Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Kinship carers seek Scottish Government petition backing

CLACKS Kinship Carers (CKC) will be at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 1 March 2012, at 1pm, to hand over a petition they want to see on the Scottish Parliament website. 

There is a formal process for making this happen, and CKC are hoping for a big show of support for the hand-over,  since the issue is of real concern to thousands of people across Scotland.

The text of the petition is: "Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to take action to ensure that all councils across Scotland pay kinship carers the recommended allowance (as suggested in the Scottish Government's Local Government Concordat for 2008-2011) and that any such allowance should be ring fenced, with resourced support equable with foster carers"

We will report further on developments as they happen. During the debate on Kinship Care in the Scottish parliament recently, Richard Simpson MSP cited material from the Poverty Truth Commission Kinship reports.  "It is good that we are getting these perspectives into the public and political consciousness," said Miriam Rose.

The PTC Kinship Care: Observations and Recommendations report can be read here (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document).

The Scottish Government COSLA Concordat is available here (also *.PDF). See page 5.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Third Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty

THE third Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty will take place on 15 and 16 March 2012, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, it has been announced. 

The Poverty Alliance explains on its website: "Over the two day conference, we will be focusing on inequality and alternative ways of working during a time of economic austerity."

Confirmed speakers so far include: Owen Jones, author of Chavs; Anna Coote, New Economics Foundation; Philip Blond, ResPublica, and many more.

PA continues: "We will hear from inspiring community projects from across Scotland on how they are affected by these issues and what they are doing to combat them. This year we will be focusing on the themes of child poverty, fuel poverty, sustainable communities, welfare reform and alternative economic models."

The event will bring together community groups, national organizations and political representatives at a Scottish and UK level.

Ghazala Hakeem, commissioner of the Poverty Truth Commission, will be among the speakers at the event.

Please click here to see the full two day agenda for the Assembly. Please click here to see the evidence session descriptions. To register for the Assembly, please click here.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Childcare costs higher in Scotland than elsewhere

CHILDCARE costs more in Scotland than in most other parts of Britain, concludes a new report from children's charities. 

It echoes the concerns of parents and carers across the country, and their desire to be involved in helping to formulate policies and approaches that address these issues - as the Poverty Truth Commission has argued and demonstrated.

Some parents are facing bills of nearly £12,000 a year, says the report, published by the Daycare Trust and Children in Scotland.

What they uncover is a 'postcode lottery' whereby some local authorities are charging twice as much as others for child daycare.

The "Scottish Childcare Lottery" report finds nursery prices as high in Scotland as southern England in some areas, with 25 hours of care over 50 weeks at the most expensive nursery costing £11,688, reports the Daily Record newspaper.

The report says that out-of-school childcare in the most expensive local authority is 94% more expensive than the cheapest council.

The price of after-school care, at an average of £49 for 15 hours, is significantly higher in Scotland than in England and Wales.

 The report also finds that only 20% of local authorities have enough childcare provision to meet local demand. Moreover, only 10% have enough childcare for parents who work outside regular office hours or who live in rural areas.

More on the report for Britain as a whole here

Friday, 24 February 2012

The challenge of 'poverty truth'

THE Poverty Truth Commission was a two year project bringing together some of Scotland's civic leaders with people at the sharp end of poverty. And it isn't over! 

Though the work of the Commission has ended, the continuing quest for 'poverty truth', and for the engagement of people who experience with the formulating of strategies to combat and move beyond poverty remains vital.

It is this challenge which the PTC steering group and partners are seeking to push forward. Commissioners from varied backgrounds worked together to discover the realities of poverty, and to explore real solutions to it. They also became friends.

This website explains the story of the Commission and its Commissioners and also hopes to inspire people to think about working in a new way - where those affected by decisions are included in the decision making.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Fuel poverty remains rife

FUEL poverty remains rife in Scotland. Thousands of families can no longer afford to meet the cost of energy which forces them to go without essential heat even when they need it most. 

A recent survey showed that 658,000 households were living in fuel poverty in 2010, 28% of the population. Some experts are estimating that the figure for 2011 could be as high as 35% once data has been collated.

As a result Holyrood's Energy and Tourism Committee have urged the Scottish Government to do something about this increasing problem and to try to find additional ways to cut the cost of energy bills.

A range of factors are involved in the long standing predicament that many Scottish families find themselves in. The current state of the energy market is one. The need for conservation and insulation in affordable and accessible forms is another.

More on the Scottish Fuel Poverty Forum.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Scottish Poverty Information Unit

THE Scottish Poverty Information Unit (SPIU) is in the process of giving its website an overhaul, so that it is more 'user friendly'. 

