorities to put more money back into the pockets of young people.
Some examples of Local Authority work as part of the pilots include young people in Highland using their Young Scot NEC to access leisure facilities, after school and weekend meals at their local leisure centre, and to receive new sportswear or equipment. Using the Young Scot NEC allows young people to access services and products without stigma and can create long term healthy habits for the young people involved in the project.
In Renfrewshire young people have access to bus tickets which are loaded onto their Young Scot NEC, providing them with free travel to wider learning and volunteering activities they may have otherwise been unable to participate in. Removing this barrier allows young people to socialise with their peers and access new opportunities.
Finally, North Ayrshire have identified two pilot schools and are expanding free school meal entitlements to help young people access education with the best possible start to the day. By using the Young Scot NEC as a cashless catering card, young people can access breakfast and morning snacks in the same way as their peers who pay for their meals.
Whilst continuing to support phase one activity, we are in the preparatory stages of phase two of the project that will begin in March 2019 with three more Local Authorities. The project will continue to focus on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap, rural poverty and inequalities utilising the smart-tech of the YSNEC and wider Young Scot services, with the aim to empower young people across Scotland to reach their full potential.
For more information about the project, see the press release at youngscot.net/smart-tech-to-tackle-attainment and keep up to date by following #YSAttain on Twitter!
By Helen Melone, Research, Information & Project Officer for Energy Action Scotland
Fuel poverty is being unable to heat your home. Fuel poverty means having to make that choice between heating and eating. Fuel poverty means cold, damp homes.
Fuel poverty is a wider issue however than not being able to pay your heating bills. It has direct effects on your health: it worsens respiratory conditions, circulatory diseases. It affects your mental health as you struggle with high energy bills, and deal with energy debt. There are links between fuel poverty and increased mortality in winter, and links with health inequalities. Fuel poverty leads to repeat visits to your GP, and increased hospital visits.
Indirect effects include the effect on your health when you are unable to afford to pay the electricity to power the fridge which has your medication in it that you need to keep chilled. The effect on your health when you can’t afford the energy to pay for the lift in your home to help you get out of bed. The effect on your diet when you have to get food from the food bank which doesn’t need to be cooked. The effect on your children when they struggle in school and their attainment drops as there are no warm rooms for them to do their homework in. The effect when you don’t want to invite people into your home as it is so cold and mouldy which can then lead to social isolation and loneliness.
One of the key messages of Challenge Poverty Week is that poverty exists in Scotland and affects us all. Everyone is affected by fuel poverty. 26.5% of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty. 10% of these households are families with children while 41% are older households. The likelihood is that you or someone you know is currently living in the misery of fuel poverty.
So what is the solution?
The Scottish Government now recognises the seriousness of this issue, after much work by campaign groups such as EAS, and has made a commitment to address fuel poverty. They have introduced the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill which proposes to reduce fuel poverty to 5% by the year 2040. This new Bill will also introduce a new definition of fuel poverty that will focus on lower income households, and will develop a new long-term fuel poverty strategy.
The Scottish Government funds fuel poverty schemes and you can get energy efficient improvements made to your home which will help you save money on your bills. You might qualify for the Warm Home Discount scheme, or benefits like winter fuel payment or cold weather payments. There are also funds which can help you clear energy debt.
There is help out there. There are local energy advice agencies, environmental charities, Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing associations, energy teams in local authorities.
There are things you can do to help yourself. You can go to one of the above agencies and ask for help. You can hang thermal curtains in your windows and fit low energy bulbs to save money. You can switch your energy supplier.
Fuel poverty can be resolved; it just needs increased investment, increased collaboration and increased will to solve it. We all need to work together to ensure another generation of children are not condemned to poor health and outcomes.
By Ghzala Khan and Nadeem Hanif, West of Scotland Regional Equality Council (WSREC)
‘Minority ethnic communities also experience the highest rates of poverty in Scotland. The potential routes out of poverty for minority ethnic families and individuals are reduced by barriers, many of which are connected to structural and direct forms of racism.’ – Scottish Government Race Equality Framework 2016-2030.
The above research suggests that there is to some extent a disparity between minority ethnic communities residing in Scotland and the wider indigenous communities.
WSREC have a vision to “see an inclusive society free from discrimination”. What this means in practice is that our aims are to ensure individuals from all minority ethnic backgrounds across a broad range of protected characteristics are provided with additional support. This includes reducing inequalities and increasing access to mainstream service provision including welfare and employment.
Twenty five per cent of people from (non-white) ethnic minority groups were in relative poverty (before housing costs) compared with 14 per cent from the
White British group over the period 2011/12 – 2013/14. – Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Poverty and Ethnicity
We have found barriers to include language, little opportunity to up-skill and capacity build, therefore, resulting in an increase on individuals from diverse backgrounds suffering from financial stress which often leads to indefinite poverty, isolation and poor mental health. The vicious circle continues with individuals with poor mental health unable to come out of isolation and increase their income.
In the case of our delivery of service, we have come across individuals and families who at the moment are residing in the most deprived areas, on little or no income with very little opportunity to take positive steps to be financially capable, thus not being able to make informed choices to increase their resources. These communities include new migrants, asylum seekers and refugees along with second and third generation migrant communities. Additionally, areas such as fuel poverty and lack of access to welfare and housing often result in child poverty which is underreported in a lot of cases.
Therefore, through various research exercises and our project delivery, it can be proven that there is a link between poverty and race within Scotland.
To address some of the aforementioned issues we focus our service provision to ensure that we combat some of the barriers encountered by communities. For example, we ran a 3 year employability project to capacity build and empower individuals to develop their skills in order to access better opportunities within employment. Similarly, through our climate challenge funded project, we have trained energy advisors who assist communities in understanding energy, making informed choices to lift them out of fuel poverty along with reducing their overall carbon footprint.
Other projects we deliver include advocacy support, increase in civic participation, financial capability and addressing discrimination which in some form all connect to reducing poverty within diverse communities.
There are ongoing recommendations in Scottish Government publications such as the Race Equality Framework, the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and Every Child Every Chance which should be looked at by mainstream service providers. This will be beneficial when designing and shaping services to ensure that individuals from diverse communities are getting the same opportunities as the wider community when it comes to eradicating poverty within Scotland, especially when addressing minority ethnic community needs.
Links to publications
Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Poverty and Ethnicity https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/poverty-and-ethnicity-key-messages-scotland
Race Equality Framework for Scotland – https://www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00497601.pdf
Fairer Scotland Action Plan
Every Child Every Chance
By Calum Carson, Doctoral researcher at Leeds University Business School
As Challenge Poverty Week continues, it’s time to talk about an aspect of combating poverty in Scotland that can have immediate, important effects: by the boosting of incomes to levels which enable workers to afford a decent standard of living and participate fully in society, through being paid a real Living Wage. This week is also a good time to celebrate those campaigning for a Living Wage for Scottish workers and the more than one thousand employers in Scotland who voluntarily pay it, and enjoy the additional business benefits to their organisations of doing so.
But first, a bit of background. The Living Wage is a higher rate of pay than the legal minimum wage rates of £7.38 an hour for under 25’s and £7.83 for over 25’s under the “National Living Wage”, set instead at £8.75 an hour and £10.20 in London to better reflect the high cost of living in Britain today. These rates are independently calculated and are designed to ensure that those being paid the Living Wage are protected from experiencing the effects of in-work poverty, and are increased each year to ensure that they keep up with rising prices and bills.
As this week’s new Joseph Rowntree Foundation report shows, challenging low wages and recognising the importance to workers of being paid a Living Wage is essential in combating poverty in Scotland. The report finds that on average the majority of children in poverty in Scotland today have at least one adult in their household in work, and that in 2018 in-work poverty in Scotland has grown to the highest rate seen since the turn of the century, challenging the argument that employment alone is enough to avoid being in poverty: higher wages are also needed.
Since 2014 Living Wage Scotland have been highlighting the importance of employers paying a Living Wage to their workers, and the central importance of this in challenging poverty rates in Scotland. Employers who pay it are publicly recognised and celebrated for their commitment to ensuring that their workforces are not in poverty, and are rightfully proud of their voluntary efforts in going above and beyond the legal minimum in respecting and protecting their employees. In just four years the number of organisations paying it is over 1,200 and rising, a testament to both the campaign itself and the level of passion there is from Scottish employers for challenging current in-work poverty rates.
Organisations who have become accredited Living Wage Employers in Scotland hail from all sectors of the economy, ranging from large multi-site firms to small whisky distilleries, and from the public, private, and third sectors. Employers talk of paying the Living Wage as a “sign of respect” to its employees so that they can “afford to live”, and a belief that businesses have a responsibility to ensure that their workers are paid appropriately.
