Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Government to be assessed on homelessness

HOUSING activists will be among those speaking when the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council and Scottish Churches Housing Action host a meeting at the City Chambers in Edinburgh on Friday 30 September 2011.

Scottish church leaders have teamed up with the housing charity to assess the progress made by the Scottish Government to eradicate homelessness.

Scottish Churches Housing Action helps churches and others make practical responses to homelessness in Scotland by encouraging the development of affordable housing from redundant or underused church buildings

The meeting is to discuss if the Scottish Government is on course to meet its pledge of providing a home for almost every unintentionally homeless person in Scotland by 2012. More here.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A template for action

"I believe the Poverty Truth Commission provides a template for the consideration of social policy formulation by government at all levels. The recommendations made on the areas studied deserves serious consideration by the public bodies concerned." - Lord Provost of Glasgow - Bob Winter, Commissioner

Monday, 26 September 2011

Economics as if poverty mattered?

FORMER Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has given evidence to the Church of Scotland’s economics commission.

Mr Darling was one of a number of experts to give evidence to the Special Commission on the Purpose of Economic Activity - alongside those who have direct experience of poverty, in accordance with the recommendations of the Poverty Truth Commission.

After giving evidence to the commission Mr Darling took part in a question and answer session with journalists.

The Church of Scotland set up the commission following the credit crunch in 2008. The 13-strong commission chaired by Professor Charles Munn will report to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 2012. Commission members come from a range of backgrounds and bring specific skills and interests to the group.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

'You can't do as much'...

GROWING up in families affected by poverty has a significant detrimental impact on children’s quality of life and well-being and has limiting effects on a child’s opportunities and future life chances.

Here are two examples from people living at the edge:

“You can’t do as much, and I don’t like my clothes and that, so I don’t really get to do much or do stuff like my friends are doing...I am worried about what people think of me, like they think I am sad or something.” - Nicole, 13-year-old.

“I feel bad because my kids can’t have what other kids have... it’s not their fault... and I sit and worry about things like that which gets me depressed too.” - Jane, parent

Social disadvantage has an impact on every area of  life, from health and well-being, to education and employment. Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission remains committed to hearing the voices of those impacted directly by poverty in policy making and public debate.

Will the last be first?

THERE is currently a consensus that levels of inequality in Britain are too high. But how does this inequality and its related poverty impact on children and young people and what do the churches and faith have to contribute to making society more just?

That is the theme of a consultation commissioned by the Church Relations Department of the Children's Society. It will take place from 20-21 September 2011 at St George's House in Windsor. This blog will carry updates and information relevant to those working in partnership with Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission.

Friday, 16 September 2011

STV appeal raises over £1.2 million

This year's STV Appeal has raised £1,229,497 for children affected by poverty in Scotland - and the final total is expected to be even higher as the cash continues to pour in.

An hour-long TV special anchored by Lorraine Kelly and broadcast from STV's studios around the country was the culmination of a week-long campaign and fund-raising, with all the money raised going to children and young people in Scotland.

Those answering the phones during the live show on Friday evening included First Minister Alex Salmond, businessman Sir Tom Hunter and TV presenter Michelle Watt.

By the time the programme went off air some £614,748 had been pledged - a figure that will be doubled with cash from the Scottish Government.

The government has pledged to match the first £1.5m raised from donations to the appeal, which is in its first year.

STV will announce the final total raised later in the year.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Household energy bills soar in Scotland

HOUSEHOLD energy bills have soared in the last five years, Scottish Government figures show - hitting the poorest hardest once more.

The latest statistics indicate that the average household spent about 14% of income on gas and electricity in 2009, compared with a low of 8% in 2004. 

Jamie Hepburn MSP, who obtained the figures, says that families are already feeling the pressure at a time when the big energy companies are announcing large price increases. He declared: "This is a scandalous rise in energy bills showing even more homeowners struggling. These hikes are hitting already under pressure households - many households have already reached the limit of what they can afford. People are really feeling the pressure from power companies and price rises. The UK government needs to re-evaluate the energy market and start helping those in fuel poverty."

Averages have fluctuated between 4% and 7% since 1999 for gas and electricity. In 2009, 7% of income was spent on gas and 7% on electricity, showing a steady rise from five years earlier. The proportion of income spent on fuel had earlier increased from 11% in 1996 to 13% in 2003-4.