The SPIU is an applied research unit based in the School of Law and Social Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Formed in 1995, under the leadership of Emeritus Professor Gill Scott, founder and director until 2007, it quickly attained a positive profile as a source of information and analysis on matters pertaining to poverty and social justice in Scotland.

Currently comprising four staff, and able to draw upon an extensive array of academic expertise across its host Department of Social Sciences, SPIU seeks to develop and contribute to the key debates on poverty and related issues across the country.

The Scottish Poverty Information Unit is "no ordinary university research unit", its advocates say.  It has "a strong social mission and a sense of purpose that gravitates toward collaborative activity and developing sustained partnerships in academia, government and the Third Sector."

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Pioneering cancer support scheme

SCOTTISH patients who have survived cancer will be equipped to help other sufferers fighting the disease through a groundbreaking new scheme funded and backed by cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support
Volunteers who have themselves struggled against cancer will advise patients on how to cope with the distressing effects of the disease and its gruelling treatments, reports The Scotsman newspaper.
The scheme in the first project of its kind in Scotland. The formal training course has been developed by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
The The £500,000 project will see dozens of cancer survivors – to be called Macmillan Supporters – go through the training to support patients embarking on treatment.
In a pilot project, they will offer help with nutrition and diet, and eventually they will give guidance on undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as navigating the benefits system.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Homeless people are part of the community

ALASTAIR Cameron, chief executive of Scottish churches Housing Action, has a piece in the Scotsman newspaper arguing that homeless people must be part of the community, not as an abstract 'problem'. 

He writes that: 2012 is a big year for homelessness in Scotland. In 2002, the Scottish Executive decided that within ten years, all homeless people, not just the most vulnerable, would have a priority need for housing. 

Over that same period Scottish Churches Housing Action has developed new, local, volunteer-based activities on homelessness. These include helping set up two dozen starter-pack schemes: projects that gather good-quality second-hand goods and get them to people in need. This helps prevents homelessness and aids tenants who have been homeless to establish home. 

Our message is that homeless people are our neighbours. They have a place in our community, and by showing a welcome, we help include them. 

More here.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A systemic challenge

FROM his experience of the issues, and as a commissioner for Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission, Alastair McIntosh says...

"It is crucial that we understand the roots of what poverty is. First, it is structural, being systemic to the distribution of power, resources and educational opportunities in society.

"Second, it is a form of violence that comes from a deficit of empathy between those who have much and those who have little.

"Third, it is intergenerational, with its life-crippling seeds getting passed on in early childhood.

"And fourth, it is sustained by blindness to the full humanity of one another, showing it to be a pathology of the rich and not just a deficit of the poor.

"These four drivers are so fundamental to the human condition that they require not quick fixes but an evolution in human consciousness and in how we see our national identity. To walk this path we must allow ourselves to be challenged by Truth - the truth of where we and our world stand, the truth of where we know we are called to go, and the many truths of how to bridge that gap.

"Truth is an active power for change. Reconciliation is what brings us back together again in our common humanity. Both spring from the sharing of community. Truth and reconciliation are about seeking that which gives life. Life as love made manifest."

Monday, 13 February 2012

Poverty Truth Commission engages Ed Miliband

AS part of a continuing conversation with political and civic leaders across the spectrum, Labour leader Ed Miliband was made aware of the work of the Poverty Truth Commission in Scotland when he spoke in Glasgow at the end of last month.

At the question and answer session after the high-profile gathering, which looked at both constitutional and social issues, PTC Commissioner Tricia McConalogue, coordinator of Bridging the Gap invited the Westminster opposition leader to ensure that people living in poverty would be involved shaping and delivering anti-poverty policy. 

Mr Miliband received a copy of the Poverty Truth Commission report after the meeting on 30 January 2012. It is hoped that further engagement will follow. 

Money for energy efficient homes and fuel poverty

A FURTHER £87 million will be invested in affordable and energy efficient homes to support jobs in the construction industry, the Scottish government has announced.

Some £42 million will expand shared equity schemes and the Housing Infrastructure Loan Fund over the spending review period. This also includes £10 million for a new Greener Housing Innovation Scheme aimed at encouraging councils and housing associations to build greener homes using modern, more efficient and, environmentally friendly technology.

Also included is around £5m to support connecting fuel poor communities to the gas grid taking up an early proposal made through the Scottish Fuel Poverty Forum’s review of the Fuel Poverty Strategy.

