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Close the Gap – Guest Blog

In our fifth guest blog Ruth Boyle, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at Close the Gap expands on Women’s Poverty.

Poverty in Scotland is gendered. This was the case before the outbreak of COVID-19, and this trend is only being exacerbated by COVID-19 and the economic impacts of the crisis.

One of the key consequences of COVID-19 is labour market disruption and a jobs recession. This is particularly problematic for women’s poverty, as women’s experience of poverty is directly linked to their experience of the labour market. Women who were already struggling are now under enormous financial pressure, being pushed into further and deeper poverty.

Close the Gap’s research, Disproportionate Disruption, highlights that women’s employment will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 job disruption. The research highlights that women are more likely to lose their job; are more likely to have had their hours cut; have been disproportionately affected by the need for unpaid care, impacting their ability to do paid work; and women in low-paid jobs will be particularly affected by job disruption, placing them at greater risk of poverty.

Women, particularly BME women and young women, are more likely to work in a sector that has been shut down. One-third of lone parents also work in shutdown sectors which is particularly concerning for child poverty rates as lone parents, 91% of whom are women, are already more likely to be living in poverty.

As service sector businesses, such as retail and hospitality, are more likely to be impacted by social distancing measures, the majority female workforces in these sectors are at greater risk of redundancy. Women in these low-paid, high-risk sectors are already more likely to be experiencing in-work poverty and are therefore less likely to have savings to fall back on. Indeed, 80% of people working in hospitality were already struggling financially before lockdown, and the increasing precarity of the sector has been a source of concern for the Commission.

Women in Edinburgh are likely to be particularly impacted by job disruption, with retail and hospitality being key sources of employment in the city. 9.3% of those in employment in Edinburgh are employed in accommodation and food services, compared to the Scotland-wide figure of 7.9%, and 10.5% are employed in retail and wholesale. Drastic reductions in tourism and changing consumer preferences could have stark implications for the recovery of these sectors in Edinburgh, meaning the impact on women’s employment is unlikely to be fleeting.

Women account for two-thirds of workers earning less than the living wage, and receiving only 80% of their usual salary through the Job Retention Scheme could push these women into poverty and under the threshold for Universal Credit. These women, and others who have been made redundant, will be forced to access a social security system which fails to meet their needs. 61% of families in receipt of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits have had to borrow money to stay afloat during the crisis, and 51% are behind on rent or other essential bills. Women require a lifeline, but the design of Universal Credit traps women in poverty.

The delay in the delivery of the increased funded entitlement for childcare also raises concerns around women’s poverty in the longer term. City of Edinburgh Council have not committed to delivering the 1140 funded childcare hours by August, which could trap women in low-paid part-time work, or prevent women from re-entering the labour market, adding to a growing child poverty crisis. The lack of flexible and affordable childcare is a key barrier for women entering the labour market or increasing their hours. 25% of parents living in absolute poverty in Scotland have given up work and a third have turned down a job because of the high cost of childcare.

The transformation of Scotland’s economic landscape as a result of COVID-19 will have far-reaching implications for women in the labour market. One of the key consequences will be a rising tide of poverty for women, and the crucial concern is how to respond to this tide. Transformational policy responses are essential, making the work of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission even more critical.

In responding to COVID-19 it is pivotal that the Commission adopt a gendered approach. This should include integrating gender-sensitive data analysis and gender mainstreaming approaches and recognising that it is impossible to tackle child poverty without tackling women’s inequality in the labour market.

Austerity in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis exacerbated pre-existing inequalities. Equally, a return to the pre-coronavirus status quo will merely cement women’s poverty. Economic recovery needs to focus on rebuilding and transforming the economy but the idea of ‘building back better’ must mean building a labour market that works for women.

You can read our Disproportionate Disruption briefing, and a briefing on Women, Work and Poverty on the Close the Gap website.

