Council agrees Commission’s actions

At yesterday’s (6 October 2020) meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council’s Policy and Sustainability Committee, our final report, A Just Capital: Actions to End Poverty in Edinburgh, setting Edinburgh the challenge to end poverty by 2030 was considered and accepted by elected members.

Chair of the Commission, Dr Jim McCormick, provided an overview of the report’s actions, and was followed by Commission member, Zoe Ferguson, who delivered an outline of plans to develop the new End Poverty Edinburgh network.

Following this, Councillors from all parties recorded their thanks and praised the Commission’s work over the last two years. They also noted the significance of this report.

Going forward this means that Councillors agreed that the Council will work with employers, the public sector and third sector agencies across the city, to come together to challenge poverty within Edinburgh by providing:

  • The right support in the places people work and live
  • Fair work that provides dignity and security
  • A decent home people can afford to live in
  • Income security that provides a real safety net
  • Opportunities that drive justice and boost prospects
  • Connections in a city that belongs to its citizens, and
  • Equality in health and wellbeing

The committee also agreed to work closely with End Poverty Edinburgh to implement the actions. This is a group of Edinburgh citizens we have met during our inquiry, who have expressed their desire and commitment to be a part of the change their city needs to make. Some members have experience of living in poverty, others see the impact of poverty directly through their work and others are allies who care and want to see justice for their fellow citizens.

Speaking after the meeting, Adam McVey, Council Leader, said:

“Tackling poverty in Edinburgh is one of our key priorities as a Council – enabling everyone in our City to take advantage of everything the Capital has to offer. We have already made significant resources available for people and are working hard to eradicate poverty in our city. Now we’re doubling down, taking on the research and recommendations from the Commission to guide us as we work towards our goal of ending poverty in the Capital within the next 10 years.

“One of the most powerful elements of the work done by the Commission was hearing and responding to the voices of those who have lived experience of poverty in Edinburgh. Our first priority will be to meet and agree ways of working with the new group End Poverty Edinburgh to ensure that their views can continue to shape the way we implement the Commission’s findings.

“We know that this will not be an easy task, but Edinburgh is a city of wealth and enormous talent and we’re determined to work with the Scottish and UK Governments, citywide partners– and of course, our residents – to drive the change that is so greatly needed.”

Cammy Day, Depute Council Leader and Depute Chair of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, also commented noting that:

“We’re in no doubt that this is an ambitious target and it is one that we need the whole city to embrace as well as support from Scottish and UK Governments to achieve. Poverty can impact any one of us at any time, and we need to take a Team Edinburgh approach to tackle it, where organisations, communities and residents work together to end poverty in Edinburgh by 2030. We welcome the opportunity to work in collaboration with others, such as the Edinburgh Partnership and relevant organisations in the public, private and third sectors, to make this happen.

“We know that, while the pandemic has certainly escalated the situation, this is a crisis that requires urgent attention and I’m heartened by the endorsement that the Commission’s report received today.

“Again, I would like to thank all of those in the Edinburgh Poverty Commission and End Poverty Edinburgh, as well as every person who took the time to give us their thoughts or tell us their own stories, for the incredible work that has been done to date.”

The Committee report can be read here and the proceedings can be watched on the Council’s webcast here.

Photo: The City Chambers Edinburgh, cc-by-sa/2.0 © Ronnie Leask – geograph.org.uk/p/989163

‘A Just Capital’ report in the media

Last week, we published our final report, A Just Capital, setting out actions to end poverty in Edinburgh.

On the back of this, we have been delighted with the response that local and national media have had to this report.

Below are some highlights:

The Herald

The Scotsman

Daily Record

The National

The Sunday Post

Times Educational Supplement

Edinburgh Evening News

Aberdeen Evening Express

Scottish Housing News

The Edinburgh Reporter

North Edinburgh News

STV News

BBC Radio Scotland

BBC Radio 4

A Just Capital: Actions to End Poverty in Edinburgh

Today, we launch our final report, A Just Capital: Actions to End Poverty in Edinburgh. In this blog, our Chair, Dr Jim McCormick, sets out the Commission’s journey, what we have learned along the way, and what we are calling for next.

Read the final report here and the supplementary data and evidence paper here.

Our Call to Action in Edinburgh comes after almost two years of conversations across the city: with people experiencing poverty, the community anchors that support them, keyworkers, employers, councillors, public service officials, housing providers and taxi drivers. This rich process has uncovered new insights on how poverty is experienced in Scotland’s capital city – some arising directly from the COVID-19 pandemic – but more stemming from long-established struggles. We set out much of what we had learned about the immediate impact of Covid in our interim report in May.

