19% of Scotland’s population are living in relative poverty. Just let that sink in.
That means that right now, there are around 1 million people in Scotland living either on or below the poverty line.
The most recent Scottish Government figures from 2019 show us that in Scotland the poverty line is when a family are living on, or less than, £19,400 a year, for a single person with children aged between 5 and 14, or £24,800 a year for a couple with children aged between 5 and 14. For a single person, this would be living on less than £7,300 a year.
A common misconception is that poverty only affects those who are unemployed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2018/19 in-work poverty in Scotland was at 10% for full time workers and close to 28% for part time workers. It also showed that over 4 in 10 people caught in in-work poverty have jobs in the accommodation & catering, health and retail industries.
However, this is before we incorporate the dramatic effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on working life.
While research from Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows the average hourly wage in Scotland has increased during the pandemic, it also shows that the hardest hit industries from coronavirus (such as accommodation and hospitality) have seen a dramatic decline in average hourly wage. These are the industries which are the lowest paid in Scotland and also have the highest number of furloughs, painting a bleak picture of the challenges many workers in Scotland have had to face in the past year.
This is also before we take into account the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on children.
Figures from 2019 indicate that 1 in 4 children in Scotland live in poverty. A good, decent education is rightly seen as the all-important route out of poverty and can break the cycle perpetuating to the next generation. However, with lockdown measures forcing schools across the country to enact blended learning in order to keep children engaged and active, this throws up yet another barrier for families living in poverty. Digital inequalities and a lack of access to broadband, coupled with a lack of skills to utilise the technology in many cases where there is digital connectivity, for some families will mean that children will inevitably fall behind this year, making their route out of poverty even harder and the attainment gap wider.
Abolishing and eliminating poverty in Scotland is achievable. Ensuring all of our citizens have access to resources that they need to thrive is an attainable and realistic goal.
The real question is, how we can as a society work together to achieve this?
There is no one organisation or agency who can do this alone. It takes all of us to play an active part in rebuilding Scotland, community by community to lift each other up and out of poverty. We must get better at needs-led, asset based whole system change, including whole system budgeting. As a fund manager who builds the capacity of communities across the country in partnership with the public sector, private sector and third sector, we are delighted to be able to help and support this transformational movement which Scotland is crying out for.
For a developed nation, ranked amongst the richest in the world, it is shameful that Scotland has this level of deprivation amongst its citizens in the 21st century. We cannot let it continue and we must change the narrative together.
We can all take action and do something, even during a global pandemic, to look after the welfare of people our own communities: our neighbours, our friends, our families. Small gestures of help, empathy and compassion compounded together will begin to break the cycle of poverty on a local level.
You do not need permission or an invitation to combat the inequalities of poverty in your own community. As we enter a new year still in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, these inequalities are set to rise meaning making a difference has never been so important. Seek out opportunities where you can help others. Change starts with you!
Organisations and charities across Scotland have already started to make that difference. For example, between April 2020 and September 2020 projects funded through the Volunteering Support Fund distributed 92,996 food packs, hot meals, lunches and food boxes to communities all over Scotland. An initiative that made a huge difference to struggling families.
So, let’s each ask ourselves, ‘what difference can I make?’