Ruth Boyle, Policy and Parliamentary Officer, Close the Gap

@closethepaygap

Our Future Now – The Need to Act

Edinburgh Poverty Commissioner Celia Tennant reflects that to tackle the scale of inequality of youth unemployment it will take radical and bold intervention. Read her full blog on Inspiring Scotland’s website

Hope and hard work for a better future

Commissioner Sandy MacDonald calls for the private sector to find common purpose for better social outcomes in his article in the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s latest bi-monthly magazine. Go to the full article on page 8 of the Economy and Resilience themed Business Comment.

MECOPP Carers Centre – Guest Blog

Suzanne Munday our fourth guest blogger is clear, “we have to learn from what has worked and be honest enough to acknowledge what hasn’t so that we take forward the ‘best’ into the post COVID recovery period.”

Does this situation sound familiar to you?  There is a global pandemic raging and turning everything we know on its’ head.  Government advice is to stay put, not to travel either for work or leisure, to self-isolate if you catch the virus, to wash your hands frequently, to cut yourself off from family and friends to protect those nearest and dearest to you…..these are all things that we have become intimately familiar with for very good reasons. 

But what if you come from a community that has travelling in its’ very DNA and summer is the time when you traditionally go on the road?  When you rely on being able to move about for work and to generate enough income to support your family for the rest of the year.  When your accommodation isn’t big enough to enable someone to self-isolate.  When your cooking and washing facilities are in a separate amenity block.

And it gets worse.  For families who are ‘living’ roadside or on land with no access to running water and sanitation but for public health reasons, are required to stay put.

Yet, daily life still has to go on.  Families have to be fed, children have to be schooled and amused, homes have to be tended and elderly friends and neighbors looked in on.

Financial and food insecurity, fuel poverty, poorer mental health and wellbeing, digital exclusion and lower literacy levels, disruption to vital support services for individuals and racism.  These are just some of the issues that MECOPP’s Gypsy/Traveller Team and partners have had to deal with and work with the community to find solutions to.  All of this within a fast changing environment that often leaves you running to catch up.  And don’t forget – you still have your ‘day’ job.  Community and individual need pre-COVID 19 do not just go away!

“I’m on my own with my child, I’m a carer and it’s hard going at the best of times. My child’s dad hasn’t been able to work so he can’t give me any money to help out. Mecopp applied for a grant for me and it helped me out so much, I could get the wee ones clothes and other things he needed. They also got me some food from the foodbank, to be honest I’ve never used a foodbank before and I was embarrassed to death about it and I wouldn’t want anyone knowing, but the worker picked it up for me and brought it to me.”

So how have we adapted and responded as a team to the very real challenges brought on us by COVID-19? 

Like many of you, we have moved to remote and digital working.  We have set up new services with Scottish Government funding to support the community through the pandemic focusing on financial resilience and emotional health and wellbeing.  Welfare benefit applications, access to crisis grants, hardship funds and other sources of financial help, referrals to community food banks and other forms of practical support have become our daily focus.  Our telephone support service is supplemented by weekly ‘welfare’ calls undertaken by individual team members.  We have consolidated our existing partnerships and forged new relationships which will have lasting benefit.  We have learnt new skills, particularly around social media and have worked with partners to create a dedicated Facebook page for the Gypsy/Traveller community:

https://www.facebook.com/GypsyTravellers-ScotlandCoronavirus-information-100442048272006/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel&eid=ARAhzpSQiBxk3cj_Lp8MMRdcUP0oWYcwTuTXTLYom9x3Sz42gQwBcY-LNx6IAJIWaU2u_Ee3ona11bIb

We have become script writers for information videos, voice-over artists and designers for promotional materials to help get key messages across in an accessible way.  We are learning to work in more creative and flexible ways supported by our funders.

And in the midst of all this, we have found time to celebrate Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month and Carers Week! Together with partners, we delivered a ‘virtual’ programme of activities including films, pod casts, photo exhibitions, story boards and much more.  If there is a ‘silver lining’ to be had, then this is it – our ‘reach’ for the online version of GRTHM has far exceeded what we would have achieved if we had delivered ‘actual’ events.   360,874 hits so far and on course for 400,000!

So where next?  It has been fantastic that so many organisations have worked together to support one of Scotland’s most marginalized communities through the pandemic but the question we should all be asking is ‘what happens now’?  How do we not only consolidate the gains that have been made but build on them for future sustainability?

