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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Cost of living crisis: warm banks are well intentioned but not a solution

 

Poverty activists and those with lived experience counsel against setting up heated shelters for the vulnerable

Leading anti-poverty campaigners have urged caution on the setting up of ‘warm banks’ to combat the cost of living crisis which is set to crash in on people this winter.

There has been much discussion about whether places should be set aside where those who cannot afford to heat their homes due to rocketing bills and prices can go to keep warm.

Some groups and individuals have offered or have begun planning to set up what are being called ‘warm banks’ – effectively, heated shelters for the most vulnerable.

However three key organisations in the fight against poverty in Scotland have counselled against the idea – saying that while they appreciated the good intentions, warm banks are not the solution.

They also say that they are not favoured by those who matter the most – people with direct, lived experience of poverty.

Ewan Aitken of Cyrenians, Peter Kelly of the Poverty Alliance and Polly Jones of the Trussell Trust issued a statement (read it in full below) coinciding with the end of Challenge Poverty Week which addressed the discussion around warm banks.

They say they the real solution is for governments in all areas and at all levels to make sure everything is done to ensure people can stay safe and warm in their own homes.

The fact that concerned and well-intentioned people are even talking about warm banks in the first place is a failure of government which has “hard wired” voluntary sector support into the system without providing adequate funding for the charity sector, say the authors.

The statement reads: “The first duty of government is to protect people from harm. But even with the UK government’s actions on fuel bills, too many households will still be left with bills that are much higher than last winter. Many simply do not have the incomes to pay for them.

“We cannot fill this gap with voluntary actions based on compassion. The experience of foodbanks has shown that – even with massive expansion – they are still not enough to meet people’s needs. Government at all levels has allowed emergency support to become hard-wired into our system – forcing people to rely on charity and community solidarity rather than making sure their incomes are adequate to feed everyone in their household.

“The common humanity shown by those who provide crisis support to people in need should act as an example to government. Their failure to tackle poverty in our wealthy society is a shocking injustice.”

If warm banks do happen there can be no condemnation, just an attempt to make them work successfully by providing access to other services or making sure they have another function – even things like community film screenings.

Read the full statement below.

What do you think? TFN is inviting debate on this issue – leave a comment below or email graham.martin@scvo.scot if you would like to contribute to a future piece on this subject.

"Warm banks give us the chills"

This is #ChallengePoverty Week, when groups across the country have been talking about a just and compassionate society where everyone has adequate income to cover at least our basic human needs, and to live in dignity and security.

But this year we are facing a growing injustice, where more and more people will be simply unable to afford to stay warm in their homes this winter. We believe now is the time to talk about ‘warm banks’.

Organisations across Scotland have been discussing with the Poverty Alliance the best response to cold homes this winter. The focus of these discussions has been how to get cash into the pockets of those who most need it, and how to ensure that community-based services are able to respond to increasing need. As part of these conversations there has been an increasing discussion around ‘warm banks’ or ‘warm spaces’. 

We have discussed this with our members, with a wider group of civil society organisations, and with people with direct experience of poverty in our Community Activity Advisory Group and in End Poverty Edinburgh – the successor organisation to the Edinburgh Poverty Commission.

We’ve spoken to people living in poverty and many are uncomfortable with the concept of ‘warm banks’. There was no criticism of those individuals and organisations who want to help people stay warm this winter, but we were told:

“Warm banks give me the chills.”

“The focus should be helping people be warm within their homes.”

“The idea of warm banks completely flies over the face of human dignity and human rights.”

“It could be counterproductive because you are putting responsibility on people to go outside and find heat rather than helping them heat their homes.”

If warm banks do happen, there were some suggestions to do them well:

“It's important that the community sector leads on this.”

“Can the reason for being there something other than keeping warm, like a film screening or activities?”

“Community activities, communal meals or other things are great but when we can be there by choice rather than trying to just keep warm.”

The first duty of government is to protect people from harm. But even with the UK government’s actions on fuel bills, too many households will still be left with bills that are much higher than last winter. Many simply do not have the incomes to pay for them.

We cannot fill this gap with voluntary actions based on compassion. The experience of foodbanks has shown that – even with massive expansion – they are still not enough to meet people’s needs. Government at all levels has allowed emergency support to become hard-wired into our system – forcing people to rely on charity and community solidarity rather than making sure their incomes are adequate to feed everyone in their household.

The common humanity shown by those who provide crisis support to people in need should act as an example to government. Their failure to tackle poverty in our wealthy society is a shocking injustice.

The focus and responsibility of government at all levels should be ensuring people have enough money to keep their own homes warm. Increasing people’s income through a cash-first approach, in particular by investing in the benefits system, is the best way to do this. Some things the UK government can do immediately is to reverse the unjust £20 cut in Universal Credit made last year and to commit to making sure social security benefits rise at least in line with inflation. Don’t short-change people by linking to average wage increases. Beyond that, the Scottish Government could help families and children by expanding free school meals entitlement.

Government at all levels also needs to ensure that the organisations helping people in poverty at the grassroots are given sustainable funding to stop them being burdened with rising costs and uncertainty, just at the time when people need them most.

In the medium to longer term, government can make sure that climate justice and net-zero ambitions mean investing in a future where every home is warm and easy to heat. Our politicians can work to redesign our economy and rebalance the distribution of power and wealth in our country – ensuring that people have the money they need to heat their homes and meet their other basic human needs.

 As we were told clearly by one community activist:

“We should prioritise having money in people's pockets so they can choose where to go and do and what to do to keep warm.”

Ewan Aitken, chief executive of the Cyrenians, Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance and Polly Jones, head of Scotland at the Trussell Trust. 

 

Comments

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Jeremy P. Craig-Weston
4 months ago

Well here in Oldham we're now being told that calling public libraries, "Heat Banks," will be the council's response to the problem of vulnerable people not having enough money to keep warm.

It' a complete load cobbles of course; because unless you happen to live in the immediate vicinity of one of these Libraries/Heat Banks accessing any of them will involved an expensive, (costing £4 to-£5 for a return,) bus journey and usually waiting for up to to an hour in the cold, rain and snow, for a bus that may or may not arrive just to sit in a library for a couple of hours before facing the same difficult and unpleasant ordeal again to go back to a cold, damp and unpleasant home; which and is the absolute last thing that anyone and particularly not anyone who is who is elderly, frail disabled will be able to manage safely.

So far and speaking here as someone who s d retired and living on the State pension with a wife who is disabled the only real and practical help that we've actually had has come from a conservative government.

Here in Oldham our Council are far more concerned with squandering millions on an Eco-park and cycling and other white elephants and vanity projects than helping the many vulnerable people who live here.

One of our Independent Councillors summed up the situation here in Oldham perfectly, ""I am unaware of any supermarket that will accept "another telephone helpline" as payment towards the weekly shop and I'm quite sure the investment in the "community engagement team" won't cut the mustard as payment to an energy company bill."

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Lesley Newton
4 months ago

I have concerns about warm banks as if people do not put some heating on in their homes they may experience burst pipes which will then lead to additional expenditure especially if unable to pay for insurance. If LA or Social Housing tenants they will be responsible for the damage caused. Whilst human interaction is useful for combatting loneliness we should be warm in our own homes too.