Don't keep people in poverty and blame them for being there - Ewan Aitken

The recent decision by the UK Government to remove the additional £20 “Covid uplift” for people on Universal Credit is a moral scandal.
We must invest in people to help lift the barriers created by poverty, writes Ewan Aitken.We must invest in people to help lift the barriers created by poverty, writes Ewan Aitken.
We must invest in people to help lift the barriers created by poverty, writes Ewan Aitken.

It will literally push millions into deeper poverty; for around 25% of claimants (approximately 1.2m million people) it is 20% of their benefits income. And there is no evidence it will encourage people on benefits to get “back into work” as I heard the chancellor claim in a radio interview.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates the cost of maintaining the £20 uplift is £6bn a year. A tidy sum but nothing compared to the human cost and the cost to the public purse of driving more people into deeper poverty with its consequential impact on health and other public services. The suggestion people are avoiding work because of £20 a week is insulting. Yes, there will be a few examples people can cite but there are far more tax dodgers than benefit cheats. As ever neo-liberal economic policy begins by blaming the poor for their predicament and not the systemic failures for keeping them poor.

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Investing in people is always the best way of driving change. Around 80% of the public money invested in the reunification of Germany was spent on social investment, making sure people had the income to participate in the opportunities of reunification by removing the barriers poverty brings.

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It was an extraordinary and very successful example of “levelling up”, to re-work an as yet largely undefined but well-used phrase by the UK Government. It was person centred and poverty focused. Lift people out of poverty and incredible things can happen. Keep them in poverty and blame them for being there and their souls are ground down even further.

It was in this light I was very pleased to see the advert for a new post of Service Director of Housing, Family support and Fair Work in the City of Edinburgh Council. Newly created, well paid, public sector jobs don’t often excite me (and no, I haven’t applied!), but this post is in direct response to the recommendations of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission which connected the need for healthy housing, good holistic family support and work which lifts people out of poverty instead of keeping them there.

It’s got the real potential for the public sector to be the catalyst in social change with the third sector and business also playing their part.

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Cyrenians are part of the work of Edinburgh CANB, a movement which began at Chamber of Commerce in Edinburgh. It joins an international movement of cities committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly around the environment and poverty. There’s a lot of great work going on across the city but if we can bring it together, celebrate it and inspire people to do more together, great things can be achieved.

Cyrenians sees the impact of poverty every day with the people we support living the tough reality of homelessness or in danger of becoming homeless. We build trusted relationships and accompany people on a journey of change that they plan and travel, defining success for themselves. Those journeys are made easier when we have collaborators from across different sectors. They are made more difficult when political choices make the tough realities of those we support worse, not better.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians, a charity tackling the causes and consequences of homelessness.

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