Today, (Thursday 14 February) the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) held a webinar with UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston.
The live event provided an opportunity for civil society representatives in Scotland to reflect with Professor Alston on poverty and human rights both in Scotland and across the UK.
The session focused on the Rapporteur’s interim findings following his visit to the UK in November 2018. The full findings from his trip will be submitted to the UK Government in due course.
More than 40 representatives from across Scottish civil society took part in the webinar, with participants asking questions on the findings and discussing opportunities for change in Scottish society.
Professor Alston said he had not been surprised by the UK Government’s response to his interim report, but hoped that it would act as a catalyst for change.
He said: “It is certainly better than nothing to have some sort of tinkering with the system, but of course what the report is really seeking is a deeper rethinking of the system. It remains to be seen whether this will happen.”
The Rapporteur said the attention around the interim report was such that it cannot be ignored, but only time will tell if meaningful action is taken by those in power. He added that there have been no developments in the last few months to suggest that Brexit will improve things for those who face poverty.
“Nothing that has happened since my report in regards Brexit makes the situation any more optimistic,” he said.
“I think we must assume that the consequences for people living in poverty will be particularly bad. If GDP falls to the extent the Treasury and others are fairly confidently predicting then there will be a whole new set of people who will suddenly be plunged into increased economic insecurity.
“And they will thus start to discover to the weaknesses that now exist in the overall social protection scheme.”
Professor Alston added that Scotland has made a clear commitment to tackling poverty in different ways than the UK Government.
Questions faced by the Rapporteur included what effect UK welfare policies have had on women and the disabled, and around the issue of food poverty for older people.
SCVO Chief Executive Anna Fowlie thanked the Rapporteur for taking the time to hear from the third sector.
She said: “This afternoon’s session was thought provoking and shows the desire amongst Scotland’s third sector to understand what is driving poverty in Scotland.
“Professor Alston’s initial findings rightly attracted a high level of attention, with his study highlighting with great clarity the devastating poverty that millions of people in the UK face. He found that the welfare system is actively compounding or even exacerbating poverty and inequality.
“As the Rapporteur stated, these issues cannot be ignored. We will work with our members to ensure that support is there for the vulnerable and to give them a strong voice.”