This is what I think…….we have to learn from what has worked and be honest enough to acknowledge what hasn’t so that we take forward the ‘best’ into the post COVID recovery period.  We need to ensure that Gypsy/Traveller men who are self-employed benefit equally from small business support initiatives.  We need to support young Gypsy/Travellers to resume their education and build their aspirations for the future.  There must be a continuing focus on mental health and wellbeing to build personal resilience.  We need to eradicate food insecurity and fuel poverty.  Services that have been suspended must be reinstated and not ‘lost’ in the local authority funding maelstrom to come.  And, the joint Scottish Government/COSLA National Action Plan must be extended beyond its current lifespan recognizing the wholesale disruption to planning and implementation brought about by COVID-19.  Most of all, we must continue to listen to and involve the community in every aspect going forward.

Suzanne Munday, Gypsy/Traveller Programme Manager, MECOPP Carers Centre

Tel:  0131 467 2994, Email:   info@mecopp.org.uk, Web:   http://www.mecopp.org.uk/

Dark and Light

In the latest in our series of blogs, Commissioner Mary Alexander welcomes the value of our essential workers being recognised.

The interim findings of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission have highlighted the good, the bad and the downright ugly side of COVID-19. Our hearts go out to the many families who have lost a loved one to the pandemic which has swept through Scotland and beyond. It has touched everyone in some way with illness, mortality and increased poverty, clear markers of the pandemic in our communities. Alongside this darkness, a light has been shone on the fundamentals in our society. There has been a positive flourishing of humanity as local communities came together to support each other in mutual aid and at long last there is recognition of the value of our essential workers in health and social care, refuse collectors, delivery drivers and Lothian bus drivers – all of which offers the opportunity of a fundamental rethink of the way we do business, and the way we live and work in twenty-first century Scotland.

The way people work is likely to change with more flexible and homebased work becoming widespread. There will be less demand for office space, but we should be cautious about this. Homeworking can lead to isolation with evidence suggesting loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and more damaging to health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

In Edinburgh, the city is in crisis as thousands of people have lost their job and thousands more are at risk of redundancy. Job vacancies in Edinburgh are down by 60% between March and June – the third biggest drop in Scotland and Edinburgh has seen the fastest growth rate for unemployment benefit claimants in Scotland.  According to HMRC, 628,000 workers have been furloughed across Scotland with Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow and Lanarkshire – among the worst affected council areas. Whilst the UK government’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS) is laudable and has provided a lifeline for many businesses and workers, the longer COVID-19 remains prevalent, the more precarious the prospects are for businesses and the job security of Scottish workers.

In the last week, Edinburgh Airport has announced hundreds of job losses in airline and support services. In addition, there has been a major problem for workers initially out with the scope of the JRS such as construction workers on exploitative umbrella contracts or taxi drivers whose livelihood was taken away in one fell swoop. Many are navigating their way through the tortuous process for claiming Universal Credit for the first time or applying to the Scottish Welfare Fund for a crisis grant. The hospitality and aviation sector upon which Edinburgh thrives has been placed on life support with the streets of the once bustling and joyous city strangely empty. These are likely to be viable businesses when the economy recovers, but it may take a long time. The virus has shone a light on unfair work practices such as zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment and exposed a need to rethink employment practices and introduce a Fair Work agenda, as promoted by the Scottish Government. Behind this collapse in livelihoods lie some truly heart-breaking stories of families thrown into severe financial difficulty. Particularly difficult is the number of employers who are taking people off furlough and making them redundant, which appears to be a growing trend if BA is anything to go by. There are in addition companies who inexplicably choose not to furlough their workers.

As a trade union official for Unite the Union working in Edinburgh, I have witnessed our office overwhelmed with demands for advice and information on individual and collective rights and the responsibilities of employers throughout the pandemic. It is incumbent on us all to work together to ensure serious long-term action is taken to protect jobs and incomes as they are doing across the Channel with two years support to help workers and businesses get up and running again.  It’s a mistake to end furlough for key sectors of the economy struggling to recover going into the winter and the Chancellor’s recent announcement of a £1,000 job retention bonus falls somewhat short of the long term action needed to support our strategic industries.

