Earlier this month, a frontpage headline in the Courier highlighted the stubbornly high levels of child poverty that still exists in East Lothian. While acknowledging that Covid has reinforced existing poverty and created new hardship for many, it is important to remember that poverty was on the rise even before the pandemic struck.
Much of the increase in poverty over recent years can be ascribed to a decade of austerity implemented by successive Tory-led UK governments, alongside deep, year-on-year Scottish Government cuts to funding for local authorities. This ‘double whammy’ has both increased rates of poverty while at the same time making it harder for councils, so often the main agencies when it comes to fighting poverty, to tackle the problem.
East Lothian Council recently consulted on a Draft Poverty Plan for 2021 to 2023. It sets out an ambitious agenda for building on the work undertaken over the last few years following the publication of the East Lothian Poverty Commission Report in 2017.
The council and its local partners are certainly taking this issue seriously and doing everything within their power to reduce poverty and inequality. One of the plan’s targets is for East Lothian to become a Living Wage area. I am pleased to be playing my small part in that ambition by recently becoming a Living Wage Employer, and I encourage others to do the same.
However, while welcoming the Draft Poverty Plan, we need to see the same commitment from the Scottish Government. Earlier this month Tory, SNP and Green MSPs voted against a proposal to double the Scottish Child Payment now and again next year, an uplift that would lift 50,000 children out of poverty.
Challenge Poverty Week (4-10 October) is another welcome opportunity to highlight that poverty is a problem we can solve. There are still opportunities for your organisation or community to get involved in the week – find out more at www.challengepoverty.net.