Will We Ever Make Poverty History?

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“To make poverty history we need to make poverty personal and our response must be shaped by that lived experience.”

An abbreviated version of the quotes in this article appeared in the print edition of The Courier: 04/07/2020 [Online] Available: https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/perth-kinross/1394732/g8-summit-15th-anniversary-will-poverty-ever-be-history/  [Accessed: 2020, Jul 05] 

In July 2005, the eyes of the world turned upon Scotland as global leaders arrived in Gleneagles to focus on matters of worldwide significance. Days before their arrival at the G8 summit, around 200,000 men, women and children united together for the ‘Make Poverty History’ march in the streets of Edinburgh. I was 19 year old at the time and, although the focus of the march was global poverty, I was also doing my bit up the road in Dundee to make poverty history locally.

A fortnight before the G8 summit, I helped pioneer Dundee Foodbank in response to food insecurity in the city. Labour had just secured a third term with Tony Blair at the helm and continued to make poverty-reducing levels of investment nationally and debt-cancelling levels of divestment internationally. There was consensus among voluntary sector inhabitants at the time that we were only one weave in a wider tapestry, picking up loose threads where a tear in the fabric of the system unravelled.

Three years after Labour’s re-election in 2005, our nation plunged into recession and a three-way split in vote share in 2010 enabled a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition. A legislative cornerstone of this new era was the Welfare Reform Act 2012. This included spare room subsidies referred to as the bedroom tax, tightening of the stringency around benefit sanctions and Universal Credit. Poverty soared in Scotland and foodbank use leapt 400% in the year this political vision became a social reality.

As I did in 2005, I often ask if we can make poverty history. Dundee Foodbank was intended as a short-term effort but just celebrated – or commiserated – its fifteenth birthday. Poverty is multi-faceted so it is too simplistic to suggest, as some do, that more investment means less poverty. More broadly, I believe that to make poverty history, we need to make poverty personal. We must feel it to truly understand it and our response, socially and politically, should then be shaped by that knowledge.

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