The Party Manifestos & Poverty: What you need to know!

In this blog Carla McCormack, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the Poverty Alliance, gives a whistle stop tour of the five main political party’s election manifesto anti-poverty commitments…povertystickers2

The party manifestos are out, and we have brought together the key commitments related to tackling poverty so you can see how they compare to the Poverty Alliance’s manifesto demands. Remember, this is designed only as a guide, and is not an extensive account of each party’s manifesto.  We recommend that you read the original manifestos too!

The SNP

In their manifesto, the SNP have committed to creating a new Scottish social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart.  With new powers, they have also pledged to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and maintain disability benefit levels while also making the assessment process fairer.

To help tackle child poverty, the SNP have promised the introduction of Finnish style ‘baby boxes’ and the establishment of maternity and early year’s grants. Alongside this they will provide free school meals to all two, three and four year olds who benefit from increased nursery entitlement.  Furthermore, the SNP have committed to investing £750m in a Scottish Attainment Fund, and increasing the child allowance within the Council Tax Reduction Scheme by 25 per cent.  They have also said that they will implement the recommendations of the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality.  They will also re-appoint an Independent Advisor and establish an Inequality Commission to advise the government and monitor progress.

On welfare reform, the SNP have committed to opposing welfare reform at its source.  They have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and restore entitlement to housing support for 18 – 21 year olds.

The SNP have said they will build 50,000 new affordable homes over the lifetime of the next parliament, and will introduce a Warm Homes Bill.

Moving towards work and employment, the SNP have promised that all social care workers will be paid the Living Wage by October 2016, and the number of Living Wage employers in Scotland will have doubled to 1000 by November 2017.  They will increase the number of Modern Apprentices to 30,000 per year by 2020 and will create new jobs grants for young people.  Companies which practice tax evasion or blacklisting will be excluded from bidding for public contracts under a future SNP government.

The SNP have also committed to extending participatory budgeting and encouraging communities to take advantage of the Community Empowerment Act.

Scottish Labour

The Scottish Labour Party has promised that if in government that they will fund a breakfast club in every school, and extra funds for poorer pupils.  They will increase the top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 per year to create a Fair Start Fund.  Scottish Labour has said they would ensure childcare was affordable, flexible and affordable, and would double the maternity grant for new mums.

They have committed to a new employment service, Skills Scotland, which would offer training for workers and unemployed people.  The have also said they would set up a Living Wage Commission tasked with making Scotland a Living Wage nation and to end the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts.  Labour has also pledged to ban those who avoid tax from bidding for public contracts.

On local authority funding, Scottish Labour have pledged to scrap the council tax, and to devolving tax raising powers such as a tourism tax, a land value tax and a surplus from the crown estate.

Labour has promised to build 60,000 affordable new homes across the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament including 45,000 for social rent.  They have committed to stopping cuts to public services.

On welfare reform issues, they have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and protect the right to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.  Scottish Labour has also promised to build choice into the Scottish Welfare Fund – offering people the choice of cash or goods.

Scottish Labour has pledged to scrap the 84 day rule for carers allowance and disability benefits.  They have also said they will use new powers to support pensioners using off grid energy to bring forward the payment of their Winter Fuel Payment.

Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives have promised to extend childcare hours to one and two year olds from deprived communities.  They have also committed to closing the attainment gap via standardised testing and greater freedom for schools.

They have said they will halve the disability employment gap, and will increase funding for the work choices programme.  On disability benefits, the Scottish Tories have committed to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and they will fast track applications for those with terminal illness.  They have promised choice in Universal Credit over frequency, split payments and housing benefit.

The Scottish Conservatives have said they will build 100,000 new homes in the next five years, and will work to reduce fuel poverty.

On local authority funding, the Scottish Conservatives have promised an independent review of funding mechanisms.

Scottish Green Party

The Scottish Green Party’s manifesto contains a commitment to giving public money only to those organisations which pay the living wage, avoid zero hours contracts, support trade unions, reduce the pay gap between the highest and lowest, practice gender pay equality and are environmentally responsible.

On social security, the Greens have said they will use new powers to top up child benefit.  They have committed to split payments being the default for Universal Credit, and expanding the sure start maternity grant to include second children as well as extending the eligibility criteria.  The Greens have promised to improve maternity and paternity grants, and provide high quality child care.

On disability benefits, the Scottish Green Party has said it will increase Carers Allowance to £93.15 and introduce a young carers grant, as well as reducing the number of hours threshold to qualify.  They have also said that there would be immediate support available for those claiming disability benefits, and they would abolish repeat assessments for those with chronic or degenerative illness.  Paper, online and telephone procedures will be used to replace face to face assessments.

The Greens have said they will build 12,000 new social homes; they will also use empty homes and vacant land.  On local authority funding, they will replace the council tax with a land value tax.  They have said they will introduce rent controls, and work to end fuel poverty.

The Scottish Green Party has said they will continue to push for the devolution of Access to Work and will guarantee the work programme is not delivered for profit.  They will campaign for the new work programme to include a clause which prevents it from sharing information with the DWP which would lead to people being sanctioned.  The Greens are supportive of calls for a gender quality in business scheme and will ensure that all care staff receive a ‘living wage plus’ of more than £9 an hour.

They have also committed to closing the attainment gap, and have said there will be a jobs guarantee for school leavers.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat manifesto commits to investing in education, money for which will be found by increasing income tax by 1p.  They have said they will invest in a pupil premium and expand early years education.  There will also be greater flexibility within free school meals so that parents can choose whether this is breakfast or lunch.

The Lib Dems have said they will use the power to create a new benefit to help people who are at risk of losing their job, or entitlement to other benefits because of mental health issues.

On childcare, the Lib Dems have promised to implement the findings of the commission for childcare reform.

They have said they will create a fair social security system, which is accessible and based on the principles of dignity and respect.  Like the other parties they have also committed to abolishing the bedroom tax, and have pledged to raise Carers Allowance in line with Job Seekers Allowance.  The Liberal Democrats have also said they will introduce Finnish style baby boxes, and retain the housing benefit entitlement for 18-21 year olds.

They have said they will pilot of carers leave for Scottish Government staff and support the development and provision of special health checks for carers by GPs.  The medial assessments for disability benefits will be made to take into account fluctuating medical conditions, and the Work Programme and Work Choices, will be replaced with new employability programmes.

