End Poverty Edinburgh is an independent group of citizens formed in 2020 to raise awareness of poverty in Edinburgh, influence decision-making and hold the city to account. It was formed during the latter stages of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission as a legacy group to continue a long term movement to end poverty in Scotland’s capital city.
In today’s blog, the group reflect on their recent work in Edinburgh, and their priorities for the coming year.
Over the last 12 months, our group has continued to work extremely hard to highlight the causes and impact of poverty which is affecting an ever-increasing number of Edinburgh citizens.
We don’t claim to speak on behalf of everyone who is impacted by poverty, but each of our members brings their own personal wealth of knowledge and experience to try to address as many aspects of poverty as we can.
Unfortunately, a lot has changed in the past year, and not in the way any of us anticipated. Today, we are all concerned about the cost-of-living crisis that is affecting everyone. This most recent crisis is undoubtedly affecting people who have never experienced such hurdles before, bringing the fear, anxiety, and stigma that often accompanies falling into such a position.
Alongside that, we sense the current cost of living crisis also brings with it a newfound normalisation of the term ‘poverty’, which we believe is problematic.
Certainly, the current crisis is not really a new thing for those who have been living in poverty for a while. It is, however, impacting harder on the most vulnerable in our communities. People with disabilities, senior citizens, migrant communities, low pay workers, and so many others are hit harder than most, especially in the current climate. With the term ‘poverty’ increasingly visible so much in the last year, we fear it has become a throwaway norm. If this is the case, we need to denormalise poverty immediately, and re-emphasize the impact it has on families, not just in monetary terms, but also on physical and mental health.
Spreading awareness and battling stigma is something we’ve done since our group first formed, and we will continue to do this. Indeed, in our own efforts to end poverty in our city, we are happy to report that we have taken several small steps of progress. For one, we have successfully ensured the voices of lived experience were included and listened to in a variety of efforts to address poverty, by multiple organisations and individuals. This included a variety of 3rd sector organisations across the city, as well as working in partnership with the Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC), including joint work on ending the need for food banks. We believe that including those with lived experience, or living experience, as we often say, in efforts to address poverty is essential.
Naturally, this is equally essential in government and council responses to poverty just as much, if not more so, than that of 3rd sector organisations. That is why we have reached out to and met with several councillors over the last year, as well as presenting a deputation to the city council in August 2022. Here, we shared our experiences of the reality of poverty, in efforts it can help shape the policies and actions put into place to eliminate poverty from our city.
Although we acknowledge the success of our efforts, the willingness of others to listen, and we greatly welcome the progress made towards ending poverty in our city, we feel we must reemphasize the urgency of continuing to push ahead and get that momentum going. Perhaps now more than ever, action is needed. The clash between the cost-of-living crisis and Scottish winter is almost upon us, and will be sure to push even more people into the cycle of poverty. We knew of people who were struggling to pay energy costs last year, only able to heat one or two rooms of their homes. This was before the steep, or vertical, rise in electric and gas prices that have already hit, and are soon to strike again. Ultimately, many will not be able to heat any part of their homes this winter.
It is blindingly obvious, then, that the cost-of-living crisis is aggravating all pre-existing aspects of poverty, making survival ever more difficult for those trapped in its cycle. With that in mind, as part of our ongoing mission, we have identified three key areas to specifically focus some of our efforts on for the year ahead:
· Equality in health and wellbeing – including physical and mental health, and social care
· Connections in a city that belongs to us – continuing to form relationships with other organisations, individuals and unions etc, growing our allies in our journey to end poverty in Edinburgh
· Affordable and accessible housing – housing that is accessible and affordable
Although these areas of focus display subjects we feel are particularly important within the current climate, they are nothing new in our ongoing efforts. With the aforementioned clash between the cost-of-living crisis and the Scottish winter set to impact so many people, alongside flu season and the ever present COVID cases, such a storm is likely to have a great impact on people’s health and wellbeing, whether that be physical or mental.
As we have said many times, no-one goes to a food bank by choice – it’s through desperation and necessity – and with many more reaching that desperation, food insecurity, and food bank use is surely set to rise even more. With the stigma and shame associated with foodbank use, this will likely impact people’s mental health as well as physical, or put them off reaching for help altogether. We need to find a way of reaching those most in need and removing the bureaucracy and stigma that deters people from asking for much needed help.
The toll on people’s mental health that this crisis will cause cannot be underestimated. Being constantly cold and having to explain to your children why they have to wear their coats in-doors and why they have to shiver in their beds is not something any parent should ever have to do. Unsurprisingly, this cyclical process has a massive impact on people’s physical health as well. This winter is going to be tough, and the number of cold weather deaths is inevitably going to increase without more support from the council, and the governments at Holyrood and Westminster.
Going forward, those already experiencing poverty in our city are set to face even bigger hurdles, while many others will fall into the poverty cycle that is so difficult to escape. So, we wholeheartedly welcome the progress made to end poverty in our city so far at a time where progress is needed most, and we continue to offer to share the knowledge and experiences that our members have, whilst simultaneously calling on our nation’s governments to support the people who voted them to serve us.