Edinburgh is a city divided between rich and poor. And its politicians need to realise that – Susan Dalgety
Good news! Or is it? Edinburgh is the only Scottish city in the top 20 of a UK league table which charts growth. The Good Growth for Cities report, compiled by PwC, puts the Capital just above Cambridge and Stoke-on-Trent, but at number 15, we fall below Milton Keynes and Preston., and have a long way to go to catch up with the UK’s number one city – Oxford.
PwC says its report presents a clear picture of what matters to the public, covering areas such as jobs, incomes, health, housing, transport and the environment. Not surprisingly, given the cost-of-living crisis, it suggests that people across the UK are now more worried about jobs and income than health and the environment.
And it points out that “a fair distribution of wealth” is one of the public’s key concerns, revealing that Edinburgh performs around the UK average on income and, crucially, income distribution. It is this income distribution – management consultant-speak for poverty – which divides our city more than any other aspect of life.
Take an average tech worker. She is likely to earn £80,000 a year, while a full-time care worker is paid around a quarter of that sum. The minimum wage for people over 25 is a paltry £21,600 for a 40-hour week. While hospitality and shop workers struggle to make ends meet, staff in Edinburgh’s financial services sector – and no doubt luxury retailers – celebrated a few months ago when the Chancellor scrapped the cap on bankers’ bonuses.
Meanwhile, the cost of renting a one-bedroom flat in Gorgie is around £900 a month, which would leave a single care assistant earning £23,000 a year with around £700 a month to live on, after tax and national insurance. Do the maths. Once council tax, energy bills and transport costs have been taken into account, there isn’t much left to live on, let alone enjoy the best of what the city has to offer after a hard shift looking after someone else’s frail granny.
Edinburgh’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene – where you will be lucky to find a small glass of cheap wine for less than £7 – is out of bounds to many of our citizens, particularly those with the toughest jobs.
The authors of the PwC report suggest that cities should steer the country towards “growth for the future and genuine levelling up” and that the public and private sectors need to work together more effectively. Nothing there to disagree with, but mostly because it doesn’t mean very much.
How does Edinburgh City Council secure affordable housing? It has already had to cut its target of building 25,000 council-owned homes to 2,500. How can small businesses – who generate economic growth while bankers and lawyers service it – pay better salaries when their margins are already wafer thin? And where does the NHS get the resources to increase care staff wages to £15 an hour, as the unions demand and as the workers deserve? Cut cancer care?
I don’t have the answers, only the questions. But if our city is to be a good place to live for everyone, our politicians better find the solutions, and fast.