Trade Unions Key To Tackling Poverty & Inequality

New figures out yesterday show poverty & inequality in Scotland on the rise.

In Scotland, in 2016/17, more than one million people live in poverty. That’s one in five of our population. The likelihood of being in poverty is higher still for women, lone parents, ethnic minorities, and families with a disabled person.

In-work poverty is also on the rise, increasing from 440,000 in 2011-2014 to 540,000 in 2014-17.

That paid work is no longer a protection against poverty should concern us all. So how can we address this?

I’ve written previously about the historical link between trade union membership and inequality in the UK. But the more recent creep of rising in-work poverty can also be seen to be associated with falling trade union membership levels.

fs graph

Falling trade union membership levels isn’t a pre-determined scenario. Membership only began to fall in 1979 due to a concerted and deliberate political attack by Government and elites. It can be undone through workplace organising and political support from outside the workplace.

Rising poverty isn’t predetermined either – it is driven by low-paid, precarious work; high housing costs and a diminishing welfare state. Yes addressing these issues requires policy change from Government but, as the link to trade unions shows, we also need institutions and political movements that fight for that change.

Scotland has a Child Poverty Act which aims to eradicate child poverty by 2030. If we are to meet these important targets we need to build the kind of political movements that can fundamentally transform the power dynamics of our economy.

Positively, there are a range of inspiring efforts underway. Better than Zero, Unite Hospitality and the Bakers Union are taking on rogue employers and organising workers in low-paid sectors; a number of other trade unions are taking sustained industrial action over fair work, and winning; Living Rent are fighting exorbitant rent increases and building a genuinely tenants-led movement; and a number of community and anti-poverty groups are led by those with first-hand experience of poverty. Let’s learn the lessons from these organisations and movements. Not to stop making the case for policy change but to ensure that it is led and sustained by those that need it most.


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