Taking Forward the Government Economic Strategy:
A Discussion Paper on Tackling Poverty, Inequality and Deprivation
The UNISON Scotland Submission June 2008
UNISON Scotland is the largest public sector trade
union in Scotland representing over 160,000 members. UNISON welcomes
the opportunity to contribute to this consultation on Taking
Forward the Government Economic Strategy: A Discussion Paper on
Tackling Poverty, Inequality and Deprivation in Scotland.
UNISON firmly believes that poverty in Scotland is
not created by a shortage of resources. It is the uneven distribution
of these resources that leaves people living in poverty. Eradicating
poverty is therefore about reducing inequalities and ensuring a
fairing distribution of wealth. This means that the government has
a key role to play. UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Governments'
commitment to meet the target set by the UK government and the previous
Executive to half child poverty by 2010 and eradicate child poverty
by 2020. The key target for halving child poverty is only two years
away. We are therefore disappointed that the government's plans
to meet these targets are at such an early stage. Far from having
limited levers to effect change as Communities Minister Stewart
Maxwell claims the Scottish Government has many levers within its
control to contribute towards reducing poverty in Scotland. It is
not good enough just to call on the UK government to do more. The
Scottish Government must also take action.
It is clear from the title of the consultation that
the government believes that tackling poverty belongs in its economic
strategy. The Government has also indicated that increasing economic
growth in Scotland is its key priority. The Government's own figures
show that Ireland saw increases in poverty during their recent fast
growth. It is important to note that focusing on economic growth
will not in itself eradicate poverty. Countries like Denmark and
Sweden have a long held commitment to tackling inequality and so
have low levels of child poverty. Eradicating poverty requires definite
focused action it will not happen as a by-product of other activities.
Monitoring progress is also essential. UNISON would like to see
specific targets to reduce inequality in any anti poverty strategy.
Poverty and work
It is now widely accepted that work is the best and
most effective route out of poverty. While UNISON supports this
view, it is clear that work is only an effective route if the work
is properly paid, secure and safe. The problem of in-work poverty
will get worse as the cost of living is now rising sharply. Pay
levels across the economy are simply not keeping up with living
costs, even amongst unionised public service workers like those
A recent report by USwitch, an independent price comparison
service, said that the average net salary increase in 2008 is expected
to be £44 a month, while higher-than-inflation increases on basics
like food, fuel, energy and mortgages will push monthly household
costs up by £148. That is more than £100 a month that the average
household will have to find from somewhere.
UNISON Welfare, the union's own charity, is noticing
a sharp rise in members asking for help with rent deposits and fuel
subsidies. Last year UNISON Welfare gave over 2,200 grants to UNISON
members in need - most of them low-paid workers. 700 adults and
children who could not afford a holiday were provided with a wellbeing
break. Research shows that many UNISON members are struggling to
pay for their children's school trips, uniforms and activities.
Long hours of overtime needed to keep the household
afloat means less time to help children with homework or attend
school events. Even parents of adult children are continuing to
help them out financially, particularly to subsidise their children's
Unskilled workers, women, ethnic minorities and young
workers are all more likely than others to be low-paid. These jobs
also tend to be more insecure. This means that many people live
through a cycle of "low pay, no pay, low pay". There is also no
evidence that staying in low paid work will lead to better-paid
work. The UK government, in an effort to ensure that work does pay,
has introduced both a National Minimum Wage and a range of in-work
benefits administered through the tax system, but half of all poor
children now live in a working household.
The current minimum wage still leaves many workers
in poverty. The Low Pay Unit and the Council of Europe's Decency
Threshold have both set higher minimum hourly rates than the current
UK level. Employer's organisations continue to lobby for lower rates
claiming a high minimum wage will lead to job cuts. While UNISON
continues to campaign across the UK for a higher national minimum
wage there is much that should be done by the Scottish Government
to raise wages in Scotland.
Although the Scottish Government cannot raise the
national minimum wage it could use its role as a major Scottish
employer to set a minimum "living wage" for public sector
staff. According to Child Poverty Action Group, a third of low pay
in Scotland is in the public sector. The Scottish Government has
a direct lever to lift these families out of poverty.
In some sectors, casual, temporary and agency posts
have replaced jobs that were once full-time, in-house and reasonably
paid. Employers have taken the chance to push wages and conditions
down, cutting out sick pay, carers' leave, maternity provision and
pensions. The public sector spends substantial funds buying goods
and services from the private and voluntary sector. The Government
should insist on a living wage clause in contracts and on appropriate
health and safety, equality proofing etc in these contracts and
so raise wages across Scotland. This will lift many children out
Women and poverty
Supporting women into work has been a key part of
both UK and Scottish governments' strategies over the last ten years
to lifting children out of poverty. Key problems with this strategy
are the availability, cost and quality of childcare and many women
are only able to get low-paid work leaving many trapped in a cycle
of "low pay, no pay, low pay". The Scottish government
has a particular role to play in improving the pay of women.
