No Margin for Error
Scotland has seen an upward trend in poverty since the mid-2010s in addition to widening inequality across various measures, including wealth and health (1). As poverty continues to widen and deepen, it becomes increasingly important for us to examine our approach to addressing poverty across Scotland. In his 2017 memoir, Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass, Darren McGarvey noted that so often conversations about poverty are “dominated by people with little direct experience of being poor,” (2). He highlights how deeply ingrained our societal misunderstanding of poverty is, and how current conceptualisations of poverty often overlook the “context of stress and how that in itself is a causal factor in comfort eating, smoking, gambling, binge drinking, substance misuse and various cultures of aggression and violence,” (3) that impact daily life, health and mental wellness.
As frontline professionals, social workers work directly with people experiencing poverty. We continuously witness the effects of poverty such as lack of access to quality housing and food. These all significantly affect physical and mental health. As McGarvey stresses, poverty means there is no margin for error. When something goes awry or there is a shift in needs, feelings of stress, anger and frustration can surface because even small changes can mean a catastrophic drain on limited time, energy and finances (4). Social work as a profession therefore must be sensitive and responsive to the social and interpersonal difficulties that may arise from poverty.
Whilst social workers undertake public protection duties in our work, our main aim is to improve people’s lives by supporting people through such social and interpersonal challenges (5). Our work to alleviate the impacts of poverty includes ensuring people are claiming all the social security they are entitled to, connecting people to local resources like food banks and organisations that can provide support, and empowering individuals and communities in line with the principles of social justice and human rights (6).
What is clear to those who work in social work, and those challenging poverty more broadly, is there are many factors that influence the experience of poverty and that the cumulative effect of these factors can make it extremely difficult to find a way through or out of poverty.
That is why BASW UK launched our anti-poverty campaign ‘Social Work Stands Against Poverty’ calling for concrete action to address poverty. The campaign asks the UK Government to:
- Extend the debt breathing space scheme from 60 days to 180 days which would allow for a ‘pause’ on action and contact from creditors that also prevents interest, fees, penalties, or charges being added during the full 180-day period.
- Freeze evictions during the cost-of-living crisis to prevent further homelessness.
- Scrap the two-child cap on benefits which impacts many families and disproportionately affects women and families from minoritised groups who may have larger families.
Though these few changes are not nearly enough, our hope is that action on these asks will bring some immediate and tangible relief to those experiencing financial hardship. SASW is committed to challenging poverty and will continue to press for transformative change whenever we are able.
We also wish to acknowledge and thank all those that are working to end poverty in Scotland. We believe progress will come from collective effort and look forward to continued collaboration with our peers here and across the UK.