On housing, the Lib Dems have promised more social housing, and to revise the empty homes strategy.  They have said that they will give councils power over local domestic and business taxation.  They have also said that they will allow housing benefit to be paid directly to landlords.

Your choice

There are real choices to be made on May 5th, and we hope that the electorate will use their vote to help tackle poverty. Our analysis of the manifesto’s highlights that all of the political parties are committed to actions that should help address poverty and inequality. These commitments are to be welcomed, but of course they should be read in the context of the other proposals that each party has made in their wider election manifesto.

It’s also clear that in some areas there are shared priorities for tackling poverty. We hope that the shared goal of tackling poverty and addressing inequality will mean that the parties can work together after the election to bring about real change. Too many people in Scotland struggle by on inadequate incomes, too many face uncertainty in their employment, and too many cannot access the services that will help them and their families out of poverty.

Over the next five years we will have real opportunities to begin to change this, to use new and existing powers to transform lives. We hope the next Parliament will act as one to make this transformation, and put the fine words into action. The Poverty Alliance and our members are ready to support, and hold to account, whoever is prioritising action to address poverty.  As always, we believe that with real political commitment, we can begin to turn the tide on poverty in Scotland.

 

Tackling Welfare Reform: Rejecting Blame, Promoting Resilience

Dr. Rosalind Tyler-Greig from Inclusion Scotland blogs on the impact of welfare reform on disabled people as part of Challenge Poverty Week 2015.

I was delighted to join the team at Inclusion Scotland earlier this month to lead their Rights and Resilience project. The project is a response to the recent package of social welfare cuts which have affected disabled people, and the litany of negative rhetoric about benefits claimants – a significant proportion of whom are disabled people – which has poured out of our media. The project will try to mitigate some of the negative impacts of welfare reform by sharing accessible information, providing training and resources, and raising awareness around welfare rights.

This is important because discussion of disabled people’s rights has been drowned out recently by stories which tell us benefits are expensive and that a large swathe of claimants are ‘chancers’ who are not entitled anyway. These stories re-write financial hardship and poverty as somehow acceptable, as the true deserts of the lazy and un-ambitious. I blogged recently about the role of benefits in compensating disabled people for the barriers they face in society – barriers that persist, and have even been added to as the compensation is being removed. In this post I will highlight the stories which try to justify this, and which move the attack beyond the financial and target the personal resilience of disabled people.

The first story is that ‘lots of disabled people are probably not really disabled at all’ and we should be terribly suspicious about claims for disability benefits. We hear daily about the people who ‘fake’ disability, the ‘cheats’ who cost us millions of pounds a year, the local campaigns being run to ‘tackle’ cheats, and the infuriating number of ‘fraudsters’ avoiding prosecution.

This has meant that disabled people being re-assessed for the new disability benefit feel exceptional pressure before ever submitting a claim. The world is staring suspiciously at them, and they are waiting to be ‘caught out’ and declared ‘not disabled’, a ‘fake’ or a ‘cheat’. They are worried they might have misunderstood something in one of the complex forms they’ve had to fill in, and now be held to account. They are worried about losing some or all of the money which helps them participate in society.

So are the people who lose out not disabled after all? Not quite. Disability benefits have simply become more difficult to get. For example, to qualify for the highest rate of mobility support a person must be unable to walk 20 metres unaided. Under the previous scheme, a person had to be unable to walk 50 metres unaided. At Inclusion Scotland, we estimate that by 2018, over 80,000 working age disabled people in Scotland will lose some or all of their mobility allowance. Impairments will not change, barriers will persist, but the resources to overcome those barriers will be given much more selectively.

Another story is that ‘benefits cost too much’, and the bill should not be footed by hard-working folk who have been sensible enough to earn good wages and lucky enough to have avoided any limiting impairments or health conditions.

In actual fact, almost all the money given out in benefits is taken back in tax. And the poorest households pay the most taxes when we account for everything that is taxed. Because of the types of things that taxes are then spent on, better off households benefit much more from taxes than poorer households. With 20% of households containing a disabled person living in poverty, disabled people are in fact disproportionately losing out in this system. Out-of-work and disability benefits do not even form the most significant portion of the benefits pie because 47% of the benefits bill is actually spent on pensions. Overall, the idea that we have a generous benefits system which needs to be capped to stop lazy people taking advantage is, as the Centre for Welfare Reform puts it, ‘ludicrous’.[1]

A final, and disturbing, tale is that ‘disabled people should work their way out of poverty’ because it is not the government’s job to stop them being poor. This was the advice of Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith – a man who has never had to use his own ‘services’ (or apparently ensure they work properly for others). IDS has not experienced exhausting conditionality. He has not had to live on a meagre amount and try to remain healthy, fed and warm, and able to find suitable work at a rate his government approves of. He has not experienced discrimination in the job market because he is disabled and may have access needs. Unfortunately, IDS is not so much telling a story as giving a directive – a directive which does not take into account the barriers which disabled people face, but expects people to find resources and stay well in increasingly hostile circumstances.

The overall story we are being told about disabled people is one with suspicion and lack of compassion at its core. It is not coincidental that we are now seeing more and more examples of hostile attitudes towards disabled people from their non-disabled peers. This news story gives one example. Inclusion Scotland’s Welfare Reform Research also highlights examples of disabled people being verbally assaulted by non-disabled people and being made to feel like second class citizens. In a climate where disabled people are targeted by cuts, we need a culture of solidarity. We need to find ways – together and individually – to boost disabled people’s capacity to cope. And a good starting point is rejecting the stories which try to cast disabled people as underserving and a drain on resources.

Inclusion Scotland’s Rights and Resilience project is working to uncover and promote some of the different ways in which the adverse impacts of welfare reform experienced by disabled people can be mitigated. We want to discover what can boost the personal resilience of disabled people. This could be about anything from great services and accessible information to supportive people and local networks. If you would like to share something which has helped you personally, or which your organisation is doing, we’d like to hear from you. You can find out how to get involved here.

[1] http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-az/who-really-benefits-from-welfare.html

The Cost of Being Disabled: Why Welfare Reform Cuts Deeper with Disability.

Dr. Rosalind Tyler-Greig from Inclusion Scotland blogs on the impact of welfare reform on disabled people as part of Challenge Poverty Week 2015

At 30 per cent, the poverty rate for disabled adults in the UK is twice that for non-disabled adults.[1]  This means that the experience of being disabled all too often goes hand-in-hand with the experience of poverty. It is of little wonder then that the welfare reform agenda has made a devastating contribution to the lives of disabled people – already more likely to struggle financially and now facing an onslaught of targeted cuts.

