People living on low incomes in Edinburgh struggle to know where to go for advice and feel overwhelmed when trying to navigate the various systems and services available in Edinburgh, according to new research published today.

This report [download link], the second of a series of research briefings prepared by Poverty Alliance for the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, focuses on people’s individual experiences of living in poverty in Edinburgh, specifically on their experiences of accessing support and navigating services as well as their perceptions of their local area.

Poverty Alliance researchers asked people where they would go if they were in a financial crisis in Edinburgh. Almost all the interviewees said that they did not where to go to ask for advice and support and were not aware of benefits that they might be eligible for, such as short-term financial support available through the Scottish Welfare Fund or hardship payments.

Most of the participants said that where they had been in a financial crisis, they had asked friends or family for support. For participants who did not have anyone to turn to, there were several examples of either not eating, not using fuel, or ending up in debt. Participants who were in debt described high levels of anxiety as a result of not knowing where to go to for help.

“Struggling is the worst thing to do. If you have any mental health problems, and you’re short of money, then everything gets worse and worse. You don’t know what bills you’ve paid and what ones you’re waiting to pay. You get yourself all confused, then, have you anything in to eat, or were you not able to eat this day because you were paying a certain bill. How many times could you be chased by people who are needing money and you just don’t have the money. And the worse you feel, the more you want to take what money you have and spend it on something totally unnecessary, because it’s human nature.”

For those participants who had engaged with support services in the city, most participants spoke of negative experiences.  Issues included a lack of continued support from one person or service, misinformation, and negative interactions with Jobcentres and work capability assessments.  In common with previous findings, housing related issues were a central concern amongst interviewees.  The stress of long waiting times for council properties was evident across the interviews.

The issue of community came up in several ways in the research. Whilst several participants felt a strong sense of community spirit in their local area, a lack of services locally, particularly for children and young people, and cuts in funding, were frequently mentioned. 

One participant, who lived in the north west of Edinburgh, spoke of the lack of things to do for teenagers but also adults, particularly given the cost of transport which prevented her from doing anything outwith her local area:

“I really feel that there’s nothing for children to do and there’s nowhere for them to go. And at the moment there’s nowhere for even adults to go in the evening that’s walking distance, because… well, the buses are expensive unless you have the disability bus passes. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. There’s the arts centre which is a really good resource and I know they have, like, lots of stuff for little kids, but when they get to, like, over the age of 12.”

Researchers spoke to a number of people who had children. They all mentioned the cost of local activities as a huge challenge and wanted more free, accessible activities for children of all ages in their local area.  Several participants spoke of cuts to funding in their local area which had led to the loss of services. For some, the close of a local advice or support organisation had meant they had lost a key support worker who had been supporting them for a long period.

Full research findings are available here [download link].

A final research briefing in this series will be published in early August.  The evidence gathered from all these briefings will be used by the Commission as it works towards preparation of its final report later this year.