As a front line charity worker, never have I seen such destitution and poverty as I have just now; this is significantly impacting on Scotland’s future: our children. Poverty has run through generations of Scottish families and has now reached tipping point. At a time of global crisis, both politically and economically, I can look closer to home and see the effects of the situation on my own doorstep. TV ad’s from charities encouraging support to the third world have always stuck in my mind, they have made me thankful as to how lucky I am to live in a country like Scotland and made me realise that inequality is not only unjust, in this country it is entirely unnecessary.
No longer can I say that I feel lucky to live in Great Britain- because simply put, there’s nothing great about it. According to the latest data from just before the pandemic, a typical household in Scotland had £214,000 in total wealth.
A typical household in the wealthiest 10% of households had £1.7 million in total wealth, whereas a typical household in the least wealthy 10% of households had £7,600. This data is striking as a first world country, the gap between rich vs poor is significant, and if you look at more recent figures, you will see that during the pandemic until now, the poor have gotten much poorer. The whole system is at breaking point.
Since working for the charity, those TV ads now remind me of things I deal with on a daily basis– deep poverty and children being brought up in very grim circumstances, with little outlook for their future. Believe it or not, nearly a third of Scottish children fall into this category. The IPPR Scotland Director, Philip Whyte has suggested that 5 stadiums the size of Hampden Park, could be filled with children who fall below the breadline– the scale of the problem is colossal, much more than you are probably aware of and led to believe. Not only has this been described as a moral injustice, I would describe it as a political choice.
Poverty is something that could affect anyone at any stage in their life- it is therefore simpleminded to think it will never affect you or your children. Who knows what’s around the corner? But more importantly I think it is a wake up call that society needs to change and the welfare system should also be more compassionate, not only to reduce inequality levels but also to act as a better safety net to those who may face hardship due to unforeseen circumstances. To impose a 2 child limit is not just unjust, it is penalising children and families who need support the most.
The amount of people who have went from having a well paid job to being forced onto the bare minimum on Universal Credit over the pandemic has been insurmountable.
Throughout my career I have witnessed people with not enough money to top up their gas & electricity meter, resulting in not only a cold home but also the food in the fridge expiring yet they are left with no money to buy more. I have witnessed asylum seekers who are at the hands of the Home Office, living off £36.95 per week. People born here but cannot read and write. I have witnessed mental health services and other charities bursting at the seems and clients having to wait months for the support they need.
I have witnessed parents with both physical and mental health problems who are inadequately able to provide for their children but are too sick to work to do anything to change their circumstances. I have witnessed ex-offenders who have been institutionalised their whole life and don’t have any sense of normalcy yet expected to provide a stable future for their kids.
I have witnessed people applying for different types of financial support from third sector organisations and being refused due to the increase of people applying and the lack of available money in the pot. I have also witnessed hard working families in ‘in work poverty’ who are struggling to put meals on the table and have no choice but to use a food bank. The current system should be a safety net for those who need it most, yet it is failing millions everyday.
This is old news, this has been the case for decades and it is a vicious cycle. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation shared findings that higher income families significantly outperform those from low income households and has identified a gap in language ability between more and less advantaged households. Additionally, children from low income households are three times more likely to experience poor mental health, two and a half times more likely to suffer chronic illness and more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural problems.
Quite honestly, the UK system is failing those who cannot necessarily change their circumstances or the circumstances they are born into: our children. Scotland is making progress but we can do better than this. Why should we accept this is as good as it gets for both this and the next generation?
The fundamental thing is for people to be more aware of the reality of the situation and to make better political choices to secure a better future for each one of us but also bare in mind the existing economic limitations the Scottish Government faces.
By Chocolate Milkshake, Front line charity worker. Parent. Activist.