Disability brings a long list of daily expenses that non-disabled people are less likely to be troubled by.  It was recently reported that disability alone can cost around £550 per month.[2]  So, why is disability so expensive? There are a number of reasons. Inclusion Scotland’s 2015 Welfare Reform Impacts Guide, for example, highlights some of the impacts which visual impairment has had for one couple:

“our clothes get caught in things and ripped … we can’t cut our grass so we’ve got to pay someone … We’ve got windows to clean … Everything has to be paid for. But people don’t understand because people can do these things themselves. We can’t.”

It is not only people with visual impairments who may have to pay those types of expenses. Physical impairments or immobilising health conditions can also mean that people need to shell out for extra everyday expenses.  For example, there are extra heating and electricity costs associated with the need to use washing machines more often or recharge electric wheelchairs; and there are travel costs where people rely on taxis because buses are inaccessible.

Of course, all services come at a cost. But even the basic personal care which some people require daily is no exception. In Scotland, local councils charge people for any social care services provided at home or in the community.[3]  This might be help with bathing or getting dressed, doing the housework, or taking part in community activities.   And the amount a person has to pay varies depending on where they live. For example, the hourly rate for care in West Lothian is £8.28, but in Angus this jumps to £23.70.

Disabled people are under specific financial pressure. Covering the ‘basics’ does not always just mean the weekly shop. It can also include many important parts of personal care and the daily routine – and indeed, getting to shops in the first place.  It also doesn’t help that access to affordable care is a bit of a postcode lottery. A campaign has been organised in Scotland to draw attention to this and to advocate for equal and affordable care for all who need it.

You may now be thinking, ‘but disabled people receive benefits to pay for care’.  And you would be correct. Indeed, the purpose of disability benefits – such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is to help pick up the bill for these extra costs. To ensure that people are not left isolated, or hungry, or lacking basic care, if their health or impairment restricts their ability to work or move around easily.  However, while around 189,000 Scots disabled people of working age were receiving DLA in November 2014, it is estimated that by 2017/18 56,000 will have lost their entitlement completely and a further 49,000 will have partially lost out.[4]  The impairments or conditions people live with will not have changed, but tougher assessment criteria will mean that they have to find other ways to foot the bill disability leaves them with.

PIP is paid whether you are in or out of work, but ESA is only paid to those out of work. And another great barrier for disabled people is the world of work.  Disabled people are far less likely to be employed – in Scotland, the employment rate for working age disabled people has fallen to 43.9%, compared to 80.9% for their non-disabled counter-parts.[5] This isn’t because disabled people are less interested in work, either. In fact, out-of-work disabled people are more likely to want to work than non-disabled people who are unemployed.[6] And Inclusion Scotland’s report earlier this year corroborated this. If only employers could see past the ‘disability label’ and realise that impairments come in all shapes and sizes and are often not too difficult to accommodate.  Moreover, an Access to Work fund is in place to pay for the adaptions an employer needs to make to accommodate a disabled employee. However only around 2% of working-age disabled people in Scotland currently use this fund, so it needs to be better promoted.

As a result of being either too ill to work, or overlooked because of prejudice and rigidity in the labour market, disabled people are more likely to rely on the social security system as a whole and are therefore affected by a multitude of cuts. In fact, severely disabled people are affected by up to 19 different social security cuts.[7] This, together with the expense of disability, is a fast-track route to poverty. When benefits claimants are slated in the media or by our right-wing government, the attack is massively directed at disabled people who did not choose their position in society. When we think claiming benefits is some kind of lifestyle choice, we have swallowed a poisonous rhetoric. We have forgotten the reasons people receive benefits, and the reasons they might have no choice.  Worst of all, we are tricked into thinking that those living in poverty deserve it. They don’t.

[1] Employers’ Forum on Disability, via English Federation of Disability Sports 2015 http://www.efds.co.uk/resources/facts_and_statistics

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/think-im-living-the-high-life-on-benefits-heres-what-being-disabled-costs-me-every-day-10486682.html

[3] That is, any care which is not provided in a residential care setting.

[4] See Inclusion Scotland’s response to Committee’s Call for Evidence: The Future Delivery of Social Security in Scotland

[5]  Labour Force Survey, ONS Feb, April 2015 (not seasonally adjusted).

[6] http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/key%20facts.shtml

[7] Simon Duffy (2014) Centre for Welfare Reform

“Getting tough” on refugees creates a hostile environment for all of us

Jamie Stewart from the Scottish Refugee Council writes about the UK Government’s approach to asylum seekers and what this means for us all.

