As the UK went into lockdown in March, we published an update on our work and asked for people to tell us about their experiences of living in poverty in Edinburgh.
In this blog, our Chair, Dr Jim McCormick, introduces what we have learned so far.
The pandemic has created a fast-rising tide of anxiety and insecurity. For those who were already struggling on a low-income, life is now harder still, and we are seeing a new surge of unemployed people at risk of being swept into poverty.
The initial government response has offered a lifeline to many employers, charities and families. City of Edinburgh Council and community partners moved quickly to put in place support that will allow many people in the city to keep their heads above water. New relationships have formed, people have responded with compassion to those affected directly by the virus and by keyworkers keeping essential support going. There is the potential to build public and political will to achieve a just transition from where we are now.
It is right that we think in bold terms about how Edinburgh can return to activity safely, generating the good jobs, affordable housing and income security that too many citizens have been locked out of. We cannot hope to do that well unless we listen to people’s experiences now and understand the hardship and heartache they face.
This interim report is not the one we expected to publish. After fifteen months of connecting with people and organisations across the city, we planned to publish a shared view of how to end poverty in Edinburgh. Everything we learned from those conversations has been banked. We are clearer than ever about the principles and values that should guide the city’s actions – and we will set out the material and relational changes needed for the long-term in our final report in the autumn. We will also share our ideas for establishing a new network led by people with direct experience of poverty, alongside civic allies. In the weeks since lockdown began, we have gone back to many of our partners to learn about the impacts they are seeing. This report tries to do justice to what we have heard. Alongside fear and isolation, there is an upsurge of community support and kindness. Alongside unprecedented government support, there are gaps leaving too many people struggling. Alongside an extraordinary effort to house people who were sleeping rough and to protect tenants from eviction, there are unanswered questions about arrears and debts. We are all facing the same storm, but we are in different boats.
Putting this right requires that everyone has a stake in what happens next in Edinburgh. We can redesign support, services and the city economy. The scale of the challenge for planning and long-term budgets needs to be recognised openly and honestly. Where a return to business as usual would see the gains from this crisis unravel, we must change the rules of procurement, eligibility and evaluation. Enabling people to secure fair work will be crucial in overcoming the financial knock and the emotional trauma many have faced. We must address with urgency the gaps in support which have left those in precarious hospitality and construction jobs and many of the self-employed with reduced hours or no earnings.
Employers and housing providers have as much responsibility in making a just transition happen as governments, councils and charities. In the coming weeks, we will tune in to citizen experiences, seek out unheard views and develop potential solutions alongside communities. And you can connect with us through Twitter, through our website, or by emailing us –firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Coronavirus rainbow by Phil McIver, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0