It is not only workers that benefit from a Living Wage, however, but those that employ them too. Testimony from employers who have become Living Wage Employers have drawn attention to the sometimes unexpected business benefits that result from raising their worker’s wages to Living Wage rates, ranging from boosts to their public image to falls in retention and rises in the quality of candidates at interview stage: the Aberdeen-based brewery Brewdog, for example, saw staff turnover on their retail sites fall 40 per cent upon accreditation. Recent research from Cardiff University reinforced these insights, with an overwhelming 93 per cent of employers reporting business benefits from paying a Living Wage to their employees. Paying the Living Wage, then, can be said to make both moral and business sense.
This year the first Living Wage Scotland Awards will be held, to ensure that the invaluable contributions of Living Wage Employers in Scotland are publicly recognised and celebrated as widely as possible. Individual employers have an important role to play in challenging and combating poverty across Scotland, and paying the Living Wage is a vital aspect of that. To all employers reading this and considering becoming accredited, do please get in touch with Living Wage Scotland here.
By Jessica Husbands, Campaigns & Policy Co-ordinator at Shelter Scotland
This week is Challenge Poverty Week, when organisations across Scotland speak up against poverty and how it can be tackled. When I tell people that I work for Shelter Scotland, poverty isn’t the first thing they think of. But poverty cuts across almost all areas of our work, so we cannot remain silent.
The main reason people came to us for help last year was because they were struggling to afford their housing costs. And this wasn’t just a problem limited to one group: affordability was a priority issue among private renters, social sector renters and home owners. In our advice and support services, we see many examples of the ways poverty impacts on housing issues:
- We see hundreds of families who aren’t claiming all that they’re entitled to under the benefit system, who may have been subject to harsh sanctions or hit by the benefit cap, and as a result can have as little as 50p per week to pay their housing costs. Because of this, they might struggle to pay their rent, resulting in rent arrears and leaving families at risk of eviction and homelessness.
- Many people looking to move house, or move out of their family or friend’s home to set up a new household, struggle to find anywhere they can afford in an area close to their support networks or a house that meets their needs.
- Rent in the private sector in Scotland has increased by 7.2% over the past 4 years, and far more than that in some areas. We have lots of renters getting in touch when they have just been told their rent is being increased, and don’t know how they’ll meet the new cost.
- Expensive gas and electricity bills, especially in winter, also puts a strain on households. Many of our clients worry about how they’re going to heat their home, on top of all their other expenses.
All this paints a pretty bleak picture. But Challenge Poverty Week is all about solutions, and there are lots of them. Tackling poverty needs long term, focused commitment, but it’s not rocket science.
1: We need to build more affordable homes
Here at Shelter Scotland, we’ve been shouting about the need for affordable homes for a long time, and with good reason. We can’t expect to see any real improvement in the housing crisis without an increase in good quality, affordable, social housing. The Scottish Government has committed to building 50,000 affordable homes by 2021, and current housing building figures show that target is within reach.
However, more work is needed to ensure that the right types of houses are being built in the right place. We also need to see commitments that go beyond 2021: the 50,000 is a great start, but only sustained commitment long into the future can provide lasting change.
2: We need a social security safety net that really supports those who need it
Adequate social security is vital to keeping a home and we have evidence that current welfare reforms are causing homelessness. The benefit cap in particular is causing emotional, financial and material hardship to the most vulnerable members of society, including families. We think the government should scrap this arbitrary cap and remove the freeze to uprating benefits to ensure that people get the support they need to stay in safe and secure housing.
Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which supports private tenants on low incomes to pay their rent, has been frozen for the third year in a row, while private renting is becoming increasingly expensive. Last year, almost half of our clients came from the private rented sector, and the proportion of private renters in Scotland is increasing as home ownership becomes increasingly unaffordable. We’re calling for an end to the freeze on LHA, so that households on low incomes can sustain private tenancies.
3: We need to make fuel poverty a thing of the past
The Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill has now been introduced to parliament. This will introduce a statutory target and a strategy to tackle all four drivers of fuel poverty. New minimum energy efficiency standards will also shortly be introduced to help make household bills more affordable. We need to make sure this Bill, the strategy and everything else does as much as it can to help the 649,000 households in fuel poverty today – and quickly.