The UK government wants to “get tough” on asylum seekers and to create a “hostile environment” for some migrant populations.  But with so many barriers already in existence to refugees in the UK, can the blame for the UK’s problems really be pointed to refugees and what does this rhetoric mean for the state of social support in the UK?
As we continue to witness the largest global movement of displaced people since records began, the profile of refugees have rarely been higher.  The outpouring of compassion which arose around the tragic coverage of individuals seeking refuge in Europe may have focussed government minds on the need for action on Syrian refugees.  However, it appears not to have stemmed the flow of rhetoric seeking to blame refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants for Britain’s ills.  More worryingly, this rhetoric has been backed by further action restricting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, compounding problems of poverty, homelessness and inequality.
Poverty has long been a reality for refugees and asylum seekers.  Financial support rates for asylum seekers remains low and, in August 2015, asylum support rates for children were cut by 30% to £36.95 per week, bringing them in line with the general support rate that adult asylum seekers have struggled on for many years.   Barred from working, thousands of asylum seekers rely on this money and can remain in this position for several years.  Around two thirds of asylum applications will be rejected – although on appeal many of these rejections will be overturned suggesting the first decision was the wrong one. Only some of those refused asylum will get a cashless Azure card while awaiting deportation or for their case to be re-examined.  Others will end up destitute.
Securing status in the UK does not end the cycle of poverty.  Over 95% of new refugees need to make applications for mainstream benefits upon gaining their status  although most new refugees do not have a National Insurance Number.  Consequently, it takes around a month for new refugees to secure their benefits – over two months for claims for child benefit anf child tax credit.  Therefore, many refugees experience an extended period of destitution as they seek to resolve their benefit problems.
Most disabled refugees are unable to claim Personal Independence Payment due a 2 year UK residency requirement and there is a clear gender divide.  Proportionately more women claim Income Support, Employment Support Allowance and child-related benefits – those benefits which take the longest to process.  Men are more likely to be the “main applicant” in an asylum claim and are, therefore, allocated a National Insurance Number through the Home Office.  This means that, invariably, the man in a couple is the main claimant for all benefits, creating the possibility for exploitation and control in relationships.
Benefit sanctioning is a major issue with the majority of sanctions occurring soon after status and to those who have the least English skills.  Refugees rely heavily on discretionary funds such as the Scottish Welfare Fund and charitable funds from the Refugee Survival Trust and Scottish Refugee Council in order to survive in this transition period.
Homelessness is built in to the asylum process.  As accommodation comes to an end upon all successful asylum decisions, at least 92% of refugee households will be made homeless when they are given their status.  Tight timescales and a lack of material resources preclude many refugees from securing accommodation in the 28 days they are given to vacate their accommodation leaving new refugees at risk of street homelessness, sofa surfing and unsatisfactory housing conditions.   The links between homelessness, poverty, poor health and poor outcomes has been well established, presenting further barriers to individuals’ progress.
Although these facts paint a grim picture, it is important to look at what is happening to refugees within the wider context.  After all, refugees are only one group amongst many that have been demonised by successive governments.  The long term unemployed, the disabled, single parents and those with alcohol or addiction problems, to mention a few, have come under attack with consequent restrictions on their rights and entitlements.   Refugees and migrant groups are especially vulnerable to some of the more egregious of these changes and have been the guinea pigs for the introduction of schemes that the government would like to be established more widely.  Cashless Azure cards are a prime example of this but restricting the right to work, suppressing financial help, destitution, restricting support for disabled people, making learning a condition for benefits and restricting the right to rent a home could all be seen in this light.  They are tools with which to manifest blame.  And that is something we should all be standing up to.

Further details on how homelessness and poverty is affecting refugees in Scotland can be found in Insights into Integration Pathways: New Scots & The Holistic Integration Service.

Challenging Poverty in Australia!

jill_langOne of the inspirations for Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland has been a similar initiative in Australia. Below Jill Lang, National Co-ordinator of Anti-Poverty Week, describes the development over more than 10 years.   

Anti-Poverty Week in Australia was established in 2001 by the Social Justice Project at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and was inspired by the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17) and an inquiry into poverty by the Australian Senate. The Project’s Director, Julian Disney, is a former President of the International Council on Social Welfare and has been National Chair of the Week since its inception.

The Week quickly grew to be an Australia-wide program with nationally-coordinated leadership groups in each State and more than 450 activities each year. In 2014, more than 600 organisations convened or sponsored an activity during the Week. They included welfare agencies, community centres, overseas aid organisations, religious groups, schools, libraries, technical colleges of further education, universities, businesses, service clubs, unions, disability organisations and youth organisations.

Anti-Poverty Week is concerned with poverty around the world, especially in the poorest countries but also in wealthier countries such as Australia. The main aims are to

  • strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and within Australia;
  • encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.

The Week aims to encourage as many people as possible to express publicly their interest and concern about poverty and hardship. It seeks to demonstrate in this way that, contrary to assertions by many politicians and media commentators, most Australians are concerned about these problems and want action taken to address them.

In this way, the Week can increase potential support and reduce potential opposition for specific actions that may be advocated by particular organisations during the Week or at other times. This is enhanced by trying to involve as many people as possible from outside the welfare sector and other traditional sources of anti-poverty activists.

Anti-Poverty Week is a process for encouraging independent activities by a wide range of groups and people. There is a special emphasis on encouraging activities at the local community level, however modest or predominantly “social” in nature they may be, and also activities by “conservative” groups not usually associated with anti-poverty activism.

The Week’s areas of concern include ways of preventing people from experiencing poverty or hardship, as well as ways of helping people to escape from or reduce the impact of poverty and hardship. It covers a wide range of the causes and symptoms of poverty and hardship, including, for example, issues relating to health, education and housing.

Over the last 14 years Anti-Poverty Week in Australia has demonstrated the importance of showing solidarity with people living on low incomes and has highlighted what can be done to address the problem of poverty by a wide range of groups and organisations. We hope that Challenge Poverty Week will have the same success and together we can turn this into a global initiative.

To find out more visit Anti-Poverty Week. Remember to get involved in Challenge Poverty Week, which runs from the 17th to the 23rd of October. 

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But we’re not talking about someone buying the same shoes as you here. What the Government attempted to do in the recent Emergency Budget was to co-opt a social movement, a campaign rooted in the communities and workplaces, and use it to hide the fact that they are subjecting thousands of low paid workers and their families to further misery. Let nobody be under any illusion that the Chancellor’s budget was “pro-work” – what he is giving with one hand, he is taking back with the other, and then some.

It goes without saying that we will always welcome a rise in wages for workers. However, the new NLW rate of £7.20 is actually what the Living Wage rate was four years ago. So good news if you have a time machine and can go back to 2011, not so good if you are trying to get by in 2015.

The Living Wage – as set by the UK Living Wage Foundation – is based on thorough independent research which reflects public perception of what a low cost, but acceptable standard of living looks like. It’s about being able to participate in society – to live, not just exist.

The rate set by Government is a judgement of what the “market can bear” – it has little to do what individuals need to live on. The main concern is what effect it will have on the economy and the job market – not on individual lives.

You do not need to be an economist to work out that boosting pay by £4bn is not going to fill the £12bn chasm left by the simultaneously announced cuts to benefits[1]. Low-paid workers tell us that they are struggling to get by on their income now, so how are they expected to cope when the tax-credit reduction kicks in and leaves them worse-off, irrespective of any raise to their hourly rate?

Young people have borne the brunt of austerity measures with high youth unemployment, and low pay, zero hours and exploitative employers when they are in employment. And to add insult to injury, under 25s will not get this higher rate of pay, and under 21s will not be eligible for housing benefit. So if you are under 21 and in a low paid job, where does that leave you? Not everyone has a safe, loving home to move back into. Even if you do, why should young people have to bear the brunt for the UK Government’s attempts to cut welfare spending? We have met young people who are the sole earner in their household, who have additional caring responsibilities on top of their paid employment – where is their pay rise?

