John Park: Half the poor live in working households

Having a job does not prevent poverty. Picture: Robert Perry
Having a job does not prevent poverty. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE shocking fact that more than 500,000 people in Scotland are now living in poverty should keep every politician and decision-maker in Scotland and the UK awake at night, thinking about how to address the impact this is having on our families, our communities and our country as a whole.

So what has gone wrong? The UK government must take its share of the blame. Its ideologically driven austerity programme has rolled back state support for some of our most vulnerable people.

The Office for National Statistics has already reported this year that more than 2.3 million people are under-employed, while 1.8 million workers are on zero hour contracts.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government trumpets steps it has taken to improve the lives of Scots such as freezing the council tax, free prescriptions and providing free higher education. However popular such measures may be, it’s pretty clear that these policies are not redistributive and benefit the better off as much as any other part of society.

Even having a job does not prevent poverty. Most worryingly, the report highlights that, in 2012-13, 43 per cent of working age adults in severe poverty lived in households where at least one adult was in employment, as did 55 per cent of children.

This is one area where the powers of the Scottish Parliament could be used more effectively. The Scottish Government must use this report to ensure that every employer that benefits from a public sector contract pays his or her staff a living wage.

The Scottish Government can go further – particularly in terms of inward investment. It’s a national scandal that a company like Amazon can receive £10 million in government support without a cast-iron guarantee staff will be employed on permanent contracts with a living wage.

Employers need to step up to the plate too. It appears far too easy for many of them to take short-term decisions. This means that employment is less sustainable and ultimately our economy only really works for those with means.

There are some excellent employers in Scotland but they need to find their voice and start demanding government support that drives up standards and provides better employment opportunities.

The Scottish Government should bring together these employers with unions and others who want to address this scandalous level of poverty in Scotland.

John Park is assistant general secretary of the Community union

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