A message from Bill Scott, Chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission.
The role of the Poverty and Inequality Commission is to provide independent advice and scrutiny to Scottish Ministers on poverty and inequality, a role that we have taken on since 2017 first as a Ministerial advisory group and since 2019 as a statutory public body.
This role has become ever more important at this time, as we already know that COVID-19 and the policy responses to combat its spread impact those who are experiencing poverty and inequality acutely. Given the enormous impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our society and economy, the Commission’s work over the coming year will be to examine what the implications of this are for those experiencing poverty and inequality.
The Commission has established a COVID-19 short-term working group to look at the immediate responses which will be needed during the crisis. The Commission as a whole will be looking at the longer-term impacts of the crisis in relation to child poverty and wider poverty and inequality. We will also be exploring what this emergency means for existing policies and future transformative approaches to our economy and poverty.
COVID-19 food insecurity briefing
On 16 April this working group published a briefing on the COVID-19 crisis and food insecurity, which brings together existing survey evidence from the Food Foundation, Citizens Advice Scotland and new evidence from six community organisations in Scotland we spoke to who have adapted their services for emergency food provision. For each of these organisations, the message was clear that the scale and the nature of the support they are providing has changed dramatically and rapidly since the start of this crisis. They felt overwhelmed by the rise in demand for their help and are concerned about their ability to fund their services.
The briefing also brings together evidence from those who are experiencing poverty and food insecurity, and the challenges they face in accessing food and food banks in this crisis.
From this evidence the Commission put forth two recommendations to the Scottish Government:
- The Commission recommends that the Scottish Government provide more visible leadership around emergency food provision; and
- The Commission recommends that a spokesperson is appointed to clearly communicate and reassure people about food provision during this pandemic and its aftermath.
To read the full briefing, including important evidence on how this issue is impacting community organisations and individuals and families experiencing poverty, please go to our website (link to PDF).
Ongoing work for the Commission: four themes
The full Commission will be structuring our work in the coming year based on the key levers identified for achieving the child poverty targets: work and earnings, social security and housing costs. These are widely accepted, having been identified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in their work We Can Solve Poverty, adopted by the previous Commission and by the Scottish Government in its Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. However as this work goes beyond the child poverty targets, the Commission will also adopt an additional fourth theme of wider costs of living.
The themes we will be focussing on are therefore:
- Work and earnings
- Social security
- Housing costs
- Costs of living
COVID-19 and the policy responses to flatten the curve in effect right now have impacts on each of these four levers, and these impacts will continue into the medium and long-term. In short, those who were already experiencing poverty will likely struggle even further as employment and earnings decrease, more people will be turning to the social security system, and costs of living will become even more challenging to meet.
For those who were just making ends meet before the crisis, it is likely that their worlds have also been upended by this crisis and may have to now turn to systems of support which they are unfamiliar. The social and economic impacts of the pandemic will continue for many months and years to come.
However, what we have seen from both the UK and the Scottish Governments during the immediate period of the COVID-19 crisis is that large scale initiatives to tackle job losses, poverty, food insecurity and homelessness can be mounted and afforded. What we as a society should not accept is that we will return to a “normal” where child poverty, hunger and homelessness are not only tolerated but a natural consequence of massive wealth inequalities.
We must seize the opportunity presented by the COVID-19 crisis to radically restructure our economy from the bottom up to achieve a more equal and just society.
To cite this article: Scott, Bill, Our role in understanding COVID-19’s impact on poverty and inequality: A message from Bill Scott, Chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, Policy Scotland , 28 April 2020,
Written content is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence.