That the Parliament welcomes the launch of Scotland’s Outlook, a joint third sector campaign that aims to raise awareness of the scale and impact of poverty in Scotland; recognises that the campaign uses a weather analogy with the aim of sharing meaningful examples of Scotland’s poverty outlook to inform and educate people about what living in poverty means and to help them appreciate that anyone can find themselves living in poverty; understands that there are 870,000 people living in poverty in Scotland, that a fifth of Scotland’s children are living below the breadline and that poverty is currently the biggest issue for the third sector in Scotland; notes that the Scotland’s Outlook website provides a range of materials to allow people to see the future forecast for poverty and test their knowledge of poverty in Scotland; believes that this campaign, which has been developed by third sector partners including SCVO, Macmillan Cancer Care, Shelter Scotland, Oxfam Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, CHAS, CPAG and the Poverty Alliance, is an excellent way to highlight the challenge of poverty, and hopes that, as a result of the campaign, more people throughout Scotland, including in Glasgow Cathcart, will understand the realities of poverty and be inspired to get involved in helping to tackle poverty in their communities.
This briefing has been prepared for the debate on the above motion. The debate will be led by James Dornan MSP. The debate is focussed on Scotland’s Outlook, a third sector campaign which aims to raise awareness of the scale and impact of poverty in Scotland, and to seek collective action on what is the most significant public policy challenge facing Scotland.
Evidence and figures from a range of sources highlight the nature of the poverty “super-storm” surrounding us:
- 870,000 people in Scotland are living in poverty[i]. People are struggling to heat their homes and to clothe themselves and their children.
- Up to 100,000 more children in Scotland could be in poverty by the end of the decade.[ii]
- Cuts to benefits and local services have fallen sharply on people with disabilities.[iii]
- The gender impact of austerity measures and welfare cuts has been particularly harsh for women.
- One quarter of cancer patients can’t afford to adequately heat their homes in winter, yet more than £8 million of benefits remains unclaimed by cancer patients.[iv]
- In work poverty is a serious issue, with many people cycling in and out of benefits and low paid work[v].
To date, Scotland’s Outlook has reached over 8.5 million through press, TV and radio coverage. The campaign film has been viewed over 85,000 times.
Scotland’s Outlook has been developed by SCVO in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, Shelter Scotland, Oxfam Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, CHAS, the Child Poverty Action Group (Scotland) and the Poverty Alliance. It uses a weather analogy to share meaningful examples of Scotland’s poverty outlook. The aim is to inform and educate people about the extent of poverty in Scotland.
The plan is for the campaign to grow and develop so that we can help remove the stigma that currently surrounds people living in poverty and receiving benefits.
As Tony Benn said:
“I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all, frighten people. Secondly, demoralise them.”
Against a backdrop of animosity and demonisation of people experiencing poverty, including benefit claimants, Scotland’s Outlook seeks to tackle the myths surrounding poverty. It seeks to take key facts and research about the lives people lead and the day to day struggles they face, to a much wider audience.
Poverty and inequality in Scotland are the most significant policy challenges facing Scotland regardless of the result of the independence referendum. Levels of poverty are such that collective action, regardless of political allegiances, is absolutely essential. The campaign will consistently be underpinned by a call to action to policy and decision makers, to third sector organisations and to the general public.
The third sector believes we can and must take action to change the nature of the debate and to do more to tackle the reality of poverty in Scotland, including its root causes.
- The campaign is focusing on social media as the main channel, enabling us to cascade the facts and reality of poverty to the widest possible audience. The campaign will also be channelled through SCVO and our partners’ networks and staff – sharing the campaign and its key messages and call to action as widely as possible.
- It has already been shared widely outside of these networks, with MSPs and their teams picking up on the campaign during recent parliamentary debates. Individual activists are also sharing the campaign with their own contacts.
- Key poverty facts are shared via the campaign site.
- Charities, voluntary organisations, politicians and the general public are encouraged to get angry and take action on poverty.
