Glasgow’s Lighthouse was again the location for the latest UWS-Oxfam Partnership Policy Forum, organised jointly by the UWS-Oxfam Partnership, Scotland’s Poverty and Inequality Commission, and the Poverty Alliance.
Previous work by the Partnership had supported the call for the Commission to be created, and a Policy Forum in 2017 brought together a wide range of participants to help shape the focus of the Commission’s work. The March 2019 Policy Forum employed the resources and network of the Partnership, supported by the Poverty Alliance, to aid the Commission in its aim of ensuring that future Scottish Government Budgets are focused better on the aim of reducing poverty and inequality in contemporary Scotland. Those who participated in the event either brought their own direct experience of poverty into the discussions or were representatives from organisations providing support to people in poverty.
Moderated by the outgoing chairman of the Commission, Douglas Hamilton, the half-day event started with short presentations from Emma Congreve (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) and David Eiser (Fraser of Allander Institute) on poverty in Scotland and on how the Scottish Government spends its budget. These were followed by a series of ‘exercises’ during which participants discussed, in small groups, what kind of spending decisions should be taken to tackle inequality and poverty – what should be the priority areas of spending? What should be deprioritised? Helping people into ‘decent work’, supporting families with child care, and assuring availability of social housing were considered to be very important, while means-tested benefit top-ups were seen critically. Further discussions ensued about the budgeting process itself, how it could be made more transparent for Scotland’s citizens and also, as a next step, on how people could have a stronger say in how public monies are spent.
This was in many ways an experimental event, but it is one from which much learning can be taken – both about how the Commission and others can seek meaningfully to communicate with, and take on board the views of, those representing people experiencing poverty and being on ‘the receiving end’ of inequalities of income, wealth and power. It was ‘hard work’ for the participants, many of whom are rightly frustrated about the lack of progress many perceive in this area, notwithstanding the rhetoric of politicians and other policy makers. But the feeling of many present was that the kind of work and the kind of communication that took place at the Forum was worthwhile and something to build on.
The results from the event – discussions about spending priorities and ‘participatory budgeting’ were recorded in various ways – will help to shape the Poverty and Inequality Commission’s thinking about how the next Scottish Budget process can be approached and to suggest ways the budgeting process can be made more inclusive and transparent. Ultimately, all of this can help to ensure that the Commission’s future recommendations to the Scottish Government will be appropriately put and make more of a difference to the lives of the many – too many – in Scotland living with poverty.