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How to shift Scots out of poverty

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Shifting the Curve, ending poverty in Scotland, report, 15 recommendationsNew report commissioned by Scottish government has 15 specific suggestions.

In June 2015 Naomi Eisenstadt was given the task of advising the Scottish Government on reducing poverty – identifying what’s already in place and is working well, what more could be done, and what is not working.

In particular, she was to come up with ideas for ‘shifting the curve‘ – making serious proposals that could, in combination and over the longer term, move large numbers out of poverty.

In-work poverty is one serious problem.

In 2013/14, half (50 per cent) of working age adults in relative poverty after housing costs were in ‘in-work poverty’. That is, they were living in households with at least one adult in employment, and they were still poor.

The same was true for more than half (56 per cent) of children in poverty.

Employment is regularly hailed as the way for people to get out of poverty, but for increasing numbers of people in Scotland, and the UK more generally, just getting a job has not meant getting out of poverty.

This is a depressing picture, as Eisenstadt said, and is one we need to hear about and talk about more.

Housing costs push many in Scotland into poverty. This is clear from the gap between poverty measured before and after housing costs.

Around 290,000 people (working age adults and children) were in in-work poverty before housing costs, but around 420,000 people after housing costs were taken into account.

This means that any attempt to tackle in-work poverty also needs to consider housing-related costs. The focus of this needs to be on core costs like rent and local property-related taxes, and home energy costs.

Reducing occupational segregation is crucial for genuinely inclusive growth.

Much less is spent on skilling up (mainly young) women from the Modern Apprenticeship programme than is spent on (mainly young) men.

The overall level of qualifications gained by young women is lower than those gained by young men.

And the average pay of young women emerging from the programme is likely to be lower than the pay of young men.

Her ensuing report outlines the actions Scottish Government – and others – could take to significantly reduce the numbers of people living in poverty in Scotland.

The report makes 15 recommendations as to how the Scottish Government – and others – could significantly reduce the numbers of people living in poverty in Scotland:

In-work poverty:

  1. Building on Living Wage Accreditation – a focus on larger employers, and on incentives, would be useful.
  2. Encourage pay ratio disclosure as a way of tackling pay inequality.
  3. Ensure childcare commitments focus on quality to improve outcomes, and consider providing a limited number of free hours of childcare for primary school aged children.
  4. Make family flexible working more explicit within the Business Pledge, and consider whether approaches such as the Timewise programme could promote flexible working in Scotland.
  5. Do more to ensure that people claim the benefits they are entitled to.
  6. Make effective use of new social security powers but proceed with caution.

Housing affordability

  1. Build more social housing.
  2. Ensure fuel poverty programmes are focused to support those on low incomes, and do more to tackle the poverty premium in home energy costs.
  3. Be bold on local tax reform.

Life chances of young people, aged 16-24

  1. Carry out a comprehensive review of the policies and services relevant to the life chances of older children and young adults, with particular emphasis on young people from poorer backgrounds.
  2. Reduce the number of government-supported employment programmes targeting this group of young people and simplify the landscape, to provide a clearer, sharper focus.
  3. Ensure that the new approach to employer engagement in education is having an impact on improving skills for work of young people.
  4. Do more to tackle occupational segregation.

Cross-cutting:

  1. Ensure that public service delivery is respectful, person-centred and preserves the dignity of people in poverty: pre-employment and in-service training should include the importance of avoiding stigma and developing understanding of the challenges of living on a very low income.
  2. Commence the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010, when powers are available to do so.

The Scottish Government has already introduced a range of anti-poverty actions, particularly around welfare reform, Eisenstadt pointed out.

It has fully mitigated the bedroom tax, plugged the gap in council tax reduction funding, set up a successful welfare fund providing crisis and community care grants, actively supported social housing, funded advice services, strengthened the educational maintenance allowance, and promoted the Living Wage.

These policy decisions have been important in protecting people from poverty, or from a greater depth of poverty, and often they’ve had support across the political spectrum in Scotland.

But at all levels of government more could be done, and this report offers some specific ideas.

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