Last year, we set up the Edinburgh Poverty Commission with the ambition to make changes in our city, however big or small, to make life a bit better for those facing poor standards of living in Edinburgh.
We always knew this would be a huge challenge, but we are determined to understand the true scale behind poverty in Edinburgh and address the impact it has on people’s lives. It is simply not right that we live in a city where more than 80,000 people – 16 per cent of our population – are classed as living below the poverty line and struggling to get by.
During the first phase of our work, we have been looking at the theme of ‘pockets’ – that is, looking at the pressures that keep incomes low and living costs high specifically in Edinburgh. Over the past few weeks, commissioners have visited and heard from a number of projects in the city – from support services to food banks – all to gain a first-hand insight into these pressures.
We’ve heard from organisations such as the Carnegie UK Trust and Scotcash about affordable credit; from CHAI and the Granton Information Centre about advice services; and about how the benefits system is working in Edinburgh now that we are transitioning to Universal Credit.
We also heard from several citizens working within the hospitality and arts industry; one of the biggest employers in Edinburgh. There’s no doubt in my mind that one of the biggest challenges facing us is the low pay that many of our citizens are on. Despite a successful economy, 13 per cent of all workers in Edinburgh earn wages at rates below the Living Wage Foundation recommended rate, and 10 per cent of all workers rely on ‘non-permanent employment’.
Edinburgh is known throughout the world for its festivals, yet, despite all the success and financial benefit this brings, we still see far too many people on zero hours contracts and too many people in poor working conditions, resulting in an incredibly unequal divide in Edinburgh between rich and poor. The council introduced the living wage for all our employees six years ago but we need to do more to get big businesses and key employers to do the same, to protect more workers across the industries that serve our city
We also need to do more to raise awareness about what benefits people are entitled to, and the options available to help maximise their income. People need to know their rights and the alternatives available when it comes to affordable borrowing, social security and how to avoid the trap of high cost credit.
In the next few weeks we will publish our first emerging findings from this phase of our work. We want everyone in the city to take this opportunity to take part in the conversation we are having about poverty in Edinburgh, to take a look at the questions we are posing, and let us know what more we can do collectively.
There’s a long way to go but we have to remember that the work of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission is not just the remit of the voluntary sector or the council – it’s a commission for the whole city. This is the responsibility of every organisation to make sure that every one of our citizens shares in the benefits of this incredible city.
No one is pretending we’re going to solve poverty overnight, but everyone needs to work together to drive forward the change we all agree is desperately needed.
Cammy Day is the deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council.