Poverty in Edinburgh Experiences of Accessing Support and Navigating Services

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.

The Ripple – Guest Blog

Our third guest blogger, Rachel Green – Director of The Ripple, reflects on taking on new roles to meet need in the pandemic.

The last 3 months at the Ripple has been like watching an acoustic set of your favourite band.  Without the usual layers of backing tracks, music editing and smoke we have been stripped bare.  Without the usual ‘chatter’ of plans, policies or conferences, meetings and consultation events we have been left exposed.

And what we at the Ripple have been left with is no surprise.  We are working within communities and alongside people who do not have access to basic human needs. Food, sleep, security of resources, family, respect, lack of prejudice.

What we have done in the past few months has not been our ‘normal’ job, our purpose, our responsibility – but then who’s was it? 

We have delivered meals, made food parcels, bought top up cards for phones.  We have created ‘jobs’ such as writing postcards so that one person could see one person once a week.  We have cycled with people who called us late at night and it kept them going for another day.  We bought a microwave for a son who died two days later.  We have paid rent, we have bought someone a bike, we have asked someone to paint our walls, so they have a reason to get up in the morning.  We have done these things because this is what people told us they needed.  They told us because they trust us, they know us, and we know them.

We haven’t had our usual amount of time or energy to navigate the structures, or find the right person, or department to make phone calls.  To try and sort out crisis loans, to help people sort out their rent arrears or their PIP.  We have washed people’s clothes rather than reminding relatives to wash them.  We have called GP’s and then gone to the pharmacy to pick up the tablets the person should have had rather than the ones they asked for because they’re confused.

We have been able to do this because the additional funding we have received has allowed me to.  It has allowed me to do this by contributing to my organisations core costs and it has allowed me to do this because I have been able to actually buy things and not just pay staff salaries.  It has allowed me to do this because I haven’t had to fill out a thirty-page application form to disproportionately justify my organisation’s worth, track record, achievements and successes, outcomes and numbers.  In this new stripped out world it has been done respectfully, trusting me to know what our community needs and valuing my organisation’s contribution. The acoustic set has been hard to watch but I would rather stay in this place and get the set right, than go back to the one that uses backing tracks and smoke to make it look pretty.

0131 554 0422

http://www.rippleproject.co.uk/,

@RippleRestalrig

Community One Stop Shop – Guest Blog

We are grateful to Rebecca Dickson, Development Officer at the Community One Stop Shop for our second guest blog. 

At the Community One Stop Shop, we operate a food bank, and an employability and advice service located in Broomhouse, serving the South West of Edinburgh. Our advisers provide support with welfare benefits, housing, debt and other money matters; and our employability worker assists individuals to secure training, education and employment.  

In more ordinary times, we were able to offer the full range of our services, in-person. This includes the provision of our popular holiday support programme for families and our Calders Outreach Project, held at a Community Flat in the Calders residential area of Edinburgh.

Since March 2020, we have made various changes to ensure the safest possible environment for staff, volunteers and clients: Our advisers are now working from home, providing advice entirely through telephone appointments; We no longer invite clients into our office, as food parcels are now safely provided with the support of a dividing screen at the front of our office; and our employability service has been scaled back to reflect reduced need to access employment support.

In working together with new and existing partners, we have adapted our services to get food to those who need it while also keeping each other safe. Our volunteer drivers have been carrying out deliveries to those who are self-isolating, we are producing snack and soup packs for children and families over the school holidays, and we are in a position to provide additional support to individuals and families who have been referred to us by either the local high school, or our partners, including Big Hearts and The Broomhouse Hub.

With regards to our advice provision, we have had some changes to the enquiries we receive, but also some issues continue as before: One change is that we have had an increase in enquiries where domestic abuse has either been the main issue or a contributing factor. As before the lockdown, we continue to support clients who find the telephone and internet-based administration of their benefits difficult or overwhelming.

