The Poverty Truth Commission believes that policies such as freezing incomes will only serve to further impoverish the poor and negatively impact all of us. As a society, we have collectively failed to understand poverty properly as we have not listened to the experts, those people with experience of it first-hand. The UK is an extremely wealthy state and choosing to cut the incomes of the poorest to pay off the debt is a political choice, with far-reaching negative economic consequences.
The Poverty Truth Commission believes that people living in poverty are the experts on their situation and that the long-term reduction and eradication of poverty will only be achieved when they are placed at the heart of the decision making process.
Listening to the testimonies of our commissioners over the years we have learnt of the deep structural barriers which create and reinforce poverty in Scotland. Punitive measures, such as reducing the incomes of those already struggling to put food on the table, will not address these obstacles. Instead, it will merely serve to push people further into a desperate financial situation where they may have to resort to food banks, pay day lenders, disconnecting from electricity suppliers and other unsustainable solutions, which in turn will see their debt levels rise.
We live in an extremely wealthy society. Choosing to reduce the debt by cutting the incomes of the poorest in society is a political choice, it is not inevitable, nor does it make economic sense. It is likely to create further costs which will have to be borne by other sections of society, such as family and friends, local communities, charities and local governments. In addition, the long-term negative implications of a life spent in poverty are well documented and include poor outcomes for health and wellbeing and for educational attainment.
Instead, measures such as alleviating the cost of childcare, increasing the minimum wage, safe-guarding working hours and tackling the poverty premium are positive alternatives. The majority of people in poverty in the UK, after all, live in a household with at least one employed adult and many unemployed people are there not through choice but lack of opportunities and training.
We will only find sustainable solutions to reducing inequality, which in turn will decrease public expenditure, when we start listening to people with experience of poverty.
In June of this year the Poverty Truth Commission turned up the volume on these voices. Read the report here