LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Bishop William Nolan of Galloway has joined with other Scottish faith leaders to call on the UK and Scottish governments to increase public assistance to the needy as poverty rates rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement was released at the end of Challenge Poverty Week, an annual appeal to highlight the reality of poverty in Scotland and increase public support to help the poor.
“During Challenge Poverty Week we are reminded that there is still much to do to help all those who are living with the constant pressure of poverty, and that despite the care and support that has been shown over the last six months we know that further action is needed to loosen the grip of poverty on people’s lives,” the letter states.
In addition to Nolan, who serves as the president of the Scottish bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, the letter was signed by The Right Rev. Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; Imam Razawi, Chief Imam and Director General, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society; Sensei Karl Kaliski, Cloud Water Zen Centre; Bishop Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church; Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, Sikhs in Scotland; Rev Mark Slaney, Chair Scotland District & Shetland District, Methodist Church in Scotland; and Rev. Paul Whittle, Moderator-Elect of the National Synod of Scotland of the United Reformed Church.
The faith leaders called on both the UK and Scottish governments to take action “that would reflect the care, compassion and support shown by people across the country into changes that would make a real difference to families and individuals living in the grip of poverty.”
In particular, they called on the UK government to end the child benefit cap that was introduced in 2017 at £2,780 ($3,593) per child per year to the first two children in the family. The faith leaders also asked that the two-child limit be scrapped.
They said the UK government should also retain the increase in the Universal Credit basic allowance made during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it will maintain “the financial support that will still be needed for many as our economy recovers.”
The faith leaders also called on the Scottish government to play its role by increasing the Carers Allowance Supplement. The UK government gives an allowance of £67.25 ($87) to people who care full time for another person. The Scottish government currently tops that off with a £230.10 ($297) payment twice a year.
The letter says an increase in this amount “would recognize that carers are often locked into poverty, and in response to the additional financial pressures placed on them by the pandemic.”
“By boosting the incomes of people struggling to stay afloat, our Governments can relieve the pressure and stress that so many are now experiencing. We encourage those in power to listen to people who are affected by poverty now and take the steps we need to begin to redesign our social security to provide the support that everyone one needs,” the faith leaders say.
The letter was released near the publication of the annual Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report into poverty in Scotland.
The report noted that even before COVID-19, around a million people in Scotland were living in poverty, with nearly a quarter of them being children.
“The impact of coronavirus will be heightened for certain groups, like low-paid workers, underemployed workers, and women and ethnic minorities, who were already struggling before coronavirus. Areas with a high number of low-paid at-risk jobs will be heavily impacted by the threat of rising poverty,” it continues. “This is mostly due to the nature of the pandemic and the appropriate response to address the health crisis. After the Scottish Government announced a lockdown, all non-essential shops and other public spaces were ordered to close. This restriction led to significant falls in economic activity.”
The JRF report also noted women were more likely to work in shut-down sectors like hospitality and non-food retail.
“Those who have been furloughed have very often been juggling childcare, money worries, and support with schoolwork, while others have had the additional pressure of working from home,” it says.
In their letter marking Challenge Poverty Week by noting the response to the coronavirus pandemic “highlighted much of what is best in our society.”
“At its outset, we saw an outpouring of compassion and care for one another. Communities, neighbors, and families worked together to try and ensure that those most in need have not been left behind. All levels of government recognized the economic and social effects the pandemic would have, and quickly put in place measures to cushion some of its worst impacts,” the faith leaders wrote.
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