Businesses need to do more to beat city poverty

Lord Provost Donald Wilson promotes the Big Issue by becoming a vendor for a day. Picture: Neil Hanna

Lord Provost Donald Wilson promotes the Big Issue by becoming a vendor for a day. Picture: Neil Hanna

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THE Lord Provost has called on city businesses to play a more active part in the battle to reduce poverty.

Councillor Donald Wilson said firms operating in Edinburgh should look carefully at whether staff are being paid a fair wage and consider if they are doing enough to offer decent employment opportunities to those who are struggling.

He said too many residents, including a significant number already in employment, were missing out on the benefits of Edinburgh’s economic success.

His call came after recently published data revealed that one in five children is living in poverty – a figure that is set to rise significantly by 2020.

This is despite average earnings in Edinburgh soaring to £36,000 in recent years, making it one of the most affluent cities in the UK.

A couple with two children are in poverty if they have less than £416 per week before housing costs.

Charity chiefs and politicians have blamed the spiralling crisis on childcare and housing expenditure, as wages fail to keep pace with the cost of living.

Cllr Wilson said: “We are also asking businesses to consider carefully how they conduct their business day in and day out. How do they reward staff – do they pay the living wage?

“It is interesting, and concerning that more than half of working-age adults in poverty in Scotland are in employment. Working hard, but still stuck in the poverty trap, having to do without what most of us take for granted.

“How do companies recruit staff – do they consider looking at those young people who are out of work, or on the periphery of the jobs market? Could they help people gain new and important skills?”

He added: “When people talk about businesses working within their communities, it is often referred to as corporate social responsibility. I prefer to call it responsible business – as I believe that we truly are all responsible for the way we do business.”

Cllr Wilson has issued his call ahead of a One City dinner, which is being held as part of a bid to look at how businesses in Edinburgh and across Scotland can help reduce poverty.

The One City Trust is an independent body which receives policy and administrative support from the city council.

It was established in 2004 following a recommendation of the Lord Provost’s commission on social exclusion and as part of a challenge to make Edinburgh “one city”.

Relaunched ten years later, the project is receiving further assistance from the Lord Provost, who is working to update its core objectives in relation to current poverty trends.

Business representatives said they were not opposed to poverty-reducing initiatives such as the living wage.

But they stressed such developments would have significant cost implications which had yet to be addressed through research, dialogue and consultation.

Gordon Henderson, senior development manager for Scotland at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “I think businesses would like to pay their staff more. It adds to staff retention, for example, but it is not realistic for everybody. We in the FSB would probably look for a bit more work with something like the living wage to make it more affordable for small businesses to pay.”

He added: “If you increase the salaries of your lowest paid staff then everyone else in the business will ask for more too.

“It’s not just the increase for those below the living wage. It’s also the increase for everyone else to maintain pay differentials.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com