Scotland must turn its back on poverty-related stigma, say MSPs and activists

In a report published today the Cross Party Group on Poverty in the Scottish Parliament says that bias against people in poverty affects their mental health and wellbeing, makes it harder to access the support they are entitled to, lessens their educational chances, and makes policies designed to tackle poverty less effective.

Group convener Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP said: “Scotland is a place that believes in compassion and justice, but people in poverty and on low incomes are having to face almost daily prejudice. That’s just not right, and it must stop.

“Poverty is caused by an unjust economy, and a social security system that doesn’t meet people’s needs. Our inquiry has found that the way people talk about poverty matters, and can have a clear impact on people on low incomes. That’s especially true when the people talking are politicians, in the media, or those delivering the public services that we all rely on.

“It’s time for everyone in Scotland to turn our back on these unjust attitudes and behaviours, and to call it out when they come across it. We’ll be a better, fairer, more just society as a result.”

Listen to Pam talk about the report

Since January last year, the Group has been carrying out an inquiry into the stigma associated with poverty in Scotland today, hearing evidence from people with lived experience of living in poverty and on low incomes.

One disabled participant speaking to the Glasgow Disability Alliance said: “It can be difficult if you have a hidden impairment – people think there is nothing wrong with you or you are ‘at it’. My adviser at the Department for Work & Pensions actually said ‘This is not a disability’.”

One 15-year-old school pupil told the Child Poverty Action Group: “Well, I think if all of your friends or people you know go to the after-school clubs, school trips, that kind of isolates you from them. You’re singled out, you’re not with them, just a spare person.”

Another 12-year-old pupil said: “They talk behind your back [about what you wear] and stand staring at you.”

The Group heard evidence about the difficulties faced by parents on low incomes. The Child Poverty Action Group spoke to parents and caregivers heard about the ‘guilt, embarrassment and shame’ they are often made to feel about their financial situation.

Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said: “We all have a right to social support, and no-one should be made to feel ashamed for using it. We are recommending that more investment is made into making sure every household is able to get all the help they’re entitled to.”

The inquiry report highlights how involving people with experience of poverty can make public services better. The new Social Security Scotland agency was praised for its work to make sure staff know how important it is to treat people with dignity and respect.

The Group is calling for people who work with the public in Scotland to be trained about the reality of poverty, and for a strong stand against language and behaviour that stigmatises people on low incomes.

And the report also recommends making education about poverty part of Scotland’s national curriculum for schools, helping to project young people from its effects and giving them the tools and confidence to call it out and stand up against it.

Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “The submissions to this inquiry have highlighted that poverty-related stigma is extensive and deep-rooted in Scotland. It is impacting people’s mental health and wellbeing, erecting barriers to accessing support, restricting educational attainment, and influencing the design and resourcing of policies that can tackle poverty.

“Now is the time to end it.”

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