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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.

The role of social enterprise in tackling poverty 

This opinion piece is 12 months old

First Minister, Humza Yousaf, recently hosted a high-profile conference in Edinburgh with the aim of tackling poverty across Scotland. 

The “Anti-Poverty Summit” brought together representatives from anti-poverty and equality organisations, academia, businesses, local government and the public sector. 

It was welcome to also see those with direct experience of living on low incomes taking part. Interestingly it was attended by all the leaders of the opposition political parties in parliament, as well as the national media. 

The aim of the summit was to shape anti-poverty policy and Social Enterprise Scotland used the opportunity to promote the role of social enterprises as a key solution. 

My table included Shona Robison MSP, the Deputy First Minister, as well as a UK Scotland Office representative, government officials, FSB Scotland and others. 

While the conference didn’t come up with a series of concrete solutions on the day, it was a curiously inclusive approach. We were reassured by the First Minister that it was the first step in a process of genuine policy change. 

Language is important too, so perhaps this next stage could be about “building community wealth” rather than the more negative “anti-poverty”. 

It was timely that we’d organised a visit to a social enterprise, 12 Guitars in Govan, for the then Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, a few months back. He seemed to genuinely understand the needs of the sector. 

In social enterprise and the third sector we need to remind ourselves that we’re a key part of the solution. Politicians and officials do want to listen and take action to tackle poverty and regenerate local communities. 

We have so many great, practical examples, like FARE Scotland working within disadvantaged communities throughout Central Scotland, building skills and creating opportunities for personal development and Community First in Angus supporting local people to develop skills and knowledge and increase confidence. 

We also have a wide range of local development trusts regenerating communities across Scotland, as well as credit unions supporting people and families with their finances. 

The summit was a welcome opportunity to promote social enterprise in an ani-poverty context but it was also a way to highlight the challenges and barriers sometimes faced at a local level by our members. 

We often find that good, evidence-based and strong legislation passed by parliament doesn’t always translate to practical change at a local level, something we’re looking at more closely since we submitted our Community Wealth Building consultation response

The real test for politicians and officials lies in practical policy implementation and action over rhetoric. This means truly listening not just to social entrepreneurs but, crucially, from those with direct, lived experience of poverty. 

It’s the mental and physical health consequences of poverty that need to be truly understood, in order to catalyse genuine policy action and improve the daily lives of the most excluded in Scotland. 

Duncan Thorp is Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Social Enterprise Scotland