As a campaign, we need to ensure that we continue to highlight the difference between the increase in the National Living Wage for some and the actual Living Wage. We need all our partners and supporters to ensure they highlight the importance of having one clear independent calculation based on the cost of living.  At the same time we should support campaigns like SCoWR to fight for a decent welfare system that supports people both in and out of work. And most importantly, we need to ensure that we continue to encourage more and more employers to pay the actual Living Wage so that we can make a real difference to the lives of low paid workers.

[1] http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/analysing-the-national-living-wage-and-its-impact-on-britains-low-pay-challange/

Reactions to #budget2015

The UK Government’s emergency budget in July 2015 has provoked a great deal of comment. Changes to Tax Credits, freezing working age welfare benefits and the introduction of a so-called ‘national living wage’ have been just some of the issues that have been raised. Below we gather the comments of some of the leading members of the Poverty Alliance’s network in Scotland. To find out how to get involve din the anti-poverty network in Scotland visit our website at www.povertyalliance.org

 

Citizens Advice Scotland

Citizens Advice Scotland have said the welfare cuts in today’s Budget will impact most sharply on those who are least able to cope, and that more people may be forced into poverty and foodbanks as a result.

CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says:

“We are very concerned about the impact these cuts will have on the poorest and most vulnerable Scots – many of whom have already been hit hard by the previous welfare reforms. Once again it looks like the burden is falling on those who are least able to cope.

“Last year Scottish CAB advisers saw a 71% increase in the number of people who needed to be referred to foodbanks. Our concern today is that these cuts will drive that trend to increase even more.

“We of course welcome the move to a living wage economy, but it looks like for most people this will not be enough to off-set the impact of the wider cuts. We note too that the projected minimum wage rise to £7.20 next year still falls short of the Scottish living wage which is currently £7.85.

“The freezing of working age benefits for four years is a cut in real terms. And some of the welfare cuts appear to have been focussed sharpest at young people in society – many of whom will be left without adequate support, particularly those who have no families to support them.

“Anyone who is concerned about their finances can get expert advice from their local CAB or from our helpline on 0808 800 9060. CAB advice is free, impartial and confidential.”

Shelter Scotland

Cuts to housing benefit shameful

Commenting on today’s budget in which the Chancellor announced that automatic entitlement to housing benefit was being cut from 18-21 year olds, Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said:

“This is a youth tax and a shameful decision which is unjustified and cruel. It completely removes the safety net that is in place to protect young people whose circumstances often prevent them from staying in or returning to the family home.

“Whether it’s someone fleeing an abusive relationship or thrown out of their home, or someone caught between jobs a long way from home, we have a duty to support young people.

“Cutting this vital lifeline for many thousands of young people is simply wrong and I fear that, despite Shelter Scotland and other support service’s best efforts this will cause very hard times and lead to a rise in homelessness among young people.”

Graeme Brown added:

“Short-sighted cuts like this do nothing to fix the root cause of the housing benefit bill – which has grown due to the chronic shortage of affordable homes, a growing reliance on the private rented sector and sky-high rents. That’s why the reduction in the benefit cap doesn’t make sense as it will drive those affected by it out of their homes for not being able to pay their rent, in effect, clearing out people who rely on housing benefit from high rent areas.

“In Scotland, we need to build at least 10,000 new homes for social rent each year for the foreseeable future to tackle the shortage of affordable housing. By investing in affordable housing, not only would this bring hope to the 150,500 households on council waiting lists, it would also gradually reduce the housing benefit bill, which in turn would leave more funds available for investment in housing.

One Parent Families Scotland

Marion Davis, Policy & Research Advisor at One Parent Families Scotland said

“The budget has signalled 4 more years of austerity, with higher child poverty but lower taxes for the more affluent.

On the one hand the Chancellor offers a living wage 5 years ahead but this will be diminished by cuts to tax credits and a 4 year public sector pay freeze. In this pursuit of appearing tough on welfare: by freezing working-age benefits and tax credits for four years ; capping the level of benefit a family can receive; and removing Housing Benefit for the under 21yr olds  the Chancellor is punishing children who cannot help being born in into large, low income families. “

We are shocked at the announcement extending parent conditionality which means, from April 2017, single parents claiming Universal Credit will be expected to prepare for work from when their youngest child turns 2, and to look for work when their youngest child turns 3.  The required childcare infrastructure is not in place, nor is family friendly employment opportunities. This announcement will spread fear among single mothers and result in increased  loss of benefit and dependency on foodbanks and even greater child poverty. “

Barnardo’s Scotland

“A bad day for Scotland’s children”

In response to the Chancellor’s announcement today that future Tax Credits and Universal Credits will be cut, Eddie Follan from Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “It’s been a very bad day for Scotland’s children. Cuts to Tax credits and changes to Universal credit will leave more families in Scotland struggling to buy basics.

“It would seem that the pleas of those organisations who work with families, children and young people who are already struggling to make ends meet, have fallen on deaf ears.

“Barnardo’s Scotland was one of many who warned that any cuts to tax credits would remove a vital support to low income households across Scotland.

“By failing to protect tax credits for all, the UK Government is at risk of consigning more children to poverty.”

Child Poverty Action Group Scotland

Responding to today’s emergency budget Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland’s Hanna McCulloch said:

“We welcome the UK Government’s plans to ensure that the minimum wage is a living wage. However, on its own this measure is nowhere near sufficient to compensate the thousands of families who will lose out as a result of the cuts to tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit.

“Wages take no account of family size and even a substantial increase in the minimum wage will leave many families in poverty, struggling to meet the basic costs of feeding, clothing and housing their children.

“There should be no doubt that this budget is disastrous for working families across Scotland, depriving many of the last traces of economic security. What the Chancellor described as a ‘one nation’ budget will in fact divide and exclude, increasing child and in-work poverty while lowering taxes for the better off.

“Last week the UK Government announced its intention to move the goal posts and invent its own measures for child poverty; today’s budget cuts will see child poverty as it is currently measured increase dramatically and no amount of distraction will protect families in Scotland from the devastating impacts of this.

“This Budget does exactly what David Cameron promised his Government would not do. It cuts child tax credits and harms working families.

“All hard- pressed families want is a fair chance to give their children the best start in life. They need the Chancellor to tackle low pay and soaring living expenses. Instead, the Chancellor’s cuts have made life harder for low-income parents trying to do the right thing for their children.”

