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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Let's challenge poverty

Challenge Poverty Week is an opportunity to highlight the extent of poverty in Scotland and to build support for further action.

The Poverty Alliance is coordinating Challenge Poverty Week (CPW) this week. The key messages are:

Poverty is a real problem in Scotland, affecting large and growing numbers of people;
Wide inequalities between groups and individuals damages our whole society;
Poverty is created by the decisions we make as a society;
People living on low incomes have a voice and should be heard;
Change is possible!

The Trussell Trust has revealed today that five times more Scots are turning to food banks for emergency aid than last year. Between April and September, 23,073 people were referred to the Trussell Trust for three days’ worth of food – comprising 16,465 adults and 6,608 children. That compares with 4,021 people in the same months of 2012 – 2,786 adults and 1,235 children. The Scottish figures are significantly higher than in the UK as a whole.

As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady put it: "One only has to look at the huge rise in foodbanks to see how little support is being given to people who fall on hard times. But instead of recognising the tremendous difficulties people are facing, ministers are blaming them for their plight. The Chancellor is talking up a recovery – but for who? These new figures show that despite trying desperately hard to make ends meet hundreds of thousands of people still can’t afford to put food on the table for their families. Welfare reforms like the Bedroom Tax have pushed more households into food poverty.”

The long term picture is no better. A study by SCVO showed that one in four Scots will be living in poverty by the end of the decade if the coalition government forges ahead with “criminal welfare reforms” that draw together a range of benefits into one universal credit.

A common myth perpetrated by the UK Government is that welfare is for skivers. In fact the biggest element of social security expenditure (42%) goes to pensioners. Then housing benefit is next, accounting for 20%, of whom one-fifth are in work. Then 15% goes on children, through child benefit and child tax credit. Some 8% goes on disability living allowance, 4% on income support mainly for single parents and carers, 4% on employment and support allowance to those who can’t work due to sickness or disability, and 2% on carer’s allowance and maternity pay. Just 3% is spent on jobseeker’s allowance.

So if we achieve only one thing this week, let's remember that poverty demeans us all and it doesn't have to happen in a rich country like ours. And if you don't like the moral argument, accept the economic case. More equal societies do better on every measure, so pure self interest should drive you to challenge poverty.

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