Since then, we have maintained a clear focus on addressing the root causes of poverty as well as mitigating the consequences. We have discovered common ground among people with different experiences and in different sectors: that poverty in Edinburgh is real, damaging and costly – but also that, despite the powerful currents that threaten to drive us further off course, there is enough determination in the city to embrace the twin challenges of solving poverty and reducing carbon emissions over the next decade.

We have identified six broad areas for action and one cultural challenge that should serve as a lens through which each action should be approached. Our first proposition is that Edinburgh will only succeed in creating a prosperous city without poverty if it creates the conditions for good jobs, genuinely affordable housing, income security and meaningful opportunities that drive justice and boost prospects – above all, in the city’s schools. In addition, a much sharper focus on connections across the city is needed – via digital participation, cheaper transport and creating neighbourhoods that work. These actions combined will flow through to reduced harm to people’s physical and mental health. Emergency food support should not become locked in as a fourth emergency service but serve as a gateway to other support that will ease isolation and build human connection and kindness where it has been lacking.

The common challenge running through all of our work is a cultural one. We call on the City Council and its partners in all sectors to shift towards a relationship-based way of working which gets alongside people and communities in a holistic way. The experience of poverty is too often one of stigma, being assessed, referred and passed from pillar to post – a separate service and multiple workers for each need. This radical move would see public servants authorised to put poverty prevention at the heart of their day-to-day work. It will mean new relationships with citizens, employees and third sector partners. It will take visible leadership and longer-term financial commitment. There are green shoots in Edinburgh and examples from beyond Scotland demonstrating how better outcomes for families can be achieved and fewer resources locked into multiple complex systems. We call this ‘the right support in the places we live and work’ to signal the importance of local access to multiple forms of support under one roof and within walking or pram-pushing distance – for example money advice and family support offered in nurseries, schools, GP surgeries and libraries.

None of these challenges are new. The City Council and its partners can point to significant investment in recent years to turn the tide on poverty. But we are not persuaded that actions have been consistent, at scale, sustained over time or have poverty reduction as part of their purpose.

While Edinburgh has many of the powers to go further, we are not persuaded that it can deliver on the required social housing expansion without a new funding deal with the Scottish Government. This is urgently needed to boost investment and to help unlock the supply of land at a reasonable price. Almost one in three families in Edinburgh in poverty are pulled below the water line solely due to their housing costs. That compares with one in eight households in poverty across Scotland. Solving the city’s housing crisis will go a long way to delivering on affordable housing ambitions for the country as a whole. At the same time, the UK Government has a critical role in creating an income lifeline for families in and out of work, by maintaining the currently temporary increase in Universal Credit and Local Housing Allowance – both of which have become more significant as a result of damage to Edinburgh’s job market since March. 

This Call to Action is not a list of recommendations or a menu of options. Reflecting our lives, each area is connected to the others. A plan for housing makes little sense in isolation from a plan for schools. Developing skills for employment will fall short if basic needs for secure, decent housing and food are neglected. Nor is the ten-year horizon a get-out clause. We have worked on this basis because Scotland has committed to a significant cut in child poverty by 2030 and because many of the city’s existing plans run to the same schedule. We call on the City Council and the wider Edinburgh Partnership to set out its initial response by Christmas, as part of a first year of planning and early implementation.

And we are leaving a legacy through a new independent network, End Poverty Edinburgh. Led by Commission member Zoe Ferguson and our partners at Poverty Alliance, this brings together a core group of residents with first-hand experience of living on a low income and allies who want to be part of shaping the solutions. Inspired by a similar approach in Edmonton (Alberta), they will stress test this report, challenge and add their own ideas, work with city partners to achieve progress but also hold the city to account on its response.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to our work in the hard graft of sharing painful stories, completing surveys and through organised and chance conversations. Each member of the Commission gave their time, energy and ideas generously and for longer than originally asked. The quotes in this report reflect only a little of their brilliant contributions. Our work – and this report – was only possible due to the skill, care and patience brought by our secretariat team of Chris Adams, Nicola Elliott, Ciaran McDonald, and Gareth Dixon.

We have listened, been shocked and inspired – I hope we have done justice to what we have learned. Our Call to Action sets out something beyond hope: it is an expectation of what the city can and must now achieve.