To date, Scotland’s Outlook has reached over 8.5 million people through press, TV and radio coverage. The campaign film has been viewed over 85,000 times.
Poverty in Scotland – The developing picture
Scotland’s Outlook brings together research, knowledge and experience from its partners to paint a devastating picture of poverty in Scotland.
Some of the key messages and facts driving our campaign include:
- Poverty is the biggest storm to ever hit Scotland and it could land at anyone’s doorstep. Parents are feeling the pressure of not being able to feed their children, cancer patients can’t afford life’s basics and people with disabilities are being forced to leave their home.
- 870,000 people in Scotland are living in poverty[vi]. People are struggling to heat their homes and to clothe themselves and their children. They cannot afford food – in some cases they cannot afford to heat up food they get from food banks[vii]. 23,000 people have visited food banks in Scotland over the last 6 months[viii]. Severe warnings indicate that the situation is only going to get worse. Poverty in Scotland 2014 confirms this[ix]. Up to 100,000 more children in Scotland could be in poverty by the end of the decade.[x]
- A fifth of children in Scotland are living below the breadline. Many of these children don’t have a winter coat or shoes to wear to school. They sleep on the floor at night, don’t have a permanent home and don’t receive Christmas or birthday presents[xi].
- Scotland is a rich country in many senses so it’s unacceptable that people are living in real hardship. Charities are working together to shine a light on the scale and impact of the poverty crisis in our communities.
- Although fundamentally different from the human impact created by a natural disaster, Scotland has a domestic ‘humanitarian crisis’ on its hands – the response from charities, the public and politicians must match the scale and magnitude of the situation.
We want people to help us to alleviate the impact of poverty and to demand that politicians at all levels of government work together to rid Scotland of poverty.
In previous briefings to the Scottish Parliament, SCVO and its campaign partners along with other third sector colleagues have illustrated the experience of poverty and what we are learning from our work on the ground. It’s a picture that none of us can be proud of.
Austerity and welfare reform have had a significant impact on people’s lives, often in ways which many of us could never truly imagine:
Disabled people bear the brunt of cuts – the Centre for Welfare Reform has highlighted that the cuts to benefits and local services has fallen sharply on people with disabilities.[xii] Work by Inclusion Scotland and others shows that cuts to disability benefits will be harsh, and that disabled people, already at risk of experiencing poverty, will lose out in the transfer to PIP.
Gender impact – in a response to the Expert Working Group on Welfare, Engender highlighted the ‘gender’ element of poverty and cuts:
“Since 2010, 74% of the £14.9 billion worth of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions has been taken from women’s incomes”
Inappropriate jobseeker sanctions – there is consensus across the third sector that the expansive and often indiscriminate use of sanctions on people[xiii] – including those who are already vulnerable[xiv] – is placing additional pressure on families, and in increasing numbers of cases, are leaving individuals and families with little or no income to afford the basics in life e.g. food and heat. This is fast becoming the main reason why people in crisis are coming to the third sector for help and support. Other reasons include delays in benefit payments and delays because of changes within the system e.g. the introduction of mandatory reconsideration.
Wealth inequality – in Scotland the richest 10% of households are 273 times wealthier than the poorest 10% of households (ONS data published in 2012). Scotland isn’t alone in facing such inequality – recent Oxfam analysis shows the UK’s richest five families have more money than the 12.6 million poorest people. Just 5 households have more wealth than 20% of the entire UK population. Globally, the richest 85 people on the planet own the same amount between them as half the world’s population – that’s 3.5 billion people.
Cancer – one quarter of cancer patients can’t afford to adequately heat their homes in winter. Cancer patients are not accessing the benefits to which they are entitled, which in turn means that their families lose out on linked benefits e.g. Carers Allowance.[xv]
People with dementia are adversely affected by care and health costs associated with the illness; the number of people having to cope with this is growing.
