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Blog: Scotland’s lost voice

Meg Thomas, our Head of Policy & Participation, wrote for The Herald on how Scotland’s most disadvantaged young people are at risk of not having their voices heard as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

THE Covid-19 emergency has impacted all of our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Yet, it is undeniable that its negative effects are impacting those who were already suffering and marginalised more than most.

Our recent Staying Connected report on digital exclusion found that a fifth of the young people and families surveyed did not have the digital devices that they needed, and a third were worried about ongoing costs. We surveyed more than half our service users to help us understand the extent of digital exclusion and what impact it is having on their lives.

What we are finding is that not all our young people have access to the technology they need resulting in an already disadvantaged group becoming potentially even more isolated. As schoolwork is likely to be moving more and more online this already marginalised group is in danger of being left further behind.

Digital exclusion is primarily the result of entrenched poverty. While we welcome the steps the Scottish Government is taking in providing equipment through initiatives like Connecting Scotland, having equipment without the monetary means to stay connected is just another hindrance towards improving vulnerable young people’s lives for the better. As welcome as these initiatives are, the fact remains – we cannot talk about digital exclusion without also talking about the entrenched poverty that fuels it.

What worries me and my colleagues at includem, with all the noise of Covid-19, are we at risk of further drowning out the voices of those who have been living a daily poverty crisis their whole lives?

Research from the University of Loughbourgh found that rates of child poverty over the last five years have continued to increase in many areas of Scotland. To our collective shame, Glasgow Central has seen the second highest increase in child poverty in the UK, sitting at over 40 per cent in 2019. Over 40%, even before coronavirus.

The Scottish Government and SOLACE, the UK’s leading network for public sector professionals, have produced a report assessing the impact of Covid-19 and its mitigations on vulnerable children. But when it talks about the financial implications, it speaks of “low income families”, or those in “financial distress”. It does not speak of poverty. How can we hope to rid Scotland of poverty if we don’t call it out for what it is?

Another worrying revelation in the report is that referrals to social work are down, despite what many charities are reporting as a marked increase in children and families seeking support. Meanwhile, the number of Child Protection Orders has increased by 38%.

It is apparent that many families are not receiving the holistic support that they need right now. If we have learnt anything from the Independent Care Review, it’s that children and young people who enter the current care system in Scotland feel their voice gets lost; this emergency is only going to exacerbate that.

Of course, governments should do everything in their power to help those who have been plunged to financial distress and social isolation because of this pandemic. But we cannot lose sight of those who were experiencing poverty, trauma and social isolation long before coronavirus struck and the need to address the systemic reasons why they find themselves in the position they are in.5

As featured in The Herald.

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