A clear change as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic is that food insecurity in our community has increased. In the months prior to March 2020, we would distribute on average 260 emergency food parcels each month, feeding around 453 people. Since lockdown measures were put in place, we have seen the need for emergency food support soar with 430 food parcels given out to feed 1074 individuals in May alone.

We are hearing a variety of reasons from clients to explain the increase in food insecurity: for those in work, some do not qualify for support under the available government schemes and others have lost their jobs or reduced their hours as businesses have been impacted. However, it is those who remain employed but still require food bank support that illustrates a key issue for many of our clients: their wages are not sufficient to maintain their or their families’ needs. For those workers who were previously secure and who qualify for 80% of their wages under the Government scheme, a 20% reduction may indeed be enough to push them into food insecurity. As a Living Wage Employer, we advocate the need to ensure employees are paid responsibly for the work done.

A large portion of our advice and food bank client base is unemployed due to ill-health or disability and caring responsibilities. For those individuals, and indeed for much of society, it is important to note the impacts of the Pandemic on mental health. Where many of us have struggled with not seeing friends and family, having our movements restricted, and coming up with innovate ways to occupy our time, those who live with a disability, ill health or are carers will feel even further isolated and restricted due to barriers already existing in their lives.

It was well highlighted in The Poverty Commission’s interim report that there has been a “shared emotional response” to the effects of the Pandemic. We have been frontline participants and spectators to the positive and practical elements of this response: from the influx of monetary and food donations from companies and individuals, to the increase in joint-working between third sector and public partners, to individuals looking out for vulnerable neighbours in our community, so many have taken part and done their bit towards supporting each other.

It is now for us, and others in the third and public sectors to make plans going forward to ensure we continue to support those who are most in need as Scotland begins to wind down the lockdown measures. We have met the recent challenges with innovation, hard work and the kindness of others. We will continue to do so, so long as we look out for each other, and continue to have support from local, city-wide and national partners.  

At the Community One Stop Shop, we operate a food bank, and an employability and advice service located in Broomhouse, serving the South West of Edinburgh. Our advisers provide support with welfare benefits, housing, debt and other money matters; and our employability worker assists individuals to secure training, education and employment.  

In more ordinary times, we were able to offer the full range of our services, in-person. This includes the provision of our popular holiday support programme for families and our Calders Outreach Project, held at a Community Flat in the Calders residential area of Edinburgh.

Since March 2020, we have made various changes to ensure the safest possible environment for staff, volunteers and clients: Our advisers are now working from home, providing advice entirely through telephone appointments; We no longer invite clients into our office, as food parcels are now safely provided with the support of a dividing screen at the front of our office; and our employability service has been scaled back to reflect reduced need to access employment support.

In working together with new and existing partners, we have adapted our services to get food to those who need it while also keeping each other safe. Our volunteer drivers have been carrying out deliveries to those who are self-isolating, we are producing snack and soup packs for children and families over the school holidays, and we are in a position to provide additional support to individuals and families who have been referred to us by either the local high school, or our partners, including Big Hearts and The Broomhouse Hub.

With regards to our advice provision, we have had some changes to the enquiries we receive, but also some issues continue as before: One change is that we have had an increase in enquiries where domestic abuse has either been the main issue or a contributing factor. As before the lockdown, we continue to support clients who find the telephone and internet-based administration of their benefits difficult or overwhelming.

A clear change as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic is that food insecurity in our community has increased. In the months prior to March 2020, we would distribute on average 260 emergency food parcels each month, feeding around 453 people. Since lockdown measures were put in place, we have seen the need for emergency food support soar with 430 food parcels given out to feed 1074 individuals in May alone.

We are hearing a variety of reasons from clients to explain the increase in food insecurity: for those in work, some do not qualify for support under the available government schemes and others have lost their jobs or reduced their hours as businesses have been impacted. However, it is those who remain employed but still require food bank support that illustrates a key issue for many of our clients: their wages are not sufficient to maintain their or their families’ needs. For those workers who were previously secure and who qualify for 80% of their wages under the Government scheme, a 20% reduction may indeed be enough to push them into food insecurity. As a Living Wage Employer, we advocate the need to ensure employees are paid responsibly for the work done.