What is outlined above is by no means a comprehensive list of how we can uncouple poverty and housing issues, but is an outline of a number of things that would make a huge difference to the 1 million people in poverty today in Scotland after housing costs, as well as the 29,000 assessed as homeless, 130,000 on the housing waiting list, and untold numbers struggling alone…
This Challenge Poverty Week, we’re calling for less talk, more action – just do it!
Earlier this year the Scottish Government published Every Child, Every Chance: The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018 – 2022. Among a host of commitments was one to introduce a new income supplement for low-income families; a welcome step that recognised the need to use the new social security powers that Scotland has to reduce poverty.
Why is this so needed? For many families, the cost of living is rising faster than their incomes – due to both stagnating wages and the benefits freeze. 1 million people in Scotland continue to live in the grip of poverty, including 1 in 4 children. This simply cannot be right.
So the development of the new income supplement – as a means of loosening the grip of poverty – is vital. Deciding upon how it will be delivered is the next step, and there is a range of options open to the Scottish Government. Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and the Poverty Alliance, along with a host of organisations from across civil society, have led the call to use new powers to tackle child poverty, campaigning specifically for a top up of child benefit by £5 per week. The Give Me Five campaign believes that there are powerful reasons for considering child benefit as a serious option for delivery of the new income supplement. .
We know that parents can often face barriers to accessing means-tested benefits, meaning that those who need the support most can too often be unable to access it. Delivering the new income supplement through topping up child benefit – which is received by most families – would bypass these difficulties and ensure that everyone who needs the additional support actually obtains it. As well as being the simplest and most efficient way of boosting family incomes, it may also be the best option financially, with means-tested benefits tending to be significantly more expensive to administer.
Sanctions, benefits delays and administrative errors are becoming all too common features of means-tested benefits, negatively impacting on families’ incomes. Child benefit is not part of Universal Credit, nor is it affected by sanctions. It is a stable and reliable source of income for families, which allows them to better plan and budget. Given that most families receive it, topping up child benefit would also help to keep children out of poverty and help all families cover the additional costs of having a child.
With 68% of children living in poverty in Scotland living in households where at least one person is in work, it is important that whatever form the new income supplement takes it supports working households. Again, topping up child benefit fits this requirement, with child benefit supporting families in and out of work – creating no problems when parents take up work or increase their hours.
Can £5 a week make a real difference? We think so, and the parents we speak to think so too. It could cover, for example: seven breakfasts of cereal, milk, fruit juice and a banana or over two months, a good quality winter coat, or taking part in a school trip or out of school activity each week; all things which can have a critical impact on children’s life chances. Of course, a supplement of more than £5 would go even further in supporting families and reducing overall levels of poverty.
So the Scottish Government’s commitment to delivering a new income supplement is welcome. It represents a maturation of our approach to tackling poverty in Scotland, and provides recognition that we do have at our disposal the tools to free people from the grip of poverty. In choosing how to deliver the new income supplement, Ministers must now take account of the need for urgency – families are in no position to wait for this vital income boost – as well as the need to maximize take up and support families in and out of work. Only by doing so can they ensure that every child truly does have every chance.
John Dickie, CPAG in Scotland & Peter Kelly, Poverty Alliance
(This is an edited version of a piece that will form one of Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls, part of the charity’s 25th anniversary campaign launching on 10 October. #25Calls’)
How do we achieve adequate minimum incomes for all? This is a question that is at the heart of the the European Minimum Income Network (EMIN) project. All across Europe campaigners, researchers and policy makers are debating what combination of policies is needed to ensure that minimum income schemes actually lift people out of poverty. As part of the EMIN project the Poverty Alliance has organised three round table discussions to consider how we may secure adequate incomes for all. The first discussion took place at the end of April 2018 and considered the pros and cons of a Universal Basic Income. In this blog Adam Corlett of the Resolution Foundation looks at some alternatives to UBI.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the policy idea du jour, especially among Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green members. But those three words by themselves are not a policy. The concept draws support for a range of different – and sometimes contradictory – reasons, and a UBI could be designed in countless ways with vastly different results. In addition, the debate often fails to engage with the real-life benefits system we already have. To help clarify which aspects of a UBI really matter to you, and which aspects may not be so appealing, here’s a set of thought experiments: what a UBI manifesto for incrementalists might look like (not all of them necessarily welcome). It shows that there are good ideas to be taken from the concept and the motivations behind it, but that UBI may not be the only or best way to achieve particular goals.