Richard Baker MSP added: "Soaring fuel prices affect every Scot, but they have a disproportionate impact on those who are on the lowest incomes. It is our duty to help the poorest and most vulnerable, who will be hit hardest by price hikes, through these tough times."

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Childcare costs pushing parents out of work

SCOTTISH families on low-incomes are being forced to leave work and turn down jobs because they cannot afford to pay for childcare, a new survey shows.

The research has ben carried out by Save the Children and Daycare Trust. Despite many parents cutting back on their spending, a third of those living in the worst poverty (defined as a yearly income of less than £12,000) have ended up in debt as a result.

With Scots parents paying the highest in the UK for childcare, Save the Children is urging the Scottish government to take action at the earliest opportunity. The charity is calling for an extension of free entitlement to childcare and nursery education for the poorest families in Scotland. More here.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Making child poverty history

SCOTLAND'S continuing and historic struggle against child poverty was highlighted in a feature as part of the STV Six O'Clock News this evening - connected with the company's high-profile appeal.

Shelter Scotland and the Poverty Truth Commission were among those interviewed, with PTC's Elaine Downie pointing towards the damaging impact of deprivation on children at school, in the family and amongst peers.

Pioneer and visionary Robert Owen's New Lanark Mills social experiment, including the world's first infant school in Scotland, was a key part of the feature - illustrating the long-running effort to work for equality and to change and improve the conditions of ordinary people.

Owen felt education was vital. He built two buildings for the adults and children of New Lanark. They held evening classes, school lessons and social events. There were also bathing machine. Young children went to the nursery while their mothers were at work.

Catch up with STV Appeal programmes

THE 2011 STV appeal, which focuses on children living in poverty, features a variety of programming from entertainment and news features right through to serious documentaries, like One in Four.

Elaine Downie from Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission is on the Six O'Clock News tonight

If you miss anything, you can catch up with it later at your convenience via the STV Player, available on the internet. Sunday night's programme with Lorraine Kelly is already available in four segments, to make it easier to upload and view.

How benefit cuts hit the poorest

ALTHOUGH many policies and decisions about welfare in Scotland remain specific to our context and government, UK-wide financial and policy decisions in welfare - fiscal and otherwise - make a huge difference. 

The second reading of the Welfare Reform Bill takes place this afternoon in the House of Lords. Christian commentator Savitri Hensman, who works in the care and equalities sector, has written a piece which looks at what is happening to housing support in Britain from the perspective of those at the sharp end - very much in line with the perspective adopted by Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission.

She writes: "Especially in areas where affordable housing is scarce, many of us – even if not about to be displaced ourselves – have friends or relatives who are about to lose their homes, with all that this involves," going on to explain why the government’s programme of draconian cuts is so harmful. The whole article can be viewed here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Watch out for Elaine

POVERTY Truth Commissioner Elaine Downie will be on the STV Six O'Clock News tomorrow night (13 September 2011) in connection with the STV appeal, which we reported on recently.

Elaine has a long track record of anti-poverty action. Back in 1999 she told the BBC on behalf of Church Action on Poverty: "Poverty is not an act of God. The existence of poverty in a great city like Glasgow diminishes the lives of everybody, not just the poor."

The week of programmes for the STV Appeal 2011 began this past weekend, and aims to support children affected by poverty across Scotland.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Empty homes contrast with housing need

AS THE MEDIA scrutinise the legislative programme put forward by the Scottish Government, attention is returning to the problems of homelessness and lack of affordable housing - issues which many who gave evidence to the Poverty Truth Commission highlighted.

Scotland has some 23,000 empty private homes, while  more than 160,000 families, couples and single people are stuck on waiting lists for social housing.

Campaigners and those at the tough end of the national housing crisis say that tackling the problem of vacan properties across the country is important. They want incentives as well as disincentives to change the situation.

The Scottish Government is talking of legislation to allow local authorities to scrap the 50 per cent council tax discount on empty homes.

Proponents say that this could raise an extra £30 million in revenue each year. The money could then be put towards affordable housing schemes, as well as taking away the financial incentive for owners to keep their properties empty.

Kirsten Miller, Shelter Scotland's empty homes co-ordinator, commented: "Councils also have to provide help and advice. A council tax levy is not going to make a huge difference. They need to reach out to the ones that are really stuck and really need help.