CUTS TO TAX CREDITS

“56% of poor children in Scotland live in working families but incredibly the Chancellor has removed tax credits targeted to help them.

“The increase in the personal tax allowance announced will be of little comfort to the 44% of working adults in the UK who earn too little to benefit from it. Meanwhile those who do see a marginal increase in their income will have much of that clawed back through reduced entitlement to tax credits and housing benefit.

“As the Resolution Foundation has noted, only about 1 per cent of what is spent on raising the personal tax allowance will benefit the low paid. It’s a tax cut for the better off rather than a helping hand for those on the lowest incomes.”

  • Official Scottish child poverty figures for 2013/14 are available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/statistics/browse/social-welfare/incomepoverty.
  • In the BBC Question Time Leaders debate, the Prime Minister pledged: ‘Child tax credit we increased by £450. That’s not going to fall.’
  • IFS analysis says limiting payment of the child element of universal credit (currently the child element of child tax credit) to the first two children in a family would in the long term reduce spending by around £3 billion. Affected families would lose an average of over £3,500 a year.
  • Resolution Foundation: “A single parent with one child, working 16 hours a week on the NMW could experience a cut in annual income of £845. To prevent this income fall they would need to boost their earnings by nearly £1,500 (due to high effective tax rates)” http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/will-wages-fill-the-tax-credit-gap-dont-budget-for-it/
  • IFS analysis shows that increasing the higher-rate threshold will benefit those who are currently paying the higher or additional rates of income tax – the richest 9% of adults – so not by any reasonable definition middle income households. See page 16 http://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/bns/BN172.pdf

BENEFIT CAP

“Lowering the benefit cap to an arbitrary £20,000 will hurt vulnerable families and do little to incentivise work. This cut will mean that yet more families in Scotland who are already struggling will face the impossible choice between paying their rent and providing for their family.

Scottish Trades Union Congress

Responding to today’s Conservative Government Budget statement Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), said:

“Despite presiding over the slowest recovery on record, the Chancellor continues to pursue the very austerity policies which have failed to effectively tackle the deficit whilst cutting public spending on desperately needed public services.

“Real wages are still almost 10% below pre-recession levels and the proliferation of low paid service sector employment relying on below Living Wage pay and zero-hours’ contracts is undermining the security of hundreds of thousands of workers.

“The Chancellors so-called National Living Wage, pitched at £7.20 next year, will be nothing of the kind and is simply a cheap gimmick aimed at undermining the successful work we have undertaken to promote a meaningful Living Wage that genuinely helps people out of in work poverty.

“Despite the statement that Britain deserves a pay rise, this will not be the case for many low paid public sector workers with the continuation of a public sector pay cap. This is another kick in the teeth for hard working public service workers.

“The most vulnerable will continue to suffer most and we have little confidence that measures announced today to help young and disabled people back into work will be any more successful than in the past. The Government appears to be relying once again on sanctions to get vulnerable people to accept precarious employment instead of proper support to help people access permanent and sustainable employment.

“It is simply grotesque that the Government should be handing out tax-cuts to the inheritors of millions whilst embarking on a further programme of cuts to benefits.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Responding today to the Chancellor’s Emergency Budget, Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“The Chancellor is right to focus on building a prosperous UK with higher pay and lower welfare and the role of raising pay and productivity to achieve this. The move to create a national wage which reflects living costs is an important and welcome recognition that the minimum wage falls well short of achieving an adequate standard of living.

“The £12 billion cuts to welfare have however been targeted at low-income working families, most of whom rely on tax credits to make work pay. Higher income from increasing the national minimum wage and the personal tax allowance will go some way towards closing the gap, but cutting support before the jobs market has had the chance to respond is a dangerous gamble. The cuts in tax credits and the reduction of the work allowance in Universal Credit, means that working families on low incomes will find it even harder to make ends meets.

“We need a credible long-term plan to make work more secure, build more affordable homes and lower essential bills, or times will simply get tougher for those on low incomes.”

The Poverty Alliance

UK Government One Nation Rhetoric Does Not Ring True

Anti-poverty campaigners have reacted with anger to the announcement of swingeing cuts that will affect young people, those in work and people starting a family. This is not a budget for one nation, but rather one that will help those who are already well off.

There were a number of aspects to the budget announcement that will give anti-poverty campaigners grave cause for concern:

  • Families affected by tax credit changes: from 2017 families with 3 children will be effectively penalised by the Government. The Chancellor has presented the budget as one to help families living on low incomes. Instead, it will trap many in poverty.
  • Changes affecting young people: This budget was a clear attack on young people – denied Housing Benefit, receiving a lower National Minimum Wage if aged less than 25, and if you live in England and Wales, no access to grants for university. Young people have suffered under 5 years of austerity and it looks as those this will only get worse.
  • Cuts to social security benefits: It was clear from the pre budget leeks that we could expect big cuts in benefits. Cuts to Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and freezing most working age benefits until 2019, will punish some of the most vulnerable in our society.
  • National ‘living’ wage: The Chancellor may have adopted the rhetoric of the living wage, but the reality falls far short. The Living Wage is currently £7.85 an hour. This new increase in the minimum wage is welcome, but it will not make up for the cuts to tax credits for many people.

The Poverty Alliance spoke with a number of people who had experience of living on low incomes

Lisa Maley, a lone parent from Fife, said

“The booming economy isn’t happening where we are. They are taking away the things that people need. If there are no jobs, what are young people supposed to live off?”

Derek Holliday from Glasgow said:

“We are condemning the next generation to a lifetime of poverty. These cuts will have an impact on people’s health and the lives of their children.”

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance said today:

“These cuts will hurt the most vulnerable people in our society.

“Lowering the benefit cap to £20,000 per annum is ideologically driven.  It will save very little money and will push more families into poverty.

“Changes to housing benefit and the introduction of the Youth Allowance are unfair to young people. The Chancellor has made a difficult environment for young people even harder.

“It is particularly distressing to see cuts to Employment & Support Allowance.  These are people who have been assessed as needing extra support to enter the workplace, and the Chancellor has seen fit to launch an attack on their already low incomes.

“We know people want to work but cutting their benefits and casting them as ‘skivers’ will not help them find a suitable job any quicker.

“It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable groups will once again be the people hurt the most by cuts to the welfare system.

