Together we can solve poverty in Scotland
Ahead of his session at Scotland's Housing Festival, Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation explores how we can solve poverty by working together.
Across Scotland, families are struggling to keep their heads above water. Too many people are being pulled under by low pay, the high cost of living and unaffordable rents at a time when support available through social security has been frozen for years. These are combining to create a perfect storm, leaving families in impossible situations.
Behind the statistics, there are human stories. We met with the chair of a large food bank in Glasgow who told us of everyday situations they encounter: the woman whose benefit deductions left her without enough money to pay for food; the young man whose wages were short; the woman forced into rough sleeping after three years in the homelessness system.
We know that poverty in Scotland is real and harmful - but also a problem that can be solved. To do that, we need to understand how the systems which are supposed to protect us from harm are in fact pushing people into poverty.
It cannot be right that one in four children - just under a quarter of a million - are in poverty in Scotland. Our shared progress on tackling poverty is unravelling. The freeze on social security payments for families in and out of work is the single biggest cause pushing families into hardship. This has more than outweighed the gains from a rising minimum wage.
While Scotland has the relative advantage of lower average housing costs in most places, this is cold comfort for the thousands getting stuck in temporary accommodation or left with a shortfall between their income and their rent. Currently, 50,000 children live in families pushed into poverty only after they have paid their housing costs.
The face of poverty in Scotland has changed. Two-thirds of children in poverty now live in working households, where the pay, the hours or both fall short. Often, it is women who work fewer hours for lower pay. Whilst children in families where a parent has a limiting illness or disability are at much greater risk of struggling to get by.
However, as a country we can do better than this. By working together, we can solve poverty across Scotland.
There is already an all-party commitment to binding child poverty targets and much-needed action to increase the supply of affordable housing and childcare.
We also welcome the principles shaping the work of Social Security Scotland. Designing a social security system based on the principles of dignity and respect is hugely important to those who need support and there is a clear commitment to uprating, increasing take-up and making progress on poverty reduction.
Similarly, the emerging plans on employment - spanning disability, the gender pay gap and fair work - are a promising start.
Now is the time to build on this and create a society where everyone can achieve a decent life. To make this happen, we urgently need bold action to:
- Lift the benefits freeze and cut the five-week waiting period in Universal Credit. We are also calling on the Scottish Government to bring forward plans to pay the Income Supplement before 2022. Low-income families can't wait until then.
- Achieve Scottish targets on affordable housing supply, maintain this ambition after 2021 and drive down homelessness.
- Extend coverage of the living wage and ensure the goal of poverty reduction drives investment decisions in city region and growth deals.
Campbell Robb is Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT). He is speaking at Scotland's Housing Festival on Wednesday 13 March. The latest 'Homelessness Monitor Scotland' by JRF and Crisis is published on 25 February.