She continued: "The ones we are most concerned about are the ones empty for six to 12 months. Usually, something has gone wrong for the owners, or they are afraid of becoming a landlord, or someone has died and there is some uncertainty as to who is to inherit it."

"Empty homes are a disgraceful waste at a time when housing demand outstrips supply. With fewer homes being built, there is no end in sight for the tens of thousands of households in Scotland stuck on housing waiting lists," said Ms Miller

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A continuing challenge

"The Poverty Truth Commission brought together a diverse group including, crucially, people living with poverty. 

"All learned from each other, improved their understanding of poverty and developed their communication skills. I believe the Commission provides a template for the consideration of social policy formulation by government at all levels. 

"The recommendations made on the three areas studied deserve serious consideration by the public bodies concerned." - Bob Winter, Poverty Truth Commissioner.

Monday, 5 September 2011

STV appeal will focus on child poverty

A WEEK of programmes will begin this coming weekend for the STV Appeal 2011, which aims to support children affected by poverty across Scotland.

The programming begins on 11 September 2011. It will conclude with a live studio show on 16 September. Though the series will feature popular programming and celebrity hosts, it does not eschew serious issues. On Thursday 15 September the documentary One in Four will be shown at 7.30pm. This examines how 250,000 children are officially living in poverty in Scotland - one in four of the child population.

Elizabeth Partyka, deputy director of channels, commented: “We have a fantastic week of programmes lined up for viewers, mixing pure entertainment with a thought-provoking and often shocking documentary, which I hope will open the public’s eyes to the horrific extent of child poverty right on our doorsteps.”

The 'Big Launch' on Sunday 11 September at 7pm, to be presented by Lorraine Kelly, will highlight the major fundraising opportunities and hear from some of the young people and local projects who will benefit from STV Appeal. The Poverty Truth Commission has consistently argued that the voices of those living at the sharp end should feature in both our understanding and policy-making.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Poverty? What's that?

"WHAT is poverty? Worry, worry, worry. Everything is going up in price, everything apart from my wages. I feel physically sick with worry, and I'm so cold. 

"The housing [people] haven't repaired my radiator for three weeks now. I just sit in the cold and go to bed early. My hair is falling out with the stress. I don't see how things can change for me. I think this is the way it's going to be all the time. 

"I'm so sick of the way people treat me. It feels like there's a barrier in front of me the whole time." 

Marie McCormack

Friday, 2 September 2011

More children in jobless households

THE number of children being brought up in Scottish households where no adults are working has increased. Under-16s living in homes without adults with paid jobs rose to 145,000 (15.8 per cent of all under-16s) this year from 141,000 (15.3 per cent) last year.

The worsening situation for young people is occurring despite Scotland experiencing a slight decrease in the number of workless households over the past twelve months, according to figures released on 1 September 2011 by the Office of National Statistics.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance in Scotland, told the media: "These figures tally with the experiences we have been picking up from the organisations that we are working with.  People are getting back into jobs, and that's undoubtedly a good thing. But the rate of decline of worklessness is not as quick as we would like.

He added: "This is a long-standing problem, which is not just caused by the recent recession, so it is going to take a long time to tackle."

Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission has argued that those at the sharp end of poverty need to be involved directly by policy-makers and politicians in arriving at fresh solutions and approaches to the problem.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Welfare and public sector challenges

PLANNED welfare changes will deliver a £480 million blow to the Scottish economy, according to research earlier this year publicised by the Poverty Alliance in Scotland - a partner in the Poverty Truth Commission.

The Scottish Local believe however that the impact will be a lot higher through knock-on costs and a huge increase in demand for council services.  Speaking on behalf of the Scottish CampaignMatt Lancashire of Citizens Advice Scotland said: “We agree the changes in welfare will have a wider impact on the Scottish economy. But the main concern must be the immediate impact that the welfare changes are having on the people who rely on the welfare state simply to live their lives."

Meanwhile, public sector bodies in Scotland may struggle to make the required savings to their budgets this year, risking the future delivery of effective services, auditors are warning. An Audit Scotland report, Scotland’s public finances – addressing the challenges, finds that Scotland’s public sector budget in 2011/12 will be £27.5 billion. This is a drop of 6% or £1.7 billion in real terms on the previous year’s budget.