“The Poverty Alliance has campaigned for many years for a Living Wage. We are pleased that George Osborne has finally recognised that the free market fails many people who are trapped in low paid employment. However, his ‘national living wage’ is not the answer.

“The Living Wage is £7.85 an hour, and is based on what people need. The Chancellor may have adopted the rhetoric of the Living Wage, but his policy still lags behind.”

Ten reasons why Iain Duncan Smith is right about child poverty

Glasgow Caledonian University’s John McKendrick writes about the new changes to how we measure child poverty…

On July 1st 2015, Iain Duncan Smith, the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, gave notice of a “new and strengthened approach to tracking the life chances of Britain’s most disadvantaged children”. Having digested the DWP Press Release and the Oral Statement that was circulated by the Head of the Child Poverty Unit, here are ten reasons why Iain Duncan Smith is correct:

1. “The relative income measure of poverty is flawed”
Of course, it is … if this measure is misused and overstretched. Setting aside what might be argued as the flaw of estimating child poverty ‘before housing costs’, as opposed to ‘after housing costs’, the relative income measure of poverty is flawed if it used in isolation to understand child poverty. But, that is not what it is designed to do – it is one of a suite of four indicators in the Child Poverty Act 2010 that, taken together, help us better understand the realities of child poverty in the UK.

2. “It [the relative income measure of poverty] was driving Government policy on an unsustainable path”
Of course, it is … because that [driving policy] is what targets are meant to do. As for its sustainability, you will consider it unsustainable if you subscribe to the view that we cannot afford to tackle child poverty and that there are no long-term costs (financial and beyond) of perpetuating child poverty. How might we be expected to increase the relative share of income and wealth among the most affluent in the UK if we simultaneously work toward eradicating child poverty? Clearly, tackling child poverty is “an unsustainable path” on that count.

3. “Many poverty analysts are concerned that setting a simplistic poverty threshold has warped government priorities”
Of course, they are … if the poverty analysts we refer to are those who are working toward ensuring that children do NOT live in a household with an income that is so far below the typical household income, as to prevent them fully participating in society. Why would any poverty analyst want to achieve this “warped priority” …

4. “Asking Government to raise everyone above that set percentage (60% of median household income) led to unintended consequences. Most of all to poorly targeted spending, pumping money into the welfare system”
Of course, it did … if work doesn’t generate sufficient income to provide parents/carers with a living wage and if children live in households in which adults are not able to support themselves through work (and the tiny minority who may not be willing to work), then the only way to ensure that children do not suffer from growing up in poverty is through welfare. It’s generally accepted that this is the whole point of a welfare system … to protect the most vulnerable in times of need.

5. “Looking at welfare overall – spending increased by 60% in real terms under the last government. … Driven by the need to chase a moving line”
Of course it did … because that “moving line” is a contemporary measure of what is required by households to prevent them being too far behind typical household income. If that moving line is not “chased”, then living conditions worsen for the most vulnerable. Surely, that’s not what is being proposed … is it?

6. “Despite all this spending, by 2010 under the last Labour government: (i) The number of households where no member ever worked nearly doubled; (ii) In work poverty rose; and (iii) the Government missed their 2010 child poverty target by 600,000 children”
It most certainly did … so what’s the plan to make work pay a living wage and to tackle child poverty? Surely, the plan is more than a desire to make work pay relatively much more than welfare by reducing welfare … because relative measures of income are flawed are they not …

7. “This is because the present Act does nothing: (i) to focus Government action on improving a child’s future life chances; (ii) to acknowledge the key role education plays; or (iii) to recognize that work is the best route out of poverty”
Of course it didn’t … because the Act set targets, which were supposed to be underpinned by policy to achieve these goals. The problem was not the Act, but the ineffectual policies that were used to achieve its goals.

8. “Work, I believe, is the best route out of poverty”
Of course it is … if we are prepared to ignore the fact that the majority of children living in poverty in the UK are now living in households in which at least one of the adults is in paid employment.

9. “The educational attainment measures will focus on GCSE attainment for all pupils and for disadvantaged pupils”
Of course it should … if we believe that the educational attainment of children in Scotland (disadvantaged or otherwise) does not matter. Now, this may be construed as pedantry from a dissident Jock (and, if I’m honest it is!). Then again, this is a classic example of the limited horizons of those responsible for shaping social priorities in the UK.

10. “We will reform the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to become the Social Mobility Commission”
Of course you should … because, why pretend you are serious about tackling child poverty in the UK when you are not?

This is not the UK that I want. What is proposed is unlikely to directly and adversely impact on my six year old daughter, or my first grandchild when s/he pops along in November. That’s not the point. I want better for their friends, neighbours and peers. In that sense, “we are all in it together”.

The half-truths of Iain Duncan Smith, the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, need to be exposed.

John McKendrick, Glasgow School for Business and Society, GCU.
j.mckendrick@gcu.ac.uk

Surplus food is no solution to food poverty

In February this year, the leaders of Edinburgh and Glasgow City Councils published a joint statement on food poverty in which they asserted: “we believe that food waste is not an effective or socially just solution to food poverty”. The Council leaders clearly stated food poverty to be an issue of social justice and human rights. Food banks reliant on donations from supermarkets and the general public cannot sustainably feed the increasing numbers of people facing financial hardship. Nor, in a society which prides itself on progressive values of social justice, should they be expected to. The call, made by MSP Stuart McMillan last week, that Scotland should follow France in legislating that supermarkets donate waste food to charities, threatens to undermine this position and further entrench food banks in Scotland’s welfare system.

Within the context of austerity, cuts to the welfare budget, and increasing conditionality measures placed on benefit claimants, food banks have become the lens through which we view these changes and debate their impacts. Speaking on BBC Scotland last Saturday Gillian Kynoch, Head of Fairshare Scotland importantly highlighted that redistribution to charities is only “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of the scale of food waste in this country. What was not mentioned however is that the number of people receiving this food via food banks and similar services is only the tip of the iceberg which is the rising number of those facing extreme poverty and destitution, unable to afford to feed themselves. EuroStat data shows that between 2010 and 2014 the number of people in the UK unable to afford a meal with meat (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day rose from 4 per cent to 8.7 per cent. Analysis of this data at a European level shows that with the introduction of austerity across Europe in 2009, the trend since 2005 of declining levels of food insecurity reversed and has remained raised ever since. In the UK there has been significant attention paid to determining the drivers of the growth of food bank usage, and in particular to evidencing the link with the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda. According to data from the Trussell Trust, the primary cause for referrals to their food banks for 2013/14 was benefit delays, followed by low income and benefit changes. More specifically, the punitive sanctions regime is reported as a significant factor in the rise in food bank use.