Further details here

Friday, 10 February 2012

Anti-poverty sports programme launched

A SPORTS programme to help young people living with poverty in Scotland and in other parts of the world has been launched.

Well-known cyclist Graeme Obree was among the guests as Sport Relief chief executive Kevin Cahill announced the £5 million Home and Away programme this week, half paid for by the fundraising body and half by the Scottish Government.

Half of the money will fund projects in Scotland and the other half will be spent on health and enterprise initiatives in countries such as Malawi in Africa.

More from the Press Association.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Bridging the gap in Glasgow

POVERTY Truth Commissioner Tricia McConalogue is a key player in Bridging the Gap, a church-based project which seeks to build bridges for change in Glasgow.

Co-ordinator Tricia explains: "In 1998 a local priest and minister were aware of the territorialism and division in the community and began organising events involving school children that crossed the divide."

She continues: "A few years later when Glasgow became home to a large number of asylum seekers, the local community asked us to step in and take the lead on integrating the new people into the community."

Keen to help, Bridging the Gap provided English classes and gave practical help with essential food and clothing parcels.

While this was well-received by the asylum seekers, they found it did create some division in the community. "Gorbals has lots of people living in poverty, not just asylum seekers," explains Tricia. "It  became hard to justify why we were [seemingly] helping one group over another." So they changed the services they offered and began a drop-in centre open to everyone. '

"Every Thursday we have up to 60 adults and children come and join us, representing a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds. The idea is to get the community integrated and to break down barriers so we do all sorts of activities together."

These include ‘keep fit’, games, a Samba band and workshops on things like flower arranging. They’ve worked with a local choir, got different people to cook meals from different cultures and have talks about different faiths to break down myths about religions and beliefs.

They run five big celebration events a year too and a separate women’s group has grown out of the drop-in centre. The women's group play Bingo and have fish suppers as well as working on joint projects like making a quilt that represents their different stories.

The Bridging the Gap team still do advocacy work for asylum seekers to help them in their claims and have found that volunteer placements can have a very positive effect. In fact their volunteer programme is open to anyone who is out of work and wants to keep up their skills or learn new ones.

With thanks to Bridging the Gap

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Keeping warm, keeping well campaign

A 'KEEPING Warm, Keeping Well' campaign has been launched across Scotland, involving local GPs, to help people keep safe in their homes and to deal their fuel bills.

Leaflets are being sent out to all Scottish surgeries by charity Energy Action Scotland, reports the Dumbarton Reporter & Advertiser, with support from ScottishPower.

The purpose of the campaign is to spread the word that there is assistance available to people living in cold, damp homes and for whom high fuel bills are a concern.

Energy Action Scotland is the national organisation working to end fuel poverty and to achieve warm, dry homes for all

The initiative is being supported by MSP Jackie Baillie, who is EAS's vice-president.

She declared: "Fuel poverty is a huge problem for many people across Scotland. It affects the most vulnerable people in our communities including the elderly, and parents with young children as well as people with long term health conditions."

Monday, 6 February 2012

People changing people

"IT'S people that change people, not concepts; and this was real purpose of what we have been doing. 

"Of course the problem is not poverty, it's wealth. As long as we live in, and even applaud, a culture in which money is the bottom line, the top line and the front line, there will always be people having to live below the poverty line.

"The Poverty Truth Commission is teaching us a new way to listen, and relate to one another, and make critical decisions; and its legacy will change how we think."

David Lunan, Poverty Truth Commissioner and former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Suppressed by poverty, but fighting back

"People have been suppressed by poverty, and that is what this group is all about - the truth about what poverty is and what it does to people. Through this group we've learnt to raise up our heads, speak our truths and ask people to take note." - Jessie Harvey, Poverty Truth Commissioner.

It is not easy, financially or emotionally, for grandparents forced to take on the full-time care of their grandchildren. Jessie, whose son and partner were unable to bring up their child because of chaotic drug habits, has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the issues affecting her grandson and her son. She established Kinship Care for the North over five years ago and has been nominated as an SCVO (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) 'charity champion'.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Disability campaigners vow to continue struggle

DISABLED activists and disability campaigners, including the 500 NGOs gathered under the banner of Disability Rights UK, have said they will be keeping up the struggle against the Westminster coalition government's controversial Welfare Reform Bill.

Neil Coyle, Disability Rights UK Director of Policy and Campaigns, declared this week: “The Government’s removal of protections for some disabled people from the Welfare Reform Bill ignores the hundreds of thousands of disabled people directly affected, the hundreds of charities who have highlighted the potential devastating impact for disabled people and their families, the House of Lords who proposed additional protections and the Joint Committee on Human Rights who suggested the Bill will cause destitution.”

