This week across Scotland campaigners, activists, children’s charities, and others have marked Challenge Poverty Week. Over the last seven days, we have been sharing blogs, reports, research, and all sorts of content and information about the impact of poverty on children and families across Scotland. I don’t think I can say anything more about a government action or policy commitments that hasn’t already been said this week.
What I would like to do is reflect on what we see and hear every day at Aberlour from families living in poverty
Each day this week we have shared a story on social media about how our Urgent Assistance Fund (UAF) has helped a family in desperate need.
Through our UAF we provide cash grants to help families with children who are living in poverty. The UAF has been going for years, but this year we have seen a 1400% rise in the number of families requesting help. For most this has been due to the financial impact of coronavirus. The cash grants help and assist with a range of basic needs, such as food, prepay power cards, clothing, bedding, or other essentials.
As part of my role in Aberlour, I often say that my eyes leak listening to the stories of the families we support across Scotland. This year my eyes have leaked on a daily basis. Every day I have read the stories of families from all over Scotland who have nothing, and no way of providing for themselves or their children.
During the last 6 months over 2000 applications have come into our UAF and every one of them has been a story of desperation and despair. A quarter of children in Scotland were already living in poverty before coronavirus, but since March that picture has become much worse. Our UAF has received applications from families living in every local authority in the country.
Families who were just about managing before the pandemic have now been pushed into poverty
Parents who were working have found themselves unemployed. Families who had never needed help before now need assistance to feed their children.
Thousands of anguished families in dire need have come to us looking for financial help for basic and essential items. We have seen so many families applying to our fund because children are living without food and without basic clothing, and even without a bed to sleep on. So many families who, for one reason or another, simply have nowhere else to turn to for help.
Since the pandemic struck, we have given out more than half a million pounds in small grants to families through our UAF. More than 70% of applications have been in response to food insecurity and have requested help to provide food. This has included help to buy cookers, microwaves, fridges, and essential items for preparing and cooking meals. Having access to food is a fundamental human right, but we are seeing thousands of families across Scotland struggling to provide food for their children.
One family who applied for help had no means to cook food. They had been struggling to get by without being able to provide proper meals for their children. They were able to buy a microwave with the money they received. When their seven your old son saw the family’s new microwave he said that ‘his dreams had come true’. What a tragedy that in Scotland in 2020 a child dreams of having a microwave so he can have hot meals.
I am reassured at the effort and energy of so many who are committed to ending poverty in Scotland. There is no quick fix, but there can be swift action. Aberlour are committed to working with all partners and parties to help end child poverty, and we will keep doing what we can to make sure children and families across Scotland living in poverty get the help they need.
For me, challenging poverty means challenging the distress, despair, and hopelessness that families face every day. If we make the right choices and begin to act now, perhaps come Challenge Poverty Week 2021 no child in Scotland will have to go without food – and no child in Scotland will have to dream of having a microwave.
Liz Nolan, Aberlour Deputy Director