For Challenge Poverty Week, this week's guest blog come from Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance.
Readers of this blog will no doubt be well aware that this week is Challenge Poverty Week. Hundreds of organisations and groups, and thousands of individuals will be coming together to highlight that there are still too many people living in Scotland who have to deal with the constant pressure of poverty.
Through discussions at events, online actions, and debates during the week we’ll be reminded that not only are we a compassionate country, but that we are not short of solutions to poverty.
When we talk of solutions to poverty we are, unfortunately, all too often talking about taking actions to fixing problems after they have happened. Too often we spend our time addressing the consequences of poverty, rather than dealing with the root causes.
During this year’s Challenge Poverty Week, we aim to spend more time on addressing the causes of poverty – low incomes and high costs - rather than only focusing on how to undo the damage that it causes.
We know that prevention is better than cure; that statement is so obvious as to be banal. In almost any area of life, a focus on prevention makes sense. However, simply knowing that fact appears to have only a limited impact on how we organise our society.
If we consider homelessness and poverty, a focus on prevention would go a long way to addressing some of biggest challenges we face. We know that poverty, and particularly an experience of childhood poverty, is a strong predictor of whether you will experience homelessness in later life.
This fact alone should tell us that we need to strengthen our efforts to take effective action to prevent poverty now. What would some of that action look like? What would be some of the key elements in a preventative anti-poverty strategy?
Not surprisingly, I would say that we should start with incomes. Having a decent, dependable and adequate income is the biggest defence against poverty. It allows us to plan for the future, and to have some security in our lives. It takes away the constant pressure and stress that can, in many cases, lead to homelessness.
That’s why so many organisations that work against homelessness have supported calls for the UK Government to retain the £20 increase to Universal Credit that was introduced at the start of the pandemic.
This is important, but in the long term we need to see the development of a Scottish Minimum Income Guarantee that would not only act as a protection against poverty, but would reflect the belief in compassion and justice that we all share.
We also need to redesign our economy to reflect our values, ending our reliance on insecure and underpaid work. As we have seen during the pandemic, too many workers – particularly women, people from black and ethnic minority communities and disabled people – are locked into jobs that trap them in poverty.
The third element in a preventative anti-poverty strategy is housing. We all need safe, secure and affordable homes. Having that security not only ensures that everyone is treated with dignity but will also prevent poverty. While the Scottish Government has increased its efforts to build more social housing in recent years, this ambition must be stepped up in the years ahead.
There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from repairing a problem, fixing something that’s needed attention for a while. Seeing the tangible change that you’ve made is always rewarding. But when it comes to homelessness, I think we would all agree that it’s a problem we would prefer to prevent than fix.
In Challenge Poverty Week let us applaud and support the incredible work that takes place to address homelessness now, but let us also redouble our efforts to prevent it in the future by redesigning our economy and society, and to putting an end to poverty for good.
Peter Kelly is Director of the Poverty Alliance - Scotland's anti-poverty network.