Disabled people are disproportionately represented among benefit claimants due to educational attainment issues, higher poverty, lack of accessible work and employer discrimination.

The Bill aims to cut 280,000 disabled people from receiving out of work benefits altogether and 500,000 disabled people to be made ineligible for a benefit designed to help with disabled people’s higher costs of living.

These plans have long term cost implications being ignored, critics say, by Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – including a substantial potential increase in avoidable NHS use and rise in demand for council social care services - which many disabled people are being made ineligible for due to council budget cuts.

House of Lords amendments had secured protection for some disabled children, disabled adults needing longer than a year to find work and disabled students.

Disabled people believed their fears and concerns had been acknowledged and addressed in the Lords, says Disability Rights UK, but but this hope has been removed in the Commons' demand for short term welfare expenditure cuts which, they say, ignore risks of higher future costs as well as abandoning or exposing vulnerable people to suffering and even destitution.

Legal challenges are now being considered. The Spartacus Report campaign for DLA, initiated and led by people who are themselves living with disabilities and sickness, has been opposing the Bill in its current form and demanding that they be involved in policy and decision-making on issues that deeply effect their dignity and livelihood. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Concern for cancer patients' benefits

PEOPLE living with cancer in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have warned MPs that the Westminster government's welfare changes could push cancer patients and their families into poverty. 

Groups of disabled, sick and other people have been making similar points, but yesterday the coalition government voted down amendments that would have ameliorated what critics say are some of the worst aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Writing in the Herald newspaper, Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales says: Cancer patients want to work. They haven't chosen to give up the safety of employment. The assertion that providing hard-earned benefits at a time of greatest need encourages a dependency by seriously ill cancer patients on benefits is simply not based on fact.

The Government's plan to cut Employment Support Allowance after one year will leave around 7,000 cancer patients up to £94 worse off each week, simply because they have not recovered quickly enough. These are people who have paid into the system all their working lives and it is wrong to put them under further financial and emotional distress on top of recovering from a life-threatening illness.

In our experience of treating and supporting cancer patients, one year is not long enough for many people to recover from cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be highly debilitating. The ongoing and severe side-effects can leave patients struggling for years. Although there is clear evidence that one year is not long enough for patients to recover, the Government seems determined to press ahead with the changes. 

We accept the benefits system is in need of reform. However, cutting help for cancer patients will only succeed in causing stress and worry to people going through an already difficult time.

Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland offers practical, emotional and financial help to people affected by cancer. It provides trained medical professionals to the NHS and have cancer centres throughout the country where people receive expert care in a specially-designed environment. It also campaigns to improve the lives of people in Scotland living with cancer.

Welfare challenge for for Scottish local and national government

A FAIR and efficiently functioning social security system is essential to eradicating child poverty in Scotland, says commentator John Dickie, writing in the Edinburgh Journal on 1 February 2012.

He scontinues: It is now vital that the Scottish Parliament ensures that new responsibilities being devolved to Scotland for replacing important parts of the welfare system - such as council tax benefit, community care grants and crisis loans - are used to support families more effectively in the face of wider UK cuts.

Ministers need to think about what schemes to put in place to better meet the needs of families, particularly given the overall damage to family incomes that will result from the Bill. Changes to UK welfare policy also create opportunities for local and national government in Scotland to ensure devolved benefits such as free school meals, the energy assistance package and healthy start vouchers are designed in such a way as to reach more children in poverty. Finally the need for government in Scotland to fund and support advice services to help ensure people get the financial supports they are still entitled to is now greater then ever.

In these and other areas, the Poverty Truth Commission has argued and advocated, it is vital that government and other actors and stakeholders at all levels orientate their actions around the experience and expertise of those living at the cutting edge.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Churches unite over benefit reforms

CHURCHES on both sides of the border are encouraging politicians to eliminate or ameliorate cuts in benefits and welfare provision in a controversial bill being pushed through the Westminster parliament under reserved powers.

The Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council has joined with charities, unions, civic and faith bodies to urge Scottish MPs to vote to keep seven Welfare Reform Bill amendments won by Crossbench and other peers in the House of Lords.

Methodists, the United Reformed Church, Baptists and Quakers have also come out against the government's top-slicing benefit cap, and have produced a detailed briefing on the issue.

Disabled and sick Spartacus campaigners have led the opposition to key elements in the bill, though there is agreement in principle on a Universal Credit and simplification of the system. They share the values of the Poverty Truth Commission that "nothing about us without us is for us".