Constant pressure of poverty can grind the soul. No wonder 75% of Scots agree it's a high priority for government – Ewan Aitken
Two statistics I have used previously in this column are the fact that 21 per cent of children in Edinburgh live below the official poverty line, but 70 per cent of those children live in families with a working adult.
These numbers are shocking in themselves but what is more shocking is they haven’t changed for ten years. The sad fact is there may be some change as we enter a post-Covid economy but, if there is, it will be a worsening of those numbers.
The thing about living in poverty is the impact is not just financial. It is the sense of being excluded, feeling unable to be part of the social life which is so important to all our well-being, or being able to access educational opportunities or take part in all a school can offer.
The safety nets which are offered are often inadequate or come in a way which carries stigma. It can bring the ill health associated with poor housing and a pressure on relationships which can be destructive. Poverty not only just excludes, it can grind the soul. It is hard to flourish whilst under the constant pressure of poverty.
We all share a moral responsibility to ensure everyone has a decent standard of living. Interestingly, and I think hopefully, a recent poll in Scotland by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) showed around 75 per cent of people feel it should be a high priority for government and more importantly, as we all should, believe it can be significantly reduced.
The Edinburgh Poverty Commission report, A Just Capital, laid out a plan which the politicians drafting their manifestos could do well to pay attention to: fair work, a decent home, income security, opportunities to progress, connections, health and well-being; making the experience of seeking help less painful, less complex, more humane, and more compassionate; and treating others as we would want to be treated were we in the same situation, which is a good approach to how we design the support being offered.
The best way of achieving this is making sure the voices of those who have experience of poverty are central to any suggested solutions.
Statistics show the people most likely to end up homeless are single men aged 25-45 who grew in poverty. Poverty impacts on all areas of life, it makes ill health more likely and being able to get the best of education less likely.
Poverty reduces the capacity to be connected to the world digitally and physically. If where you live has poor transport links, keeping a job if you can get one is even harder.
Employers have a significant role to play here in not just what they pay. Providing at least the real living wage would make a huge difference, but also choosing to work with organisations who support people who have potential but face barriers to get into work.
At Cyrenians, over lockdown we put our employability programme online and have supported over 60 people into work. But we couldn’t do that without the continued collaboration with employers. Poverty might be experienced by individuals but the solutions will take all of us, using what we have together, to make our city one where all its citizens can flourish.
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians Scotland