The JRF Chief Executive, Julia Unwin, will be a key speaker at the upcoming SURF Annual Conference on Community Resilience. Here, she outlines some of the work that the JRF is doing to monitor the impact of recession based policy and to highlight some successful responses.
The recession and cuts in public spending will place a profound strain on social and economic resilience. While the draft Scottish budget sets out a reduction of £1.2 billion next year, Scotland will also face its share of cuts from UK welfare reforms. All of this, at a time when unemployment has carried on rising against the trend in England. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s work seeks to shine a very bright light on the impact of these changes for people and places experiencing poverty. The findings of our latest Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report* show that fully 40% of jobs lost were among the under-25s last year, whom we know are at most risk of longterm ‘scarring’ to future job and earning prospects.
Looking across the map of Scotland, the biggest rise in out of- work benefit claims occurred where economic resilience is ranked lowest. These tend to be authorities made up of large towns in the west of Scotland (North Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire), while the most resilient economies experienced the smallest rise in claimants (notably Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and a number of rural areas).
But we know that the picture is more complicated. Many of those who managed to move off benefits into work during the years of growth found themselves only a little better off. Others have cycled in and out of low-paid work, finding that debt, rent or childcare costs make the climb out of poverty a losing battle. JRF’s work on a Minimum Income Standard for the UK shows what different households need to bring home if they are to have a modest but adequate standard of living. It highlights a clear gap both for people living on benefits and those earning below £7 an hour. The gap is even greater in rural areas.
Resilience in the face of austerity will reflect the availability of decent, affordable housing and a fundamentally different approach to how the housing market is shaped.
A decade of regeneration policy has shown us the value of taking action on all fronts: physical improvements to housing and environment needs to be combined with action to connect people into networks of learning, training, work and care. And resilient communities need to include isolated older people – those who feel ‘independent living’ is a lonely experience more akin to abandonment. JRF’s Reshaping Care for Older People programme provides a rare opportunity to address the issue of wellbeing for an ageing population.
Boosting resilience is partly about the funding choices made by Governments at Holyrood and Westminster, and by local authorities. These can help or hinder the chances of disadvantaged people keeping their heads above water. They will rarely be neutral. But it will also be about how the responsibility is shared between government, citizens, employers and the community – the kind of social contract Scotland wants to establish in the years ahead.
Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Scotland 2010 by Anushree Parekh, Peter Kenway and Tom MacInnes is available from www.jrf.org.uk