Poverty has been an enduring challenge in Scotland, where panellists say there is a widening gap between rich and poor. Schemes to build more social housing have helped alleviate some of the pressures – 19% of households now live in poverty across Scotland, compared to 23% in the mid-nineties, according to official statistics.
However, the panellists believe much more needs to be done. “A quarter of a million children are still living in poverty,” said SallyAnn Kelly, chief executive of Aberlour, the Scottish children’s charity. “And 60% of those households that are in poverty are in work.” COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, pushing many people “to the margins of society”, according to Chris Holloway, head of Resilient Scotland, which invests in social and community enterprises across the country. The pandemic has also decimated Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sectors, the panellists warned, which may create further financial hardship.
“Digital inclusivity is our top priority,” said Bonnie Dean, Vice Principal of Corporate Engagement and Innovation at the University of Glasgow. “At the beginning of the crisis, we saw the impact of digital exclusion.” Panellists warned that both young and elderly people lacked access to broadband and basic technology, such as laptops. Children who lacked access to digital resources at the start of lockdown may never catch up, they said.
There are a number of digital initiatives in Scotland but there needs to be more cohesion and engagement with local communities. The roundtable discussion highlighted a general concern that these issues will only become more pressing as the world becomes more digital; young people will need to have technical skills if they are to have fulfilling careers in the future.
The panellists highlighted the plight of the young, whose educations have been disrupted and future careers placed in jeopardy. Mental health amongst the Scottish youth must be a priority, they said, and they must also be given a voice and power to effect change in their lives and the wider community.
“Improving our young peoples’ futures goes beyond just pumping money into the system but also means dedicating time and resources and faith. It means providing opportunities for every young person, regardless of their background education or previous circumstances,” said Rosie Beattie from Entrepreneurial Scotland.
Bank branches across Scotland are closing faster than anywhere else in the UK. According to a Which? analysis, some deprived areas, such as Glasgow North East, have just one bank branch remaining5. Some 54% of consumers in Scotland are likely to be classed as financially “vulnerable” according to the Financial Conduct Authority’s landmark Financial Lives survey6, compared to the national average of 50%. They have more high-cost loans, more unsecured debt, and fewer savings to fall back on, the report revealed. To tackle the issue, Rebecca Hackett, Deputy Director and Head of Policy Division with the UK Government in Scotland, said that the government must work hand-in-hand with grassroots organisations and the local community to create lasting change: “We must work in partnership,” she said.
Scotland is an entrepreneurial nation, home to a high volume of fast-growth firms. According to Irene Graham, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Strathclyde, “In Scotland, you have 2,000 scale-ups adding £21bn to the UK economy.” She called for more support for start-ups and small business owners. “They need access to the right talent and skills,” she said. “It’s also about how you cluster them and help to connect these communities. And they also need access to the right growth capital. These things have to be deployed at a local level; you can’t solve this at a national level.”
The panellists called for more financial support for young entrepreneurs, especially those in rural areas and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who get access to fewer employment opportunities.
Building a high-tech community
Tech Scotland Advocates is a grassroots network of leaders from the technology industry, who are on a mission to support the sector. It provides funding, networking opportunities and events to help those working in tech. It is led by Garry Bernstein, who also runs Technology Leaders, which backs fast-growth technology firms.
Support for rural communities
Entrepreneurs in rural Scotland can access advice and support from GrowBiz Scotland, which has also set up a dedicated COVID-19 resource centre to help rural firms that have been hit hard by the crisis.
Support for Scotland’s young people
Child poverty remains an enduring issue in Scotland. Aberlour, the children’s charity, offers financial and mental support to at-risk youngsters. In the past six months, the charity has spent £500,000 on supplying food, pre-pay power cards, and white goods to low income families in Scotland.
Bridging the digital divide
Remade Network, a consortium of community organisations, has been given the funding to refurbish unwanted IT kit. The scheme, which was financed by Glasgow City Council, will give free recycled computers to 500 vulnerable people in Glasgow. Another initiative, created by the charity Glasgow Life, has turned Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre into an IT recycling centre, making the refurbished kit available to vulnerable people in the local community.
Fostering COVID-19 resilience
The charity Foundation Scotland, has created a new fund to help pandemic-hit organisations. It launched its Response, Recovery and Resilience Fund in March 2020 in partnership with the National Emergencies Trust. To date it has distributed more than £5m to over 1,000 community organisations across Scotland.
Tackle digital exclusion by providing more support for those in rural communities, leveraging existing digital solutions and creating partnerships between sectors to enable more people to benefit from digital access
Supporting those on the lowest incomes:
Do not let those from low socioeconomic backgrounds fall through the cracks; create targeted initiatives for the most vulnerable and schemes to get families out of the cycle of poverty. Government, business and civil society must all work with grassroots organisations and the local community to create lasting change.
Focus on creating opportunities for young people, particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and rural communities. Ensure that they have access to resources or entrepreneurial role models that can help them find work or start their own businesses.