Claire Burns, Director (Acting), CELCIS – Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection discusses how COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities in society.

This article first appeared in Holyrood Magazine's special focus on poverty on 15 December 2020.

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In a short space of time, COVID-19 has had a huge impact on people and communities. But the biggest impact has been on those already on low incomes. Ironically, for those with money and resources, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to increase savings or pay off debt – but for those who were already struggling to stay afloat, it’s merely exacerbated the income crisis.

And it won’t be experienced in the same way by everyone. It will disproportionately impact on the children and families we were already worried about; those in need of care and protection; those on the edge of care; lone parent households, women, families impacted by disability and people from Black and Ethnic Minority communities.

As people have struggled to keep afloat, we have seen so much generosity, and state financial support on a scale we have not witnessed in my lifetime. Despite this, too many people have still experienced the harsh reality of the impact of poverty this year. Poverty must never be seen in isolation. It’s not an event, and its impact endures, causing poverty of opportunity, health inequalities and so much more for each individual, family and community experiencing it, as we have seen so starkly in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) Destitution in the UK reports.

We know that a hand up is much better than a hand out. ‘Tackling poverty’ is not a benign campaigning slogan. To be anti-poverty is to be pro-community, pro-humanity and to seek social justice. We cannot have a fair society when economic imbalance remains.

We need to draw from our understanding of poverty and its impact. We can and must use what people with lived experience have told us about what they need and how and why those who sometimes need the most support feel the least empowered and enabled to get it.

Eradicating poverty, its effects, and addressing this imbalance, is the very foundation of how will we improve lives for children, young people and their families. This is how we will realise The Promise of the Independent Care Review, fully embed Getting it Right for Every Child, why embedding the UNCRC into Scots law could make a real difference, and why putting in place the support families need is crucial.

Getting the right support at the right time means that what is available to families works for them. This can only be possible by truly listening to what their own specific experiences are. It might be too hopeful to hope that the harsh realities of this year are beginning to help chip away at the stigma of feeling ‘judged’ that is too often associated with having less financial means and asking for any kind of support in any way. The recent public discourse concerning free school meals during holiday time in England showed just how much people can be empathetic and want to help in a ‘crisis’ but there are still entrenched attitudes that need to change.

Only a few weeks ago IpsosMORI and The Royal Foundation revealed public attitudes to early years in a new effort to remind us all that we all have a responsibility to raise all our children, for they are the adults of the tomorrow who will form the society we wish to see, to thrive and to prosper.

Poverty and inequality affects us all. It is not a metaphor but a reality that we are all poorer where inequalities prevail. Putting rights and human dignity at the heart of all efforts to improve the implementation of public policy and public services is essential to mitigating the long-term effects of the impact of poverty on health and wellbeing. Surely 2020 has shown this to all of us?


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