Are you as surprised as I was to learn that 82,000 people in Edinburgh live below the poverty line?
During Challenge Poverty Week, the week before last, as the Joseph Rowntree (JR) Foundation published its state of the nation report warning that one in four (230,000) children in Scotland live in poverty, we took the opportunity to set out Edinburgh’s response to what is a devastating, deep seated and city-wide problem here in our capital city.
A central part of this was appointing Dr Jim McCormick, national expert in poverty and the associate director for Scotland with the JR Foundation, as the independent chair of Edinburgh’s new Poverty Commission.
Jim will lead the Commission over the next 12 months before making recommendations for change to partners across the city. I’m delighted that he has accepted the challenge as he has a strong track record working with government, public sector agencies and the voluntary sector, advising on policy and the design of practical solutions to reduce, prevent, and mitigate the effects of poverty throughout the UK.
Having proposed the setting up of the Commission earlier this year, I am honoured to be taking on the role of vice-chair. Jim and I will be working to recruit the other commission members with the aim of providing a strong cross-section of expertise and experience from business, the third sector, public sector agencies, and local and national government.
We are particularly keen to hear the views of people affected by poverty from across the city and lived experience will be at the heart of the Commission’s work.
This is so important as there are many realities around poverty that we need to change forever. The gap in life expectancy in some parts of Edinburgh can be as much as 24 years. This is just wrong. We can’t have a situation where how long you can expect to live is dependent on where your house is.
“In work poverty” is another issue that you may not be aware of. In Edinburgh, 54 per cent of all people in poverty are living in a household where at least one adult is in work. This situation can’t continue as it not right that people who are trying to do their best by finding a job are still falling below an acceptable standard of living. This was an issued hotly debated last week, when Edinburgh hosted BBC’s Question Time from Holyrood’s main chamber for the first time. We heard Tory MP Ross Thomson repeatedly claim Westminster’s failing Universal Credit programme will get people off benefits and into work – while neglecting to highlight how 37 per cent of people on it actually have a job yet are in danger of being plunged into poverty. To quote Kezia Dugdale: “What on earth did hard-working families do to deserve this?”
It is against this backdrop that we find poverty rates vary so much across Edinburgh – 41 per cent of lone parents, 26 per cent of single adults and 13 per cent of pensioners also live below the poverty line. Again, this has to change.
The work of the Commission will be about more than influencing the way the council works. If we are going to make a difference, we need everyone in the city to work together. But most importantly, I want to ensure we understand what it is like to experience poverty in Edinburgh and to focus on the things that will make a difference to people’s lives. This will be a commission that listens to the unique and local concerns of citizens in our city.
Cammy Day is the deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council