Despite more women than men being employed in education,
health and social work they are still more than twice as likely
to be low paid as their male colleagues. The government has a direct
role to play in overcoming the gender pay gap in the public sector
and ensuring that all employees earn a living wage. The scale an
impact of the pay gap has been revealed by the ongoing equal pay
crisis in the public sector. Local authorities, for example, have
paid between £260 and £510 million in compensation to low paid women
in the last three years despite the fact that there is not one concluded
equal pay claim of this type in Scotland. These figures demonstrate
the scale of the legitimate income women have been denied for decades.
The public sector can make significant inroads on poverty by adopting
progressive equal pay policies - a move that would have a positive
spread effect on low wages across the economy.
The current General Equalities Duty also empowers
them to include equalities proofing clauses in contracts with the
private and voluntary sector. This will ensure that attempts to
improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services do not
drive down wages and push more people into poverty.
Gender segregation in the workplace is a key cause
of the gender pay gap. The pay gap will not close if women continue
be trapped in low wage sectors of the job market. The government
has a key role to play in education and training to ensure that
girls get the opportunities at school to study subjects that enable
them to enter well paid jobs and to access on going training in
the workplace. This must be the case for those who enter the job
market at all levels. Modern apprenticeships still see girls moving
into training for jobs that will be lower paid in the long-run than
UNISON believes that childcare and early years education
should be expanded and be delivered by a fully trained and appropriately
rewarded childcare workforce. This would to reduce poverty in two
ways. Firstly, the high cost and availability of suitable childcare
is a key barrier to work for many women. UNISON would prefer universal
free childcare delivered by the public sector but any expansion
of the current free early years education would help women balance
work and family commitments and make them better off financially.
Significantly, as women make up the substantial majority of the
childcare workforce (97%) then a well-paid and well-trained childcare
workforce can also provide a path out of poverty for many women.
The government can support tougher enforcement of
the minimum wage and other employment rights. While UNISON has argued
that this rate should be higher, vulnerable workers will not benefit
at all unless the legislation that is in place is promoted and enforced.
The government should work in partnership with trade unions to support
improved education for workers including migrant workers about their
rights. Trade unions like UNISON are keen to work in partnership
with the government to increase awareness and enforcement of workers
rights. Employees who are members of trade unions earn around one-third
more than non-unionised workers. Supporting the work of trade unions
to improve the terms and conditions of workers is an effective way
to eradicate poverty.
Poverty and health
There is a clear causal relationship between poverty
and health. Economic poverty and social inequality cause poor health
and health inequalities. These in turn mean high economic costs
including lost working time, expensive treatment for preventable
illnesses and costs of dealing with increased social problems. Any
economic strategy must address health inequalities.
Life expectancy remains lower in Scotland than the
European average by almost a year for men and almost two years for
women. Meanwhile, within Scotland, the gap between the council areas
with the highest and lowest life expectancy has not decreased at
all over the last ten years. For men living in East Dunbartonshire
average life expectancy is 78.0 years, whereas in Glasgow City it
is only 70.5 years.
The Scottish NHS must be allowed and encouraged to
continue developing a model of co-operation to enable joint work
with other agencies and tackle the whole social environment, so
that we can finally begin to close the health gap between well-off
areas and deprived areas.
The government's own review has shown that almost
543,000 Scottish households are fuel poor. The current sharp rises
in fuel costs are making the situation worse: for every 1% rise
in average annual fuel price, an estimated 8,000 more households
would go into fuel poverty. With increases in income unlikely to
keep pace with fuel price rises, tackling fuel poverty still needs
a high priority. The government needs to take urgent action to ensure
that the gains of previous initiatives are not lost as costs rise.
UNISON is concerned about the implications of The Cabinet Secretary
for Health and Well-being's announcement that the central heating
programme for pensioners will be subject to more targeting. UNISON
fully supports Energy Action Scotland's Keeping Scotland Warm
recommendations issued in partnership with UNISON Scotland and
continuation of the current schemes for heating,
insulation and other energy efficiency measures with more funding
and full grants for the over 60s.
Simplification and a single point of access
to the Warm Deal and Central Heating Programme.
Additional funding for hard to treat homes
Better communication with private landlords
and incentives to improve the energy efficiency in the private
Extra funding for income maximisation assessment
for those identified as living in fuel poverty.
It is important that the spending priorities of the
government support the commitment to tackle poverty in Scotland.
The government has focussed on tax cutting measures: freezing the
council tax and cutting business rates. This means that the money
available for the essential public services is at best tight. There
is also a demand for a further 2% efficiency savings. The budget
for social housing has been cut by 6% in real terms. Government
policies like freezing the council tax have done nothing to benefit
the poorest, as they were already exempt from this charge. The proposed
extra income tax to replace it will also hit low paid workers in
multi-earner households. Local government is cutting jobs and services
to balance their budgets. There have also been above-inflation increases
in charges for services such as home care visits. Council rents
have gone up by on average £2.08 per week. These charges impact
adversely on many people struggling to make ends meet pushing them
The true test of the government's anti-poverty strategy
will be whether there is adequate funding for both specific projects
and the essential public services on which people rely.
UNISON welcomes the government's commitment to eradicating
child poverty but is yet to be convinced that the government is
focusing enough resources to achieve this aim.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141
Submissions index | Home