This autumn sees the launch of an exciting new partnership between the Iona Community, Church Action on Poverty, Christian Aid Scotland, the Poverty Truth Commission and others – seeking to find ways to ‘close the gap’ between rich and poor in Glasgow, and more widely across the UK.
The ‘Close the Gap’ programme will see to demonstrate that by mobilising churches, grassroots groups and others to take effective and focused action, it is possible to achieve significant institutional change which will contribute to narrowing the gap between rich and poor in Scotland.
Kenny McBride has been employed as the Project worker, 3 days a week for the next 12 months. Kenny has taken up this role following a time with Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme where he was responsible for the launch of the Oxfam Humankind Index. He is also working with local entrepreneurs to develop The Ethical Network, a new organisation for companies who want business to be better.
Drawing on the knowledge and expertise of local people, and CAP, Christian Aid and Iona’s wider networks across the country, as well as globally, the project will specifically focus on the question of how to reduce the cost of everyday essentials – food, fuel, finance, furniture, funerals, phones…
Whereas traditional ‘anti-poverty’ strategies focus on boosting people’s incomes, is it possible to find ways of tackling poverty by reducing household costs?
Whilst many people on low incomes are undoubtedly struggling to make ends meet, this does not mean that they do not purchase goods and services – but it does mean that the can ill afford to pay over the odds for them. Yet perversely, because of the way the markets for food, fuel, finance (and many other goods and services) are currently structured, people on the lowest incomes frequently end up paying ‘over the odds’.
Save the Children have estimated the cost of the ‘Poverty Premium’ for the average low income household to be up to £1,200 per annum. Assuming at least 30,000 low income households in Glasgow are affected, this would mean that Glaswegian families are collectively paying over the odds to the tune of at least £36 million each year for essential goods and services.
With incomes stagnant, benefit levels being cut in real terms over the next three years and the cost of essential goods and services (notably food and fuel) escalating, this is a price that families can ill afford to pay. The impact, not just in terms of their ability to manage financially, but more widely in terms of stress, health (including mental health) and relationships will be substantial.
Food, fuel and finance are currently predominantly provided by the private sector, but at significantly higher cost than to other higher income groups: This amounts to a prima facie case of market failure. In fact, this was the conclusion of a Competition Commission Inquiry into doorstep lending as far back as 2006: In the absence of effective competition, or affordable alternatives, doorstep lending companies were making excess profits – estimated at the time to be at least £70 million a year – at the expense of low income consumers.
Is it possible for the markets for food, fuel and finance to be enabled to work more effectively for people on low incomes, or is it possible to develop alternative approaches which will provide access to goods and services at more affordable rates?
Is it possible to develop effective business or alternative models for delivering food, fuel and finance to people on low incomes which are both affordable and sustainable?
Are the successful ways that groups are already reducing the ‘Poverty Premium’ locally, which could be reproduced across Glasgow and more widely across Scotland?
What role can existing businesses, social enterprises, cooperatives, faith, public and third sector organisations and communities themselves play in developing and delivering solutions, and solutions which can be replicated at sufficient scale to address the scale of the problem?
What changes, if any, in regulation, legislation, funding regimes or business models are needed?
These are some of the questions we will be exploring in a series of roundtable events and meetings over the next 12 months.
Key to this process will be listening to and giving a voice to those directly affected. Contrary to the growing view that people on low-incomes are dysfunctional, dependent shirkers and skivers, Church Action on Poverty’s experience over the last 30 years has proved again and again that people in poverty not only understand the root causes of their problems, but are highly effective at creating lasting solutions to them.
Over the last 30 years, Church Action on Poverty has worked alongside thousands of people from some of the poorest, most neglected communities across the UK, supporting, educating and empowering individuals to effect change from within. Instead of imposing policies or top-down solutions, we use radical, participatory tools that help people in poverty access power and education, creating a network of grassroots social change that continues to grow.
We will be working closely with the Poverty Truth Commission, whose motto ‘Nothing About Us Without Us is For Us’ will also be a central tenet of the work of the Close the Gap project. And equally exciting will be the prospect of linking up with and learning from Christian Aid partner organisations who are working on similar issues of food, fuel or finance in other parts of the world.
Lastly, we will be seeking to use the good offices of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office, the Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal Church, to bring key ‘powerholders’ to the table to explore solutions to the Poverty Premium face to face with those who experience its injustice on a daily basis.
At the end of the year we will be holding an event to celebrate the outcomes of the project with all our partners – and to build support for taking forward the best ideas which have emerged during the project. Watch this space!
To find out more contact:
Poverty Project Worker – Closing The Gap
The Iona Community
4th Floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall Street Glasgow G2 3DH
Tel 0141 332 6343