Poverty in Edinburgh can be ended in ten years, says commission

POVERTY in Edinburgh can be ended within the next ten years, an independent commission claimed today as it unveiled a set of proposals it said could achieve that goal.

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 12:10 pm
One in five children in Edinburgh lives in poverty

More than 77,000 people are estimated to be living in poverty in Scotland's wealthiest city – almost 15 per cent of the population, including one in five children. The majority of them are in employment, have families, and live in rented accommodation.

The commission – which was backed by the city council and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – spent nearly two years talking to people experiencing poverty and a wide range of others before producing what it describes as a call to action to everyone in the city.

Setting out what must be done to end poverty in the city by 2030, the commission said funding to resolve the Capital's housing crisis was the top priority.

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And it called for Edinburgh to become a Living Wage city within the next year.

But it claimed the biggest single transformation that could be achieved would be to make the experience of seeking help less painful, less complex, more humane, and more compassionate. “We call on the city council to lead in the design and delivery of a new relationship based way of working for all public services in Edinburgh.”

The commission’s report, A Just Edinburgh: Actions to End Poverty in Edinburgh, said: “Poverty in Edinburgh is real and damaging, but it can be solved. By implementing the calls to action we make in this report, we think the city can set a course to end poverty in Edinburgh by 2030.”

It identified six key areas for action:

HOUSING: Almost one in three of the city’s households in poverty are only there due to high housing costs, compared with one in eight households in poverty across Scotland. The commission says Edinburgh needs to build 2,000 social homes a year for the next ten years and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure enough funding is available.

FAIR WORK: Despite the Capital’s thriving economy, high rates of employment and high average pay, there are still many on low wages. The commission calls on employers, trades unions, social enterprises and public sector bodies to work together to make Edinburgh a Living Wage City in 2021, deliver a new Edinburgh Guarantee on job or training opportunities for people of all ages, and commit to creating at least one 1 full-time job with training for a person from an at-risk group for every £1m of public sector procurement spending over the next decade.

INCOME SECURITY: The commission says too many people in poverty are not aware of or able to access all the support to which they are entitled. It says proactive support to maximise household income should be embedded in every nursery, school, and GP surgery in the city. It says long-term investment is needed to expand access to affordable credit. And it calls on the UK Government to continue temporary increases in Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, and Local Housing Allowance, beyond April 2021.

OPPORTUNITIES: The commission notes the attainment gap in Edinburgh is wider than in the rest of Scotland and reducing more slowly. It calls on the council to work with families in poverty to design a programme to improve this, urges the city’s universities and private schools to share teaching and learning resources online and proposes more mentoring. It also suggests as the city develops, there should be “genuinely mixed” catchment areas for schools.

CONNECTIONS: The commission said too many people feel parts of the city do not belong to them and see many aspects of Edinburgh life as “off limits”. It says renewal of the festivals and tourism economy should promote fair work, inclusion and equality, urges the council to design neighbourhoods on the principle of 20-minute walking or pram-pushing distance and calls on the the Scottish Government to extend concessionary travel to under-25s and unpaid carers.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING: Poverty takes an intolerable toll on people’s mental and physical health, says the commission. It calls on the council and voluntary organisations to continue their work to ensure access to quality fresh food and wider support. And it says city residents have a role to play as volunteers, spotting and supporting friends, neighbours and colleagues with signs of mental distress.

The commission said its proposals were not a menu of options the city could pick and choose from, but a single set of interconnected actions which had to be delivered if Edinburgh was to end poverty.

“All the power in Edinburgh, from all our organisations and communities, is needed to directly effect change within the city, but also to build the public and political will for change needed at national level. We do not aim merely to ‘tackle’, ‘reduce’, ‘address’, or ‘mitigate the effects of’ poverty. Our aim is to end poverty within a decade.

"Ending poverty does not mean Edinburgh becoming a city in which no one ever loses a job or ever experiences a period of their life on low income. But it does mean Edinburgh being a city where living on a low income is temporary, not a persistent trap, and does not mean having to go without food, or warmth or safety.”

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The commission said it was now “passing the baton” to End Poverty Edinburgh, a new independent group of residents with first-hand experience of living on a low income, who will hold the city to account on ending poverty.

Jim McCormick, chair of the commission, “Edinburgh will only succeed in creating a prosperous city without poverty if it creates the conditions to foster that: good jobs, genuinely affordable housing, income security and meaningful opportunities that drive justice and boost prospects – above all, in the city’s schools."

Depute council leader Cammy Day, who was vice-chair of the commission, said: “Tackling poverty in Edinburgh is a challenge that must be acted on urgently, with great responsibility and through a Team Edinburgh approach. We will need to work together partnership and marshal all the resources of the city if we are to truly make a difference.”

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