Let Glasgow flourish
“We want all of us across Glasgow to contribute to significantly reducing poverty and exclusion over the next decade, by acting now. We want Glasgow to be a place where everyone agrees that poverty is an outrage, and where every person feels that they can be a part of Glasgow.” – Glasgow’s Poverty Leadership Panel’s vision for the city
With Glasgwegians still facing poverty and inequality, Scotland’s largest city has an uphill struggle trying to improve the lives of its citizens. However, the city council hopes a new initiative can start to make poverty a thing of the past. Established by the council, Glasgow’s Poverty Leadership Panel has brought together an extensive range of organisations, as well as individuals who have been directly affected by poverty.
Chaired by council leader Gordon Matheson, the 25-member panel met for the first time in May and has been tasked with developing a city-wide anti-poverty strategy that can translate into specific action. The panel has agreed to look at six headline themes – attitudes to poverty; child poverty; credit and debt; welfare reform; work and worth; and the involvement of people with direct experience. From these themes, goals will be set and practical measures developed to achieve those goals.
Matheson said: “We have to face the fact that there are unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in Glasgow and we won’t get anywhere by failing to acknowledge this. Poverty affects so much of what the city tries to achieve, whether that is to do with things such as health, housing, employment or education.
“But poverty can only be sensibly addressed if people and organisations work together to address what is obviously a complex and challenging problem. We now have a basic vision where acting immediately can help us towards significantly reducing poverty and social exclusion in Glasgow over the next decade.
“The panel and the action plan can provide leadership for the city on the issue of poverty. We hope this acts as a catalyst for organisations, communities and individuals to play their part in addressing poverty and its consequences for the city.”
One of the key principles of the panel is that the knowledge and experience of people struggling against poverty on a daily basis must be heard in the debate on what action requires to be taken. People who have personally faced poverty are members, with Ghazala Hakeem, a community activist in Govanhill, acting as co-chairperson.
She added: “I am excited by Glasgow City Council’s commitment to significantly reducing poverty within the city. The proposal to work with those who are experiencing poverty as partners in this initiative shows the sincerity of the council. I feel by working together we will be able to address the uncomfortable truths of poverty and learn how best to tackle the issues that surround poverty. It is imperative that those who are affected by poverty are part of the process and they must be heard.”
According to Labour councillor Matt Kerr, while Glasgow’s poverty legacy is still large, some progress has already been made. Up until recently, Kerr sat on the panel and attended some of its meetings.
He told Holyrood: “Glasgow has reduced its share of Scotland’s overall deprivation over the past decade. We used to have more than half of the deprived areas and now it’s down to about a third. That represents genuine progress and there’s been a reduction in the proportion of the population living in the bottom 15 per cent.
“Tackling poverty is at the core of everything we do – education, social work, development, regeneration – everything. It was at the core of the manifesto the administration stood on and it is at the core of the five-year plan which came out of that. The Poverty Leadership Panel grew out of the need to bring a wider focus. People have been talking about poverty for years but what’s different about the panel is we’ve got members of the community on there, having a genuine input into its remit and direction. They are taking a leadership role in it. It’s co-convened by a member of the public, as well as the leader of the council.
“I sat on the panel myself and it was a hugely enjoyable experience, there are so many good ideas coming forward. It’s really encouraging and helps us join the dots in ways we perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have done. We’ve got people like the Glasgow Disability Alliance, Human Rights Commission, Glasgow Housing Association and more, and all these people are crucial in delivering different parts of the administration’s commitment.
“With the levels of challenge and complexity you find in a city like Glasgow, you need a genuinely collective response and it can’t be a partisan one, there’s a lot of cross-party working. It has to go beyond the ordinary politics and that’s why we wanted to bring in organisations and individuals who wouldn’t normally be part of the council process.
“The real benefit of this methodology is bringing in ordinary folk who live with poverty every day, in the way the officers and politicians in the room don’t. We have people coming along who genuinely are actually living with poverty here and now. They have an infinitely better understanding of what would make their situation better than I could come up with or indeed any other politicians. They know the little things which could be done, which we might not pick up on. Politicians have a tendency to look for big grand schemes, but it’s amazing how some of the things which come out of the panel are quite small but which could make all the difference to people’s lives.”
In terms of formulating an anti-poverty strategy for the city, Kerr said this process is ongoing but all the major partners from across the city are signed up to the idea.
“We’ve committed some resources ourselves, we’ve employed a couple of people specifically to work on delivery of the strategy,” Kerr added.
“Their job is about bringing the strategy together and working on bringing different partners together. What’s hugely encouraging is there’s commitment across the board about this issue.”
UK Government changes to the welfare system are also having an effect on poverty in Glasgow. Kerr said: “There’s a realisation in the city that we’ve got some real challenges in terms of welfare reform. £114 million a year is being taken out of Glasgow’s economy through welfare changes and that presents us with some pretty unique challenges in Scotland. Other authorities are being hit as well but we’re being hit in a way which is particularly brutal.
“Again, it just makes everything we’re doing in terms of our anti-poverty strategy, all the more important. It’s vital that we have a long-term political commitment to this vision in our city. What we can do is ensure as many people as possible have the ability to support themselves and we do everything we can to support them to do that. That’s the best thing we can do here and now to tackle welfare reform.”