A large portion of our advice and food bank client base is unemployed due to ill-health or disability and caring responsibilities. For those individuals, and indeed for much of society, it is important to note the impacts of the Pandemic on mental health. Where many of us have struggled with not seeing friends and family, having our movements restricted, and coming up with innovate ways to occupy our time, those who live with a disability, ill health or are carers will feel even further isolated and restricted due to barriers already existing in their lives.

It was well highlighted in The Poverty Commission’s interim report that there has been a “shared emotional response” to the effects of the Pandemic. We have been frontline participants and spectators to the positive and practical elements of this response: from the influx of monetary and food donations from companies and individuals, to the increase in joint-working between third sector and public partners, to individuals looking out for vulnerable neighbours in our community, so many have taken part and done their bit towards supporting each other.

It is now for us, and others in the third and public sectors to make plans going forward to ensure we continue to support those who are most in need as Scotland begins to wind down the lockdown measures. We have met the recent challenges with innovation, hard work and the kindness of others. We will continue to do so, so long as we look out for each other, and continue to have support from local, city-wide and national partners.  

Website Facebook Twitter Instagram

Edinburgh Trust – Covid 19 guest blog

As part of a series of blogs in response to the Commission’s Coronavirus report Ems Harrington, Edinburgh Trust Manager, reflects on the increased need for the Trust due to the impacts of Covid 19.

In 2011, The Edinburgh Trust, part of national charity Turn2us, began providing financial assistance and support for people in need in the City of Edinburgh after winning a tender to manage historical funds for individuals from Edinburgh City Council. Over the years we have helped thousands of people struggling financially through our grants.  At this exceptional time of Covid-19, we have increased our grant giving using both the historical funds and additional funds raised by Turn2us to assist those who have lost their income.

Whilst most people who come to us are already living on low incomes, it was important for us to reach people who may previously not have fit our eligibility criteria; mainly people who had suddenly lost their jobs or had their earnings reduced. Many people contacted us who had been made redundant or who still had their job but hadn’t been furloughed so were not receiving any payments. We created the Edinburgh Trust Response Covid-19 fund to award grants to those people without savings and to offer support to those who had no other sources of financial support at all.

“When Covid-19 spread in the UK, I had just started a new job in Tourism doing something I really enjoyed, after months of searching for employment. As a new starter, I was made redundant, did not qualify for the furlough government scheme and was rejected by Universal Credit. I, like many others, fell through the gaps. Amid a global pandemic, I had to also face financial distress. It felt as if months of effort were wasted, just to be back to square one.”

We also saw an increased need for people already on a low income who were experiencing an increase in their living costs due to being in lockdown, particularly with children at home. This was mainly food costs and energy bills. We had requests for grants for phones and laptops for home schooling and for connection to reduce social isolation. Although we did see an increase in needs relating to Covid-19, for people struggling financially in Edinburgh, some things did not change. Washing machines still broke, clothing was still needed and carpets still needed to be replaced meaning grants were requested for these things too.

“Due to the Covid 19 both my autistic boys were obviously very distressed (as was I). I couldn’t get to a shop so had to order takeaway’s often. My youngest was peeing all over the house, my hall carpet and his carpet was ruined. Not only did the grant help to get a carpet cleaner, new carpet for him, washing machine fixed and was able to purchase toys to keep them entertained.”

From March to June we saw over 76,000 people in Scotland use the Turn2us benefits calculator with almost 7,500 of those people living in Edinburgh. 2,000 people in the city used our grants search tool too. From the beginning of lockdown until now we have awarded over £152,700 in grants for people living in Edinburgh.

The financial upheaval and worry has been a burden so many have had to carry in an already exceptionally difficult time. Losing jobs, having earnings reduced, not having enough money for food and struggling to pay rent has been an incredible strain on Edinburgh residents. Our funds remain open for those who are eligible and we would encourage applications for those in need. You can find more information using the below details.

Ph: 0131 243 2796 (voicemails are checked daily)

Email: Edinbugh@turn2us.org.uk

Website: www.turn2us.org.uk

Everyone Home

Commissioner Diana Noel Paton reflects on the learning of what can be achieved when there is a will and an imperative to do so.