– Dr Jim McCormick, Chair of Edinburgh Poverty Commission

Edinburgh Evening News Featured Article

Edinburgh Poverty Commission Chair Jim McCormick’s article was a double page spread in the 1 September 2020 edition of the Evening News part of their Recovery Edinburgh series.

It can be viewed on pages 8 and 9 on the Press Reader link. Or you can read it in full below.

What have we learned during the biggest crisis most of us have faced in our lives?

The city’s independent Edinburgh Poverty Commission has spent time over the summer listening to citizens trying to get by on low incomes, facing acute uncertainty over their jobs, health, and prospects. The overriding message is one of fear and trauma, alongside some hope that the positive responses we have seen – barriers to joint working being eroded, rapid response to immediate need and kindness in neighbourhoods – will be banked and built upon.    

For those already struggling to get by, significant extra pressures have built up. City residents who were working but still poor before the pandemic have been more likely to see their hours cut or to lose their jobs. While those protected by the UK furlough scheme may have seen a 10% drop in income, those made redundant have seen a much bigger cut in the amount of money coming through the door. At the same time, bills have gone up – parents claiming Universal Credit or tax credits point to the additional costs of food, energy, and helping their children learn at home during lockdown. As we move towards a period of tentative recovery, the challenge facing us is to address long-standing problems in the city’s job market and housing system while also addressing the new risks pushing people to rely on social security perhaps for the first time. Cohesion demands that we offer a lifeline to prevent more families being pulled into poverty.

The Commission has been working for almost two years to define the big changes needed to end poverty in Scotland’s capital city. Later this autumn we will set out the new challenges post-Covid and publish our final calls to act. While the City Council, the NHS and other public services have clear responsibility to act, so too should employers, housing providers and communities take the lead. We are likely to go further and call on the Scottish and UK Governments and other investors to help resolve some of the challenges that go beyond the city’s own powers and budgets.  

In the first phase of the pandemic, it is likely that the furlough scheme alongside increases in housing support and some benefit payments have helped stabilised incomes and prevented a clear rise in poverty. But we are in the foothills of a deep recession. Those losing their jobs and struggling to move back into employment quickly are at risk of swelling the one in five children already below the poverty line before the crisis hit. Edinburgh has seen a faster rate of increase in unemployment than any other part of Scotland this summer – having also experienced one of the biggest drops in job vacancies over the Spring, reflecting its reliance on hospitality, tourism and culture sectors. These sectors will be slower to recover and will need a swift and targeted response.  

Even before Covid, people living in poverty across the city – workers, carers, disabled people, parents, people from ethnic minority communities – told us they are exhausted physically and emotionally, having to make impossible decisions about living costs. They felt much of the city didn’t belong to them and that many of their fellow citizens didn’t know, understand or care about them. Most of all, they said living in poverty grinds people down, shrinking hope and creating barriers to opportunities that may otherwise be there. Too often the attitudes and experiences they encounter trying to get help makes their situation even worse. People said they felt judged, stigmatised and shunted from pillar to post.

To end poverty in the city, we need to boost life chances as well as incomes – to focus on building support that is human, compassionate and builds on people’s desire to get on with their lives and achieve their goals, while attending to the better quality jobs, housing and educational opportunities people need. Without this transformation towards relational or holistic support, the other actions we will be calling for will land far short.

A good example of the change we need is the city’s Maximise service, delivered through many but not yet all schools and GP surgeries – and now developing in early years centres. By embedding money and debt advice in the places people usually go to, we are more likely to enable take-up of tailored support at the right time. But in addition to building greater financial security, Maximise offers intensive family support, peer-to-peer connections and help with employment. Contrast this with ‘many services for multiple needs.’ While neighbourhoods with higher rates of poverty will need more of this kind of support, low incomes and high costs are found in all parts of Edinburgh. Investing via city-wide gateways – including, but not only schools and GPs – offers the flexibility to reach people in need who might otherwise be unknown to service providers.     

When the Commission ends its work, we will pass the torch on to a new network of city residents with first-hand experience of poverty today or in the past, plus allies drawn from business, community anchor organisations and other areas of civic life. As an independent group, their job will be to advocate for long-term change and hold decision-makers to account. Our job will be to listen, learn and widen the platform to ensure the wisdom that comes with direct experience becomes a motive force for positive change.    

@JimMcCormick16 @edinburghpaper

Blogs and other updates


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