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Beyond the crisis: we need to address the chronic problems of poverty 


We must radically re-think our structures and systems around work, social security and public services, says Emma Jackson

‘These faces say it all’ read the card.

On the front: a photograph of three children beaming with delight and ice cream all over their faces. A moment of real joy on a thank you card to a local CAB who had supported the Campbell family (not their real name). An escape from a grim reality.

For the Campbells, and thousands of other households across Scotland, it’s impossible to make it through the month and pay for all the essentials that they need, with skipping meals and needing to access a food bank becoming uncomfortably familiar. 

At CAS, we publish a quarterly cost of living analysis, based on the cases that we see in our 59 CABs across the country. The report from the last three months of 2023 shows that demand for advice on food insecurity was up 41% compared to the same period the previous year. This is alongside analysis revealing almost 3 million people in Scotland have cut back on food as a direct result of rising energy bills.

While headlines may report inflation is coming down, the cumulative impact of not just the two years of outrageously high prices, but over a decade of the erosion of our social security system that should provide a safety net to all who need it, continue to inflict wounds. Debt and destitution make their presence known in households up and down our nation. This isn’t a crisis. This is chronic. 

For the Campbells, their local CAB worked diligently to carry out income maximisation, making sure they were in receipt of all of the social security payments and grants available. They were also helped to examine their weekly budget in detail to see if any cut-backs could be made. Yet with three children, one of whom has a complex disability, there’s not sufficient income to meet their essential needs.  

First and foremost, this is devastating for the Campbell family. The daily worry of trying to make sure there’s enough; enough food, enough to pay the rent, enough to turn the heating on. Taking an all-consuming toll on physical and mental wellbeing.

Yet it also takes an emotional toll on those advisers. For the staff and volunteers in our network, what’s happening to the Campbells is happening at scale. Week after week, CAB advisers deliver free, confidential, person-centered and impartial advice to their community. And week after week, they encounter people being forced to endure the most brutal elements of our economy. Listening, empathising, working to find solutions. Putting plasters over gaping wound issues. Impacting them also.  

There’s no doubt the CAB network provides essential advice, generating not only millions in financial gains, but highly personal support that makes a difference. Having enough money for ice cream that weekend really mattered to the Campbells. Real care in the crisis. But our CABs cannot be the full answer for a chronically broken infrastructure that fails to give support to those who need it.

In a just and compassionate Scotland, everyone should not only have enough money for food, but enough to live a decent, dignified and healthy life.  

We need bold, targeted and urgent action to help provide people with the support that they need now, but we must also radically re-think our structures and systems around work, social security and public services. 

Emma Jackson is the strategic lead for social justice at Citizens Advice Scotland.

This article originally appeared in the Herald.



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