- Are you happy to have higher taxes to make benefits universal? Then restore child benefit to high earners
The UK did have a UBI for children until just a few years ago, but now child benefit is withdrawn from those earning more than £60,000 and partially withdrawn above £50,000. Yet few people have called for a return to a universal benefit, and its generosity is being rapidly eroded too. If you want a UBI then a return to a universal child benefit seems like an obvious place to start, coupled with finding £3 billion in tax increases – presumably from higher earners – to fund it. If you can’t work out a revenue-neutral but popular way to do that, then what hope is there for a working-age UBI?
- Do you care about how generous a UBI is or who is eligible for it? Then look closely at the state pension and other pensioner benefits
Alongside children, pensioners essentially get a UBI already. But, as debates about the pension triple lock have shown, that doesn’t answer the question of how generous that income should be or how any increases can be funded. The state pension also gives one example of how eligibility can be determined (in this case through years of taxpaying or non-work credits). Devoted fans of UBI could consider broadening those eligibility rules for the state pension to some simpler residence-based system. In addition, similar to the means-testing of child benefit, it was fashionable for a while to propose means-testing Winter Fuel Payments for the richest pensioners – as in the 2015 Labour and 2017 Lib Dem manifestos. But it would be inconsistent to support this kind of spending cut while also seeking a UBI.
- Are you willing to raise taxes to give poorer families more cash and better work incentives? Then increase benefits, beginning by stopping and reversing recent cuts
Is your intention to reduce poverty, or to soften the tapering away of means-tested income when poorer people move into work or progress in work? If so, the urgent priority should be preventing the £14 billion of working-age welfare cuts currently being rolled out. And even if that were done, there’s a lot more that’s needed, including boosting work incentives for second earners in Universal Credit, lowering its taper rate and increasing our skeleton-thin out-of-work support. Child benefit too could be increased, rather than being allowed to fall to new historic lows relative to earnings. You don’t need a complete overhaul of the tax and benefit system to do any of that (and a full UBI would take many years to implement anyway, with change needed much more immediately). But boosting income growth and work incentives for low to middle income families in these ways inevitably requires – through tax increases – reducing income growth and work incentives higher up the income distribution. Is that a cause you’re prepared to support?
- Do you want to reduce jobseeking requirements and sanctions? Then do so, and experiment with their abolition
For some, the most important part of UBI is not about the generosity or means-testing of benefits. Instead, it’s about ending conditionality. It’s certainly easy to criticise the bureaucracy and imposition involved in jobseeker’s allowance and disability benefits, and especially the added sanctions of recent years. But this shouldn’t be a binary choice between the status quo and having zero requirements: there is a whole continuum of conditionality. As Beveridge intended, requiring jobseekers to seek jobs can help everyone if done reasonably, and has played a role in the UK’s impressive employment performance since the 1990s. It also helps maintain public support for out-of-work benefits. But this is an area where we can easily experiment. The government could, for example, simply tell a random selection of Universal Credit claimants that their payments are now unconditional (but still means-tested) and see how their outcomes compare to other claimants in terms of eventual employment, pay, education and well-being. Surely the results would be of interest to everyone?
- Do you favour recurring cash benefits over other forms of support? Then replace free bus passes, home-buying subsidies and more
Is the cash nature of UBI important to you? If so, maybe there are some programs of non-cash support that could be redirected. Free TV licences for the elderly could be replaced by cash, as could free school meals for the young. And housing programs like the Help to Buy ISA could give annual cash to all young people instead of a one-off subsidy for some. Or perhaps policy should go in the other direction. The TV licence could be made free for all. As could bus travel or internet access. Free school meals could be extended to all pupils. Ultimately there is a trade-off between cash support and the potential provision of free public services, so which should be the priority?
- Do you want benefits to be based on individuals rather than families? Then increase support for couples and ensure each partner separately receives some cash
A key feature of UBI is that it is done per individual. This means couples would get twice what singles do, whereas at present couples get less than double to reflect economies of scale and so better target money based on need. A simple way to get closer to UBI would therefore be to increase benefits for couples while cutting them for singles, until couples get twice as much. Would that be a good thing? Also important is who actually receives the money, and another option would be to split Universal Credit payments equally between partners by default (rather than a single payment) to ensure that each person has at least some personal income.
