MSPs and campaigners are coming together to shine a light on the reality of living in poverty in rural Scotland.
Today the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group (GPG) on Poverty has launched an inquiry into poverty in rural Scotland – exploring its impacts on people’s lives, and looking at its causes and solutions.
Group convener Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP said: “The injustice of poverty is felt in areas all across Scotland – including in places that seem idyllic. Too often poverty is seen as an issue that only affects urban areas, but we know that is not true. This inquiry will look behind the attractive landscapes to see the reality of people’s lives.
“We want to find out how people in rural Scotland experience poverty. We’ll look at employment, public services, transport, childcare and health, and the impacts of depopulation.
“Following our evidence sessions, we’ll be working hard to recommend priority actions for government and others, to tackle the problem head on.”
The CPG on Poverty will be taking evidence about the impact of the ‘poverty premium’ on rural households, where people on low incomes pay more than wealthier households for access to essential goods and services.
Recent research by Changeworks found that 40% of households in remote rural areas of Scotland are in fuel poverty, with 33% in extreme fuel poverty – much higher than the figure of 12% across the whole of Scotland.
The injustice of poverty is felt in areas all across Scotland – including in places that seem idyllic. Too often poverty is seen as an issue that only affects urban areas, but we know that is not true.
In the report, an energy advisor from Caithness said: “I have a lot of pensioners saying they stay in bed till 12, then they get up to have a can of soup and then they go back to bed. It’s dreadful to hear.”
The inquiry will also consider evidence that the social security system is failing to meet the needs of people in rural communities, failing to deal fairly with the volatility and irregularity of rural incomes from tourism, retail, or casual farm and estate work.
The inquiry will focus on six main questions:
• Do current measures of poverty accurately capture poverty in rural Scotland? How can we improve measurement?
• What are the causes of poverty in rural Scotland?
• How does the poverty premium function in rural areas?
• What are the challenges for tackling poverty in rural Scotland?
• What are the examples of good policy and/or practice in relation to addressing the specific dimensions of rural poverty?
• What are the priority actions for alleviating poverty in rural Scotland?
The Poverty Alliance provides secretariat support to the CPG on Poverty. Campaigns & Policy Manager Ruth Boyle said: “We know there are examples where people are unable to access the very systems which should help them, particularly if those services are based far away and people are reliant on poor and expensive public transport. That’s unjust and we hope that the inquiry will underscore the importance of more responsive, accessible public services in rural areas.”
The CPG on Poverty will hold four sessions to gather evidence. Each session will have presentations from stakeholders exploring rural poverty, followed by a group discussion on the evidence. Members of the CPG will also be invited to submit any relevant research or data that may assist with the development of the inquiry. The CPG will also look to host a fifth session, connecting people experiencing poverty in rural areas with MSPs.
A report of the inquiry’s findings and recommendations will be published in early 2024.