Socialist Worker

Class has to be at the centre of the poverty debate in Scotland

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2498

Children bear the brunt of poverty in Scotland

Children bear the brunt of poverty in Scotland

Poverty levels in Scotland are increasing and, for those affected by poverty, it is deepening.

The rise of in-work poverty, the number of people struggling with the costs of feeding themselves and their families, or heating their homes are “reaching new heights”.

Gerry Mooney, co-author and editor of Poverty in Scotland 2016, told Socialist Worker, “There is a widening range of the population who are being dragged into poverty or the threat of poverty.”

The book is the seventh in a series which has been published since 1995 by various poverty campaigning groups and academics.

It’s an in depth account of how capitalism is shafting the poor in Scottish society despite the left wing rhetoric of the Scottish National Party (SNP) government.

Gerry said, “It is about challenging misconceptions. The dominant narrative about poverty doesn’t focus on wider structural or class dimensions. It focuses on ‘backward’ individuals, ‘dysfunctional’ families or ‘problem’ communities. 

“But poverty is not the fault of individuals. The book also shows that the idea that work is a solution to poverty is complete and utter mince. A job is no guarantee that you’re going to get out of poverty.”

Over one in five children, more women than men, 12 percent of pensioners, 23 percent of disabled people, a third of those renting their home and 55 percent of working households live in poverty.Almost one million households, 39 percent, suffer fuel poverty as energy bosses’ profits go through the roof.

The impact of Tory welfare “reforms” has fuelled a food crisis that’s about more than just the spike in providers of emergency food aid—over 160 according to the latest research. 

Gerry argues, “The current crisis is not a jobs or mass unemployment crisis.

“It’s a crisis of suppression of wage levels, incomes and an assault on the wider social wage.

“There’s no discussion about why inequality matters.

“You hear people talk rhetorically of a ‘fair’ or a ‘socially just’ Scotland but these words become meaningless.

“Even though the SNP talks about creating a ‘more equal Scotland’ it is not prepared to go beyond the rhetoric, reject austerity and tackle the extreme accumulation of wealth in the hands of a very small number of Scottish families.

“What we badly need around all of this is a discussion of class—Scotland is a class divided society.

“The refusal to understand it as that doesn’t help us at all in understanding how society is structured today and how different it could be in the future. It’s up to socialists to put that to the fore.”

Poverty in Scotland 2016 is published by the Child Poverty Action Group, in association with The Open University in Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Poverty Alliance. It is available from See for 2014 edition

Brutality of food poverty

Headline figures on food banks are “far from representative” of the extent to which people are struggling to feed themselves.

Households in relative poverty spend 23 percent of weekly income on food, more than twice the proportion of higher income households, despite spending much less in absolute terms.

Ten percent live in extreme poverty. But data from the Trussell Trust shows that, while numbers are shockingly high, less than 1 percent of people in Scotland have accessed a food bank.

In a chapter on “food insecurity”, Mary Anne MacLeod argues that the state should fulfil its responsibility. Instead of the volunteers running community cafe drop-ins or food banks, the state should ensure an adequate standard of living for people.

She also argues against measures, including legislation making supermarkets donate surplus food, which would “further institutionalise emergency food aid”.

MacLeod says the best defence against food poverty is a “comprehensive and well-resourced social security system and decent work”.

Election battle over education

Education is a key issue in the Scottish elections. The SNP has pledged to “close the attainment gap” which means rich students are twice as likely to get grades A to C as poor students.

Education minister Angela Constance said teachers had to stop using poverty as “an excuse for failure”. The SNP solution is to introduce national testing in the face of huge opposition from teachers.

Andrea Bradley from the EIS union shows that low wages and benefit cuts all impact disproportionately on children. She says that “Hunger is common in Scottish classrooms,” arguing that the SNP should implement universal free school meals to counter the impact of hunger and poor nutrition on learning. SNP cuts to local authority budgets have seen councils remove teachers from nursery classrooms, contradicting its policy pledges.

Bradley argues that SNP policies are good on paper “but lacking the resources needed”.

Top 20 percent own nearly half of wealth

The top 20 percent now own 44 percent of all personal wealth.

Scotland’s four richest families are wealthier than the poorest 20 percent.

In Scotland, the ratio between the highest and the lowest paid ten percent is close to its highest level since the mid-1970s.

The difference between the incomes of the top and bottom 1 percent is now over twenty times.

The Grant-Gordon whisky family is worth £2.15 billion.

Real wages only just recovering

Real wages have only recently begun to recover after a fall that was “unprecedented in modern times” according to the Scottish TUC (STUC).

One in five workers earned less than the living wage in Scotland in 2014.

Unemployment rates fell consistently since 2012, but then faltered in 2015.

Part time work inflates figures

Some 74.3 percent of people were in work in April last year in Scotland. But the STUC said that full time work at this time was well below pre-recession levels.

Part time work and self employment increased by 12 percent. The number of temporary or zero hour contracts remains higher than pre-crisis

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