The bold statement from the two City Council leaders came as a powerful response to the recommendations of the recent All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom which called for an expansion of the food bank system, supplied by corporate food waste. The Inquiry’s report claimed that: “government alone does not have the skills or the adaptability that is required to wage a successful war on hunger” and recommended that financial incentives be introduced to increase the supply of surplus food to charities diverted from landfill – proposals which our Council leaders identified as “deeply flawed”.

Scottish Government commissioned research on emergency food aid published by the Poverty Alliance this year showed that those working in food banks in Scotland themselves feel deeply concerned about the increasing pressures put on them, mostly small, voluntary-run groups, to support the most vulnerable. It was felt that the state is failing in its responsibility to provide an adequate social security net. Elsewhere research has highlighted the impacts of food bank use on mental health and the stigma associated with having to access them.

If we are looking to examples from abroad, it is helpful to consider the evidence from countries where surplus food redistribution to food banks is long established. In Canada, for example, a study in Toronto found that food banks were used by less than a quarter of food insecure households – and where they were used, food banks were found not to reduce experiences of food poverty. We are at a critical juncture in Scotland and should carefully consider the implications of developing the infrastructure of surplus food redistribution at the expense of pursuing more sustainable and socially just solutions.

Mary Anne MacLeod, Research Officer at the Poverty Alliance and PhD candidate at Glasgow University

This isn’t about food: Emergency food aid, sanctioning and the stigma of poverty

At the first of our events bringing together food bank volunteers and others involved in emergency food aid in Scotland, there was very little talk of food. Exactly one week before the General Election fifty participants met at the STUC building in Glasgow, as yet unaware of the full extent of the further welfare cuts we are now facing. It was poverty, and in particular the crises caused by benefits sanctioning (evidenced as a key driver of the growth of food bank use) which focused the discussion.

The themes of the morning’s event were: sanctions and the Scottish Welfare Fund; working with advice services; and the stigma of poverty.  At the Poverty Alliance we believe that to tackle food poverty requires effort to challenge its structural and economic causes.  Our research found that emergency food aid providers also feel strongly about these issues and would like better information on how to offer effective support. As one participant commented:

“The food banks, in my opinion is a sticking plaster, it’s the underlying cause that needs to be dealt with. We talk about what needs to be done, well we are giving people food, why can’t other people give them the means to feed themselves – i.e. don’t cut their money, or give them nothing to live on”.[1]

The first speaker of the morning was Angus McIntosh, Senior Solicitor at Castlemilk Law and Money Advice Centre. Angus spoke about their work last year in establishing a relationship with food banks in the South East of Glasgow. In the twelve months since they began this partnership working, the Law Centre has taken on approximately 300 clients engaged through the food bank. The main problem experienced by the food bank clients Angus has worked with is to do with benefits (over 60%), namely sanctions. He highlighted that while the success rate for sanctions appeals is high, the number of those appealing sanctions is very low. The vulnerability of clients and the convoluted nature of the process were stressed as key barriers to appealing benefits sanctions. It is important that food banks have access to specialist advice so that those who have been sanctioned have support to make an appeal.

Hanna McCulloch, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, provided important context on trends in poverty levels and the cost of living. She highlighted that the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that by 2020 there will be up to 100,000 more children living in poverty in Scotland alone. The IFS has also stated the huge increase in child poverty projected is largely as a result of ongoing changes to the tax and benefits system.

On sanctions, Hanna highlighted that these have always been a feature of the benefits system but what is new their length and the extent to which they are being imposed. The minimum period of a sanction is four weeks, but that this can rise with subsequent sanctions up to three years. For this reason it is very important to appeal sanctions early.

An important source of support for those facing hardship is the Scottish Welfare Fund which replaces the Social Fund in Scotland and is administered by Local Authorities, not the DWP. Hanna highlighted some myths about the fund:

SWF Myths:

You can only get loans – not grants

You need to be in receipt of means tested benefits

You can’t apply if you’ve been sanctioned

You can’t get an award unless you are a UK resident

Her key messages to delegates were the importance of getting good quality advice to food bank users so that they know their rights and what the processes are for accessing support. She also emphasised the need to challenge sanctions and for people to be made aware of the process involved.

Carla McCormack, Policy and Parliamentary Officer with the Poverty Alliance gave a presentation which focused on the stigma of poverty. She drew on data from social attitudes surveys which highlight a hardening of public attitudes towards people who are in receipt of benefits. In 2010, 23 per cent of people thought that poverty was due to laziness and lack of willpower .

She also highlighted the misunderstandings which exist about the real drivers of poverty and the growing sense of there being a distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.  As many as 87 per cent of Scottish people believe that a major cause of child poverty is that “parents suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, or other addictions”.

The stigma and sense of being ‘undeserving’ impacts on those who are claiming social security benefits, they report feeling judged by others and mistreated by job centre staff. This stigmatisation may also reduce benefit take-up. Carla emphasised that by blaming individuals for their poverty, we are ignoring the real causes and failing to hold Governments to account.

Feedback from the session highlighted the value of networking with other groups and agencies – 80 per cent reported making new connections at the event. Sixty per cent said they learnt new things about sanctions and the Scottish Welfare Fund, while almost a third plan to do things differently in their organisations following discussion on stigma and challenging attitudes to poverty.

The growth in emergency food aid is a worrying indication of the rapidly rising levels of extreme hardship facing people in Scotland. As researchers and commentators have widely reported, food banks are neither a sustainable nor a socially just solution to the problem of poverty. By raising awareness and discussion of the structural drivers of poverty, our aim is to keep the focus on how we can ensure food bank users are linked in to welfare rights advice and other forms of support – a first step in addressing the reason they have had to use the food bank in the first place.

We will continue these discussions at our next event which is on 16th June in Edinburgh and we have further events planned for Aberdeen (27th August) and Inverness (22nd October). If you have any questions, please contact: Maryanne.macleod@povertyalliance.org.

[1] MacLeod, M.A. Making the Connections: A study of emergency food aid in Scotland. [www.foodaidscotland.org].