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Everyone's problem: poverty in Scotland

Everyone's problem: poverty in Scotland

Poverty: Credit - Holyrood

Poverty and inequality affect every aspect of life. It is widely acknowledged that those who live in poverty have worse health, poorer educational attainment and ultimately, lower life expectancy than those considered more affluent.

Last month, Philip Hammond presented the Autumn Statement and announced that the National Living Wage – the minimum wage for over-25s – will rise by four per cent from April 2017, from £7.20 to £7.50.

The figure – recommended by the independent Low Pay Commission – is 10p lower than some had been expecting because average wages have been lower. However, it will still be the equivalent of a pay rise worth over £500 a year to a full-time worker.

The Treasury said Hammond’s package was designed to “improve the living standards of ordinary working-class people and their families”, in line with the ambitions set out by Prime Minister Theresa May in her speech to the Conservative conference in October.

However, Katherine Chapman, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “There’s still a gap between the Government minimum and our real Living Wage of £8.45 in the UK and £9.75 in London, which is based on what families need to earn to meet everyday costs. 

“We encourage as many businesses who can to join our movement of 3,000 UK employers who are going further to pay a real living wage because a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”
According to the New Policy Institute, some 55 per cent of people in poverty in the UK are living in working households – including millions of children.

Its report says in-work poverty has increased by 1.1 million people since the economic recovery began, with the rise driven by the crisis in housing, including the challenging rental sector.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who commissioned the report, said the UK economy was “not working” for low-income families, and called on the UK Government to reverse welfare cuts.

The annual Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report said 13.5 million people, equivalent to 21 per cent of the UK population, is now living in poverty.
Of those, 7.4 million, including one in every eight workers and 2.6 million children, were living in a working family.

The report also said the number of people living in poverty in the private rented sector had doubled in a decade to 2.5 million households, while half of children living in rented accommodation, including social housing, were in poverty.

In Scotland, the report said 960,000 people are in poverty, 26 per cent of whom are disabled, 45 per cent are working families and 30 per cent are private renters.
The picture of poverty north of the border is mixed. For example, it was revealed recently that while life expectancy for Scottish men and women has continued to improve, they still die younger than people in other parts of the UK. Statistics from the National Records of Scotland, released last month, which cover 2013-15, put life expectancy at 77.1 years for baby boys and 81.1 for girls. This is two years lower for men compared to the UK average and 1.7 years less for women. And even within Scotland there were large differences. For example, men in East Dunbartonshire can expect to live for 80.5 years, which is 7.1 years longer than those in Glasgow City.

The gap between Scottish and English life expectancy for both males and females has widened since 1980/82 – by 0.3 years for males and by 0.2 years for females. Scots of both sexes continue to have the lowest life expectancy at birth of any of the four UK countries.

In October, the Scottish Government published 50 “ambitious actions” to tackle poverty and improve lives. The Fairer Scotland Action Plan lists how the Government, over the next 14 years, will end child poverty, achieve a strong start for all young people and promote a “thriving” third age.

Some of the measures include:

  • setting a target for councils to make at least one per cent of their budgets available for community-designed projects
  • making funds available to support disabled people running for elected office
  • delivering 100 per cent superfast broadband and helping low-income households reduce costs
  • convening an affordable energy summit
  • the first national plan for British Sign Language
  • helping to promote family-friendly working
  • introducing a bill to establish domestic abuse as a specific offence

Communities Secretary Angela Constance said: “Our ambition is for a fair, smart, inclusive Scotland with genuine equality of opportunity for everyone. Our Fairer Scotland Action Plan backs up that ambition with concrete action.

“It contains 50 specific steps to create a more equal society – including eradicating child poverty – and a new £29 million programme to tackle poverty. We are also the first in the UK to commit to making all public bodies consider how our big decisions tackle poverty, by implementing a socio-economic duty.

“In addition, some of our best-known employers are joining us in these efforts by signing pledges to do more. They see it’s not only the right thing to do but also good business. This is a watershed moment in Scotland and a significant milestone in our quest for equality. Through these bold and ambitious steps, Scotland will be a fairer, more equal country for everyone by 2030.”

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, said while there is much to be welcomed in the action plan, more could still be done.
He added: “Efforts to address the stigma that many people living on low incomes experience is critically important. But equally important is ensuring that everyone has access to an adequate income.  

“With new powers over social security and taxation coming to the Scottish Parliament, it is important that we are ambitious and do all we can to lift people out of poverty. 

“The Scottish Government must consider whether we can really have a social security system based on values of dignity and respect without addressing the adequacy of benefit levels.

“At the heart of all of this is the need to engage in dialogue with civil society organisations and with people with direct experience of poverty to ensure that real change takes place. The Poverty Alliance pledges to continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that this is done.

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