Martin Johnstone: Listen to solve poverty

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Scots trapped in poverty demand a voice in shaping Scotland’s future. Demands to involve those who live in poverty in the struggle to overcome it are at the heart of a major new report.

The Poverty Truth Commission has identified a range of practical solutions following an 18-month study. It calls for a not-for-profit energy company, an end to zero hours contracts, a reduction in the number of people being sanctioned by Job Centres and more workers receiving a living wage. More than half of the Scots suffering poverty live in working households. Twenty per cent of Scottish children are growing up in homes suffering hardship.

The Commission, which is supported by the Church of Scotland and Faith in Community Scotland, presented its findings to an invited audience of 450 people in Glasgow on Saturday. The Commission brought together some of Scotland’s most influential citizens with an equal number of people who face the daily grind against poverty.

Supported by Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, among others, the Commission is calling for those suffering from the effect of poverty to be at the heart of solving the problems it causes. This approach is now recognised by governments and national agencies as presenting one of the best opportunities to address decades of failure in tackling poverty and growing inequality.

Sir Harry Burns, who is now Professor of Global Public Health at Strathclyde University, said: “Most people encounter poverty as street beggars. What they don’t appreciate is the poverty affecting their neighbours in their communities. These are the families who, perhaps after a lifetime of working, struggle with day-to-day expenses such as food. The Poverty Truth Commission gives a voice to these people.”

The Commission has identified that people in poverty pay more for their fuel, food and financial services than those in better-off areas. It is calling on ordinary citizens, as well as politicians, to do more to challenge the cuts in welfare benefits which have contributed to 65,000 Scots visiting food banks run by the Trussell Trust in the past year. A recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation study showed an expected increase in employment in Scotland would not solve the problem.

The findings of the Poverty Truth Commission go to the heart of the issues raised in the current referendum debate. They also transcend the outcome. A new group of Commissioners has now been established, including senior politicians, business, civic and faith leaders alongside people experiencing poverty. The new Commissioners will be challenged to take forward both the actions and the spirit of this urgent report.

Martin Johnstone is Secretary of Poverty Truth Commission