The last few months have been a deeply worrying and distressing time for all of us in so many ways.

The current crisis has hit families and communities in so many traumatic ways, not least the many, many people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods who now face an insecure and uncertain future. We know that the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis will continue to play out over the next months and possibly years creating further poverty and insecurity. In Edinburgh, even before the current crisis, at least 80,000 households were already struggling to pay their rent and bills.

It is without doubt the most disturbing of times – the like of which the vast majority of us have ever lived through.

For one group of people however the current crisis has brought an unexpected but hugely welcome glimpse of hope that we can learn from and build on to help mitigate the worst effects of the economic crisis we are now entering into.

At the end of March the quick action of the Scottish Government and local councils along with the collaboration and effective partnership working of a number of homelessness charities has enabled the vast majority of people rough sleeping in Scottish cities to move into hotels and other accommodation lying empty as a result of the impact of the crisis on the hospitality sector. There they have been supported by expert charities such as Simon Community Scotland.

Right now this decision is directly and positively benefiting those who were previously sleeping rough regardless of their background or circumstances.

Life lived on a cold, wet and unforgiving pavement or doorway, in a shared shelter or on the sofa of an acquaintance becomes a life focused on survival, finding ways to get through the empty hours and days. Coping with the physical and emotional impact of not having any privacy or personal space takes huge energy and headspace.

For many accommodated in this unexpected and unanticipated way, it has provided a much needed and welcome respite and a reminder of some warmth, privacy and a degree of security, along with  creating some time and  opportunity to take stock; to feel able to accept help and support and to consider the possibility of a different kind of future.

One thing this crisis has taught us is that when needed we can move mountains overnight in ways nobody thought was possible.

We have learnt that rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness can be prevented when there is a will and an imperative.

Over the last few weeks those same organisations, along with many others, have come together to create a new Collective to launch the  #EveryoneHome campaign which sets out how, as a nation, we can and must keep the gains made in addressing homelessness during the current crisis.

 Now is the moment to think and act big, by putting truly affordable housing at the centre of Scotland’s recovery from COVID-19 to permanently end rough sleeping and to mitigate the expected spike in homelessness envisaged as more people struggle to recover from the pandemic.

This bold and radical initiative is made all the more possible because we have proved that what we thought needed time and apparently unavailable resources can be done fast and effectively. By working together we can end homelessness and ensure that as we go forward anyone losing their livelihood and in danger of eviction continues to have at least a room and a roof over their head from which to base themselves  as they try and find a way forward.

Cabinet Secretary Commends Commission

On 19 May 2020, Edinburgh Poverty Commissioners, Betty Stevenson, Chris Kilkenny and Zoe Ferguson joined other Poverty Truth style groups in a teleconference with the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP, to discuss the challenges being faced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This week (8 June), the Minister has written to the Commission:

“I just wanted to say thank you to all of you and all of the Commissioners for taking part in the call on 19 May. It was thought provoking and challenging to hear from you about the types of issues facing those with experience of poverty during the Covid-19 crisis. I was heartened to hear that the efforts we are making to support communities is having a positive impact, although I appreciate that there is more to be done…
Moving forward we will look at the lessons learned through this crisis, including the inspiring community effort, and will continue to work with you to build a fairer and more prosperous country for all.”

Our interim report on the impact of coronavirus on people living in poverty in Edinburgh can be read here.

We will publish our final report in autumn 2020.

Photo courtesy of the Scottish Government.

Thoughts, Thanks and Advice

In Commission Member Chris Kilkenny’s Twitter vlog he reflects,
“It’s absolutely right and morally important that this piece of work (Coronavirus and Poverty Report) was able to take place and I’m proud to call myself an Edinburgh Poverty Commissioner.”

Chris recognises that in “real times of absolute turmoil… to be able to create a report in a time like this is nothing short of a miracle and to get people from the community involved is nothing short of a miracle.”

In his words he gives “some brief thoughts, thanks and advice.”

You can view Chris’ vlog below and read the transcript here.