The news that 20% of Edinburgh children live in poverty is both a scandal and sadly not a surprise. Despite relatively high average earnings, Scotland’s capital has always been a place where poverty and wealth live cheek by jowl.
There is no doubt that part of the problem is the ideology of austerity which drives the present Westminster Governments choices, much to the detriment of those least able to fight back.
As just one example of the human impact of a welfare system driven by an ideology which blames those in poverty for their circumstances, here’s the story of one of our Homeless Prevention Service (HPS) Clients.
Cara lived in a 3 bedroomed private let flat with her 5 children aged between 15 and 5. She did not want to live on benefits.
Cara was working 18-21 hours a week for minimum wage. She had claimed Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits but these benefits had been refused because Cara did not have the correct paperwork and had not filled in the application form properly.
HPS helped Cara contact the Child Benefit agency and asked for a Mandatory Reconsideration. They sent us a long document to complete and asked for further information which HPS returned. This took several weeks and once we had sent off all the evidence, Cara chased up the application with weekly phone calls.
Meanwhile Cara survived on part time wages and struggled to support her family. Her flat was cold and damp as she could not afford to heat it properly. HPS gave her foodbank vouchers and applied for grants which she used for living expenses, including a grant for winter clothing and bedding for the children, donated toys and a Christmas hamper for the family over the festive season.
Child Benefit was eventually awarded 9 months after Cara had first applied. This was followed by Child Tax Credits. A total of over £10,000.
It’s a good news story at one level but Cara and her family are still not well off. They are still below the poverty line, just not as far below as they once were.
Cara’s story is not unique but also isn’t the whole story. An economy built on insecure, low paid jobs and rising house prices is not a sustainable one despite the rhetoric from Westminster. We need a radical re-think about what we mean by a strong economy. The conversation needs to have a human purpose and focus not, as is the case at present, a purely financial focus with an assumption that the making of money will eventually make all things well for everyone.
We need a conversation about what kind of society we want and then ask what kind of economy we need to help make that happen rather than letting our decisions about society be driven by the economic ideology of those in power.