Council Leader provides latest update
Posted on 3 Jun 2020
I hope you all enjoyed the weekend weather. While restrictions have eased it is important to remember that we are still at a crucial stage of this pandemic and must continue to follow the rules. I am sure that many of you, whilst adhering to those rules, took the opportunity to meet up with loved ones and to spend some quality time outdoors.
The good weather and the chance to be reunited with loved ones has given us all a welcome boost. But for many, the long-term prospects remain bleak.
Covid-19 is a health crisis but it is also an economic crisis and one that has huge implications for many families.
Even before this pandemic, there were far too many families in this country living in poverty. Frankly, in this day and age, in the sixth richest country in the world, nobody should be living in poverty and struggling to feed their children. It appals and angers me.
I’ve done a lot of work with the Poverty Alliance in recent years and one of the biggest challenges we face when talking about poverty is the portrayal, by some politicians and sections of the media, that people in poverty are undeserving, that they’re ‘scroungers’ that choose to live in poverty. We’ve needed to challenge that false narrative and end the stigma of poverty. The current pandemic has shone a light on why.
Between 12th March and 9th April, so only a few weeks into this crisis, the number of people claiming Universal Credit in North Ayrshire increased by 30%. That’s around 2700 people in North Ayrshire who have had to claim Universal Credit and whilst we don’t have an in-depth analysis of the reasons why, nor what proportion of those new claimants are in-work, it would be fair to assume these are people who have been negatively impacted by the economic shock of Covid-19.
Through no fault of their own, that’s 2700 people now claiming Universal Credit with all the pitfalls of that system. It really emphasises that sometimes things outwith our own control can hit us. And it can happen to any of us during our lifetime.
The sad reality is that, before the virus, the majority of families living in poverty had at least one family member in work. Precarious employment, such as zero hour contracts, and low pay have changed the very nature of work. Gone are the days when work was the best route of poverty. Now, the emphasis cannot just be on job numbers but rather on good jobs, that pay a real Living Wage and provide financial stability for families to have a decent standard of living.
This is the driving force behind our Community Wealth Building Strategy which we launched last month. We have to reconnect the economy with social justice, to ensure that work always pays enough to pay your bills and feed your family. We are working with some of the best economic experts, including the new General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, on how we move Community Wealth Building forward.
I discuss these issues having never shied away from the issue of poverty in North Ayrshire. It has been a plague on our communities for decades. My administration has been focused on the issue over the last few years and despite a small decrease of 0.4% in child poverty in the last year, according to new statistics released by End Child Poverty, it has risen by 4.5% since 2014/15. This a damning indictment of not only the economy but also the welfare reforms we have seen over the last decade.
We can’t sit back and do nothing. Nor can we return to business as usual over the coming months. Not when the early signs are that Covid-19 could plummet more families below the poverty line. That’s why I will be adding poverty reduction as a responsibility within my refreshed Cabinet that I will announce soon.
Finally, I couldn’t end without mentioning the horrendous scenes we are seeing in America following the death of George Floyd. To watch endless videos of police brutality is absolutely appalling. I send my solidarity to all those standing up against these injustices to say Black Lives Matter.