Eliminating low-paid work and abolishing Universal Credit must be top priorities in reducing chronic poverty in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath area.
That’s according to Lesley Laird MP, who invited five front-line agencies to speak out as part of Challenge Poverty Week which starts today.
Kirkcaldy Food Bank, the Cottage Family Centre, Kirkcaldy YMCA, Fife Voluntary Action and Citizens Advice and Rights Fife took part in the film project at the MP’s invitation.
Mrs Laird said: “We’re witnessing shocking levels of poverty in pockets of this constituency and the numbers are not going down – in fact, they could get a whole lot worse.
“Universal Credit – thanks to its five-week wait for a first payment and punitive sanctions – has directly contributed to a rapid rise in demand for food banks over the past year. It’s also the reason why Fife Council tenant rent arrears have topped £2m for the first time ever.
“Agencies already report that they’re struggling to meet demand but, according to latest House of Commons Library statistics, Universal Credit roll-out in this constituency is only 37 per cent complete, with the majority of current claimants unemployed.
“That should raise serious alarm bells, because, in terms of people still on legacy benefits, 69 per cent of households with children and 85 per cent of people with incapacity are yet to migrate over. That’s over 8,400 new claimants.
“Universal Credit has been an unmitigated disaster and it should be scrapped, along with the two-child cap.”
In addition to welfare changes, agencies all cited unemployment and in-work poverty as major causes of deprivation locally.
Latest data reveals the total number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in August was 3,145 people, representing a rate of 6.8% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64.
That is almost double the equivalent UK claimant rate of 3.7%.
Meanwhile, national Scottish Government statistics published earlier this year reveal 59% of the working age population in relative poverty now live in working households, and those households are more likely to have young children.
Around two thirds of working adults living in poverty were paid below the real living wage.
Mrs Laird commented: “High rates of unemployment and people’s increasing reliance on zero-hour contracts to pay essential bills and feed their families is destroying our communities.
“People are riddled by insecurity, focused solely on surviving, worn down by the daily grind – as Liz Easton at Kirkcaldy YM said: ‘poverty looks like a loss of soul’.
“This is disgraceful and completely unnecessary. The UK is the fifth richest country in the world and, by rights, our communities should be flourishing.
“Poverty affects us all as a society and if we are ever going to turn this ship around, there’s no use in simply firefighting or tinkering around the edges.
“Our local agencies are doing fantastic work in our communities and they need a government which supports them as opposed to relying on them.
“We need a government prepared to offer a benefits system which treats people humanely, brave enough to set a £10 per hour minimum wage and ban zero-hours contracts, bold enough to invest in our communities to create quality local employment.
“A Green Industrial Revolution is underway and Fife is in a unique position to capitalise on this – if we don’t grab that opportunity now, the opportunity will be gone.”