Issue 5

SCOTLAND: RICH COUNTRY? POOR COUNTRY? RICH PEOPLE? POOR PEOPLE?

By Professor Richard Kerley

A fascinating aspect of our current discussion about what Scotland might be like depending on what future constitutional alternatives we chose is the extent to which we don’t really examine what Scotland is like now.

We do of course, do endless introspection – some call it navel gazing – but we don’t often examine the detailed reality of experience here and now, and we sometimes tend to operate on the basis of ‘taken for granted’ assumptions that can look fragile when we examine them in any detail.

Poverty is one of those unexamined aspects of life in Scotland.

That might seem a strange claim, since it’s something that is talked about a lot – at least in the media and in professional and party conference events – but talking about something is not the same as examining it. And if we don’t do the latter then we’ll continue to talk without addressing the potential complex solutions that might be needed to actually tackle poverty. Just labelling one facet of social life as a form of poverty is not good enough.

So, elsewhere in this edition of Scottish Policy Now, we publish a report on the campaign by Age Scotland to ensure greater equity in the operation of the concessionary bus travel scheme in Scotland. Now the bus scheme is often claimed to be one of the ‘successes of devolution‘ and the scale and value of the concessionary travel card that the government issues to some people with disabilities and all over 60s  should not be underestimated. After all, on one calculation, such bus vouchers are worth almost half the cash value of the basic state pension.

talking about something is not the same as examining it. And if we don’t do the latter then we’ll continue to talk without addressing the potential complex solutions that might be needed to actually tackle poverty.

The problem is that such travel concessions are not as valuable to card holders in some remote and rural areas and some poorly served urban areas as they are to those who live in major towns and cities. The Age Scotland campaign addresses that directly by arguing for the scheme to encompass community transport; a good idea.

What you might consider a less good idea from Age Scotland is to label this problem as one of ‘transport poverty‘. It is likely – as in most aspects of life – that those on lower incomes are more directly affected, but not clear that this can be readily labelled a poverty issue.

The difficulty with labelling various forms of disadvantage as yet another sub set of ‘poverty’ is that it runs the risk of confusing thinking about how we might effectively tackle such disadvantage.

Let’s just consider two aspects of poverty that are more frequently – and rightly – discussed than other possible disadvantages that households may suffer from; fuel poverty and child poverty.

We’ve recently had public discussion of ‘child poverty‘, particularly in Scotland, where the DFM made a major speech on the issue.  We have also had continuing public debate about ‘fuel poverty‘ and the long term impact on households of increased fuel costs, which currently seem set on an inexorable rise.

The difficulty that I can see in assuming that child poverty and fuel poverty are closely linked, and that therefore there is a common solution to addressing both, is that the figures available don’t support that analysis.

The difficulty with labelling various forms of disadvantage as yet another sub set of 'poverty' is that it runs the risk of confusing thinking about how we might effectively tackle such disadvantage

Recent data from various sources (Scottish Govt. various) shows that in different parts of Scotland there are different levels of impact on households; that is unsurprising, but it is the nature of the difference that throws up the difficulties of finding policies and actions to address these complex problems.

Council                % child poverty        % household poverty

Aberdeen               16                          23
Aberdeenshire         9                          35
Shetland                  7                          33
Orkney                     8                          47
Eilean Siar              11                          53
North Ayrshire        25                          30

The picture is similar across Scotland; in urban and urban dominated areas the differential between figures for child poverty and fuel poverty is much less than it is in rural areas and the islands, with their much more sparsely distributed populations than are typical in the Central Belt. We should also bear in mind that Aberdeenshire and Shetland, in particular, consistently show some of the highest levels of employment earnings of any council areas in Scotland.  In these areas it seems unlikely that more cash alone is the answer to tackling fuel poverty, though it certainly would be in respect of child poverty.

The policy difficulty of not examining often long held assumptions is that with some unexamined  assumptions we then make policies; decisions and laws. We wonder – later – why they don’t work.

More analysis of both environment and circumstances, along with better design might help.

By Professor Richard Kerley

Issue 5

PREVIOUS ISSUES

Looking for a previous issue? Use the menu below to select an issue.