Work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty/A failing economic model – the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that for the first time ever, across the UK, more people in poverty are in working households than workless households.[xvi] The TUC estimates that between June 2010 and December 2012, 80% of jobs created paid less than £7.95 an hour.[xvii] Zero-hour contracts are increasingly widespread and underemployment is on the increase.[xviii] While 5 million people have claimed job seekers allowance over the past 2 years – 42% of these were within 6 months of a previous claim.[xix] People are flitting in and out of work, unable to sustain employment. A storm of low-pay, insecure work is driving poverty in Scotland and across the UK.
Messages from Scotland’s Outlook partners
We need particularly to look at how we address the increasing numbers of people who are left with nothing to live on, to ensure that no one falls through the systems set up to protect and support them.
Macmillan Cancer Support
Macmillan Cancer Support believes the key to supporting people with cancer and other long term conditions is to get financial and benefits advice to patients in hospitals and in local communities.
The negative perceptions of people living in poverty are compounded by the stigma which too often surrounds dementia. Such perceptions fail to recognise people with dementia and their carers as individuals who continue to make a positive contribution to society, preventing them from taking part in society as equal and active citizens. Poverty is more widespread than many people realise, and raising awareness of that is the first step to challenging its damaging effects.
Poverty is about more than just income. All too often it’s also about a lack of voice and influence. Here in Scotland, we need a Poverty Commissioner to provide a platform for those in poverty to challenge and influence the government on issues affecting them.
There are times to take a stand and this is one of them. There is growing recognition of the devastating impacts of poverty in Scotland. Across the political spectrum there is anger about some of the factors which lead to the likelihood of a poverty super-storm as Scotland’s Outlook describes.
There is a need for concerted action on how to tackle poverty. This action must not be limited or delayed by the referendum debate. Regardless of the result, the fact the hundreds of thousands of individuals and families struggle to afford the very basics will continue to suck the life out of communities beyond September this year.
The cross sector and political support for Scotland’s Outlook demonstrates that Scotland is ready for a much wider debate about the extent and causes of poverty – described as a “complex and enduring problem…”viii
The arguments about Scotland’s future have yet to fully acknowledge the nature of our economy and how growth benefits the few and not the many. Too often success or failure is measured by economic growth alone. GDP tells us little, if anything, about the quality or distribution of growth. Too many communities in Scotland fail to benefit from rising economic growth. We need our politicians to consider wider measures of success which more closely reflect the real priorities of the people of Scotland.
The effects of change in the labour market need also to be addressed[xx]. Under-employment, increased part time working and “churning” between low paid, insecure work and the benefits systems will have medium to longer term consequences in terms of health and wellbeing. [xxi] Our economy, our labour market and how they operate for the good of all are crucial factors in tackling poverty in Scotland.
If we continue as we are – regardless of September’s referendum result – more people will find themselves struggling with low pay, and higher living costs.
The third sector is calling for action. In the debate on welfare reform last week, SCVO asked the Scottish Government to work with the third sector and all interested parties:
- To better understand how many people are being left with little or no income, and to ensure that no one gets lost “between systems”, regardless of who is responsible for operating them.
- To assess the reach/impact of welfare mitigation activity, and ensure it is having the desired effects.
- To give more detailed consideration of the interaction between devolved services, the impact of welfare reform and austerity.
We make the same call to all political parties. Let us help you to find ways to fight this endemic challenge. And let’s never lose sight of the fact that people around us, and in our local communities, need our help.
As MSPs, please make sure you are connected to local voluntary organisations on the ground – find out how they are fighting poverty in their local communities. What can you do to help them? What can you do locally to support people who want to come together?
Lynn Williams, SCVO
On behalf of Scotland’s Outlook partners
- After housing costs – http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/IncomePoverty/CoreAnalysis/povertyfigures
- After housing costs – http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/IncomePoverty/CoreAnalysis/povertyfigures
- The rise of in work poverty and the changing nature of poverty and work in Scotland – GCPH, 2013