The Shifting the Curve report on tackling poverty, written by the First Minister’s Independent adviser on Poverty and Inequality, Naomi Eisenstadt makes for interesting reading . As well as laying out the truly appalling state of inequality within Scotland, it takes a look at the effectiveness (or otherwise) of current policies and makes suggestions for the future.
From a UNISON perspective there is even more to catch the eye as (at least) 11 of the fifteen measures that are recommended by as ways of tackling poverty and inequality are likely to involve UNISON members either directly delivering services or making sure services have the intended effect.
And even taking into account the way things here are a wee bit better than they are in the rest of the UK the details make for painful reading.
“For children, for example, there’s a six percentage point positive difference between the Scottish figures and the UK ones. The bad news is that the Scottish AHC poverty figures are still too high, affecting 18% of all individuals in 2013/14; 22% of children; 19% of working age adults; and 12% of pensioners”
As you would expect in a report by someone commissioned individually by the First Minister care is taken to give the Scottish Government initiatives credit where they are due and criticism is expressed in a highly diplomatic manner. Given that the ditching the Council Tax freeze is so explicitly recommended is a testament to how deeply unhelpful this policy is. (Anyone with doubts as to why the Council Tax freezer is a bad thing should look here. )
But it’s some of the other recommendations that draw the attention. Not the urging of greater social house building or use of welfare powers as they come on stream, welcome though both of these are. UNISON members are at the heart of most of them. Encouraging benefit take up - the responsibility of Welfare Rights Officers and Housing Staff , improving the quality of childcare – the responsibility of UNISON members delivering childcare, providing a more focussed delivery of employment programmes for young people , and more employer engagement with education – it’s difficult to see how this can be done without involving Careers Scotland, and so on. These might well be useful ideas which ought to be implemented, but they are also the responsibility of bodies which have seen significant cuts in recent years and are about to see more.
And there’s the rub.
It’s good that the Scottish Government sees poverty and inequality as an issue worth tackling, and it’s good that there advisor recognises the role of public services in doing so. It follows from that that cuts will add to, not help solve, the problem. There is much in this report to welcome – if it helps prompt a rethink about cuts then it will have gone part of the way to delivering on its recommendations.