Let’s Open Our Eyes and Act to End Poverty in Scotland

Suzi Murning | Twitter

Suzi Murning is campaigns officer for a leading anti-poverty charity in Scotland. For Challenge Poverty Week, where organisations from across Scotland come together to demand action on solving poverty, she’s outlined 5 ways the Scottish Government can help end poverty. For more information read here: Challenge Poverty Week.

When you close your eyes and imagine the kind of Scotland you want to live in, what do you see? No doubt you are imagining a more equal Scotland, one where everyone, no matter their background, has the chance to live with dignity and to thrive, and one where our children’s lives are happy, healthy, and long.

When it comes to social justice, Scotland’s shared hopes and vision for our society is built on a convergence of moral values that we all bring to bear upon this vision: justice, equality, and compassion. Fundamentally, we all want a better Scotland.

This is the Scotland we see when we open our eyes: a society beset by poverty that disadvantages far too many of our fellow citizens, and inequality that intrenches this disadvantage.

One million people live in the grip of poverty, including a quarter of a million children. This moral failing is an affront to our shared values.

For those who find themselves trapped in poverty, the harm of this moral failure affects every aspect of their lives; their mental and physical health, educational attainment, employment prospects, relationships, and it robs them of the ability to enjoy a full and flourishing life.

There is no denying the impact of Conservative welfare policies in driving up poverty rates across the UK, including in Scotland, over the last decade, and that the planned cut to Universal Credit payments set to come into effect this week will sweep even more families into poverty.  But the purview of justice, as it pertains to tackling poverty, falls over all Governments and institutions who have the power to do something about it.

The Scottish Government have full or significant powers over all areas of competency where the most impactful solutions to tackling poverty lie – housing, transport, childcare, economic development, education and skills, and enough scope on social security to input sufficient investment.

This creates a moral imperative to act, with urgency, to stem this rising tide of poverty.  A majority of Scots agree: the Scottish Government can, and must, do more.

Here are five things the Scottish Government can do now that would help solve poverty in Scotland: 

1. Put more money in the pockets of those who need it most, now.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Poverty in Scotland 2021 report this week confirms what we already know, that Scotland is not on course to meet its statutory interim targets to reduce child poverty rates in Scotland by 2024. In fact, we are wide off the mark, meaning that if we are to have a chance of meeting these targets we must act with increased ambition and at an increased pace.

The most effective and immediate way to make an impact on child poverty rates is though boosting family incomes. The Scottish Government’s commitment to double the Scottish Child Payment should be introduced immediately, and they then must immediately look into plans to the double it again to £40.    

2. Boost employment

At the beginning of the pandemic, incomes fell furthest and fastest for those on the lowest wages, with young people being hit disproportionately hard. Unemployment in 16-24 year olds accounts for 57 percent of total fall in employment over the last year. The Scottish Government should examine the feasibility of a Scottish Public Sector Guarantee for every under 25-year-old without a job. Families where no one is in paid employment are most at risk of experiencing poverty, and this is especially true for lone-parent families, the majority of whom are women. The Scottish Government should increase funding for schemes like the Parental Employment Support Fund and Fair Start.

3. Childcare

Scotland needs to do more make sure all parents who want to work are able to find decent employment, but we also must ensure that we remove barriers to employment. Providing 50 hours of free childcare to all low-income families with children under the age of 16 is an essential part of widening access to employment and tackling poverty in priority groups.  

4. Build tens of thousands more homes for social rent  

Housing is a huge driver of poverty in Scotland, with many families only falling below the poverty line because of high rents. One of the most impactful levers the Scottish Government can pull to help families meet the rising cost of living is by building more houses for social rent that provide safe, warm and affordable homes.  

5. Public transport, especially buses, is an essential service for those on low incomes – make it free for those who need it most   

No one should be cut off from accessing vital services like health care, employment, education, or advice because they cannot afford the price of their bus fare. At a time when the cost of living is rising, making buses free for those on low incomes can open up opportunities, reduce inequalities, and help Scotland become a country where everyone has a pathway to realising their human rights.

All of these potentially life-changing policies can be enacted now by the Scottish Government. Sustained and implemented they would show that Scotland is truly committed to a better course for people and children in poverty. We don’t just have to close our eyes and dream of a better Scotland; with effort and resolve, we can also see it and live in it too. As we mark Challenge Poverty week, I hope Ministers and MSPs commit to doing so.

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