- Should benefits go to families with private savings too? Then reduce asset-based means-testing
Benefits can be means-tested based on wealth as well as income. In Universal Credit, any savings above £6,000 will lead to reduced entitlement with nothing for those with more than £16,000 in savings. These limits rarely get discussed. The argument in favour is that people should draw down their savings first before receiving help from the state, but this does inevitably reduce the incentive to save. Is this one area where those on the left and right could agree to greater universality and less conditionality? And how would such a change be funded?
- Should benefits take less account of housing need? Then cut housing benefit in expensive parts of the country and redistribute to homeowners
The thing about a pure UBI is that it should be equal across the country and – as above – be blind to wealth. Housing benefit has already been uncoupled from local rents, but can we take that much further? That could mean big cuts in housing benefit in more expensive local authorities, and a redirecting of that money to low income homeowners (or at least mortgagors), who don’t receive any housing benefit at present. Or would a UBI instead be introduced on top of housing benefit (and disability benefits) rather than as an alternative? In which case, is it really a simplification at all?
- Do you want a simpler tax and benefit system? Then merge more benefits into Universal Credit and the state pension, and merge National Insurance into Income Tax
One argument made for UBI is that it would be simpler. The experience of Universal Credit should show that simplification is not necessarily quick or easy to implement, but fans of UBI should support its goal of integrating six benefits into one (particularly because this will hopefully boost take-up). Once that is achieved, it might be possible to go further, integrating other benefits like Council Tax Support, contribution-based benefits and carer’s allowance. A range of pensioner benefits could be merged into the state pension too. And the tax system could of course be simplified – not least by merging Income Tax and National Insurance. But are such simplifications worth the potential disruption and political cost?
- Should we remake or restate the case for welfare spending?
If the 9 steps above were made, the UK’s benefit system would be significantly closer to a UBI, for better or worse. But how voters view that spending is another timeless question, and in part depends on how it is portrayed by those in politics and the media. We could all do more to frame benefits as more than just charity, and to avoid stigma – not least to encourage everyone to claim what they’re entitled to. Benefits are personal insurance and redistribution within people’s own lifetimes: from when they are in work to when they are retired, parents, ill or unemployed. But they also need to be seen as a partner to the tax system, offsetting the distributional impacts of consumption taxes and sin taxes, and as a way of sharing some of the inherited natural, institutional and technological wealth of the UK. Quite aside from the technical trade-offs above about how to design the tax and benefit system, UBI advocates do have a point that how we communicate and justify that system matters too, even if a UBI may not be necessary to change that.
Adam Corlett is Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation. This blog was originally published by the Resolution Foundation
After almost four years, this is my last week working for the Poverty Alliance. I leave knowing much more than when I arrived, particularly about the steps that we need to take to build a better Scotland. Since I joined the Alliance in 2014, poverty in Scotland and the UK has continued to rise but I am also more certain than ever that it doesn’t need to stay that way.
Working with the Poverty Alliance and third sector organisations across Scotland has opened my eyes to the extent of poverty across Scotland, but also to the solutions and the strength and resilience of individuals and communities.
This year was the fifth Challenge Poverty Week and more organisations than ever got involved, with over 150 activities taking place across the week. These activities ranged from the Poverty Alliance’s annual conference to a fun day in Priesthill, and at each event I attended I met people with a real drive and commitment to tackling poverty and making Scotland a better place to live for everyone.
I have been incredibly lucky to spend the past four years with the Alliance. My colleagues there are some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated anti-poverty campaigners in Scotland. Their belief that a better Scotland is possible has kept me going in the face of growing despair as the true impacts of welfare reform has become apparent.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched as my colleagues on the Living Wage team have increased the number of accredited employers in Scotland from 15 to over 1000. I’ve witnessed our research team produce reports that have been hugely influential in how we speak about issues relating to poverty, and I’ve seen our fieldwork team work with community activists who can deliver speeches 100 times more powerful than anything I could ever hope to say. On the policy and campaigns side, we have seen Stick Your Labels making real changes to the way organisations talk to and about people experiencing poverty, and have witnessed the discourse around social security change to talking about dignity and respect. We have also had a significant impact in the passage of important legislation such as the Child Poverty Act.
I know real change is possible because I’ve witnessed the Poverty Alliance deliver it, and as we watch the new Social Security Bill progress and the development of the new agency, organisations like the Poverty Alliance are more important than ever.
To paraphrase Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, lobbyists do not always have a good name but Poverty Alliance are first rate champions, and as I move on I know I leave you in capable hands.
Carla McCormack, policy and parliamentary officer, Poverty Alliance