DUNDEE – A LIVING WAGE CITY?
“This is an evil!” The words of David Dorward, former Chief Executive of Dundee City Council describing the vast inequality in Dundee. The Dundee Fairness Commission has been set up to do something about it.
Usually these kinds of bodies are made up of ‘the great and the good’ (so-called) because we often fall into the belief that they are the people ‘who know best’. Mercifully the membership of this Commission is much broader than that and we are seeking to hear and listen to as wide a spectrum of the experiences of living in Dundee that we can reach. So, at our second meeting on 26th May the public were invited to sit in, and they did.
John Dickie of Child Poverty Action Group presented us with mind numbing statistics about child poverty in Scotland and Dundee – 22% of Scottish children are living in poverty (28% in Dundee). Over half of these are living in ‘working’ families; one in three live in households with a disabled person. The Commissioners were not unaware of these figures, but it was still depressing to hear him say that we are now tolerating much higher levels of poverty than we used to. John McKendrick of Strathclyde University added that when we talk about welfare reform, there is not wholesale anger about it, there is still a great deal of ‘blaming the poor for their poverty.’ Responding, one commissioner said that many people have a conservative, even a reactionary attitude to the causes of poverty, but we can win hearts and minds because politics in Scotland have changed. We have an engaged population looking for new solutions. The challenge for us is how do we harness that appetite?
Despite social security cuts already costing Dundee £56 million per year – and that will get worse, much worse in the next 5 years – grinding poverty and vast inequality are not inevitable. Pointing out that people in poverty depend most on public services, Peter Allan of Dundee City Council outlined a range of initiatives currently being implemented by the Council.
One of the big hopes to bring new prosperity to the city is the Waterfront Development which will bring in its wake a large expansion of jobs in the catering and hospitality industries, where wages are notoriously low. “Can we set a living wage standard to be met by employers coming here? Can we make Dundee a living wage city?” This suggestion was met with unanimous enthusiasm.
A woman once told the Dundee Partnership “When you are struggling to make ends meet you are treated as rubbish.” This Commission is determined not to do things ‘to’ or ‘for’ people. We recognise that the strength of people living with poverty and stigma and disability is enormous. “I see people who are totally skint” another commissioner told us, “but they are happy when they are engaged – even in things like digging community gardens.” We will only make changes with people on board!