I’ve noticed a fair bit of discussion about poverty in Scotland over the past week or so.
Last night, BBC Scotland aired Low Pay For Life, a programme ostensibly about the campaign for the Living Wage but which inevitably showed the impact low wages have on individuals and families across the country.
Last Wednesday, the Scottish Parliament was used to host an event by the Poverty Alliance. They were relaunching their Stick Your Labels campaign, which seeks to highlight the negative impact of attitudes around poverty. Clearly, they also want to see concerted plans to tackle poverty too.
And over the weekend I read a piece by Prof Richard Kerley of the CSPP. He points out – rightly – that there were very few serious attempts in the recent General Election manifestos to offer practical solutions to those who live in often the most profound disadvantage.
Because the fact is that poverty really is a problem, and especially in Scotland. According to a report from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) late last year, one million people in Scotland live in poverty – that is, who survive on less than 60% of the median wage.
This is a fifth of our population, and 220,000 of them are children.
I don’t know what the answer is and I’m sure it’s damn complicated. It will be tied up in the availability of local jobs, in decent wages, in how welfare support is accessed, in transport and communications infrastructure, in arrangements for support of those with caring responsibilities, in the quality of our schools and colleges, in our financial awareness. And there are probably many deep-rooted cultural issues in many of Scotland’s communities.
Richard Kerley finishes his piece with a suggestion: that our MSPs start to tackle this problem seriously now, pointing out mischievously that “there does not even appear to be a cross-party group on poverty, though there is room for CPGs on Turkey, the Scottish Showmen’s Guild and Recreational Boating”.
I’d definitely support setting up that Cross-Party Group or – even better – an actual committee of the parliament to explore the roots of and remedies to poverty in Scotland.
I’ve no doubt that were such a committee or cross-party group to be created, there would still be some politicking. I’m caricaturing of course but we could expect the SNP to want to prove that additional powers are needed to address these challenges; Labour to say that we could still make a real difference with existing responsibilities; the Conservatives to argue that job creation and tax cuts are the best ways to beat poverty.
So be it. Let them do those things.
But let’s at least have the debates, let’s see the evidence of what’s working here and elsewhere, and let’s do it in an open forum. And let’s come to some practical shared conclusions about what will work for those who need help the most, and do it now.