The Season of Goodwill

Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame

FionaOne of my favourite versions of a Dickens’ classic that emerges at this time of year is The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Along with great muppetry madness it’s a pretty close re-telling of a story where a rich old man frightened by divine retribution realises he has to redistribute some (only some) of his wealth.  Dickens invented our modern day Christmas based on family meals with tables groaning with food, overindulgence and festive good cheer.

Supermarket Aldi has done a good deed this year.


Photo credit TA (Yes Scotland’s Future)

Food surplus ? we live in a bountiful, rich society.

Between 1st April and 30th September 2017, The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 586,907 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, (The Trussell Trust), 208,956 of these went to children.

Other Foodbanks are available.

What is most shocking apart from these appalling figures is that we have come to accept Foodbanks as part of our ‘Welfare State’. The biggest surge in the use of Foodbanks is in areas where the UK Government’s new social security pay out system entitled Universal Credit has been rolled out.

“Foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout for six months or more have seen a 30% average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before.”

Food bank Use

Photo Credit Trussell Trust

Another one of my fave Christmas movies is ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ where George Bailey runs a bank that invests its savers’ money in building social housing. It’s a local bank in a small town (take note RBS) where the small deposits of money from people caught in high rented poor private housing are used to build new homes that those same people will eventually afford to buy. It’s a great weepie, feel good movie which we can watch in the warm comfort of our homes.

There Are Homeless People in Scotland.

It is slowly decreasing but there are homeless people in Scotland.

“In 2016-17, 34,100 homeless applications were made. ” Shelter Scotland.

Over half of those who are now homeless give the reason as a breakdown in a relationship or being ‘asked to leave’ with the majority of those being men. The figures are of people who apply to be homeless. The true figure is not known.

137,100 people are on local authority waiting lists with 70,000 households deemed to be overcrowded. And bizarrely we have empty homes.

Orkney tops the league for empty homes in Scotland but the council has appointed an Empty Homes Officer to attempt to bring these buildings back into residential accommodation.The post is funded by the Scottish Government, Orkney Islands Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.  Orkney has the highest percentage of dwellings in Scotland that are vacant at 6.9% and the third highest percentage of dwellings that are second homes at 3.5%. In 2006 there were 802 homes unoccupied (433 empty and 369 second homes) and in 2016 this had risen to 1151 (759 empty and 392 second homes). (Orkney’s Empty Homes Officer Sets to Work)

10,873 households are in temporary accommodation in Scotland which is an increase of 330 households (+ 3%) since last year. Of those 3,250 had children – an increase of 367 households (+13%) compared with one year earlier. Homelessness in Scotland: 2016-2017

In a 10 year period the average weekly rent in Scotland for council housing has risen by 65%. and over the same period the average cost of buying a house has risen by 61%. Meanwhile wages have not.

The Scottish Government has a  Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. It is tasked with finding ‘actions and changes needed to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland’. It is part of a £50 million ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ fund.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:

“The Scottish Government has rightly identified that a renewed effort is required to stop more people experiencing different forms of homelessness. Their £50million ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ fund along with their commitment to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation will change people’s lives.”

The group has focussed its work on the areas where there are the greatest number of rough sleepers and have produced a list of recommendations.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland said:

“These actions, which the government accepts in full and will roll out immediately, will provide more support for those who find themselves homeless and more safe and warm places to stay this winter.”

The measures include:

  • Increase emergency accommodation in Edinburgh, and increase outreach capacity in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen
  • Boost multi-agency partnership working, adopting ‘by name lists’ and empowering front line workers through direct access to services and dedicated accommodation
  • Making personal budgets and/or flexible emergency fund available for front line staff to employ where maximum flexibility is required to meet immediate housing needs
  • At times of extreme weather, ensure flexible provision is available in Edinburgh and Glasgow for anyone who will not use winter night shelters, despite all efforts
  • Maximise use of Nightstop – which provide young people with emergency accommodation for up to 2 weeks in the homes of approved volunteers – in Edinburgh and support implementation in Glasgow by January 2018
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart visit Streetwork Edinburgh.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart visits Streetwork Edinburgh. (photo Scot Gov)

Jon Sparkes said:

“As the cold weather bites, it’s critical to support as many people sleeping on the streets as possible. However, the longer-term focus of the Action Group is on sustainable solutions which prevents people rough sleeping in the first place and our focus is now on looking at the practical and systems changes required to end rough sleeping for good.”

“The effort and energy of Action Group members to work quickly to identify practical support along with the willingness of council leaders and sector colleagues to commit to more flexible practices at short notice has been remarkable.”

The number of new houses built in Scotland has risen by 3% on last year, 571 more homes.

Check the stats:

  • 137,100 people are on local authority waiting lists
  • 70,000 households deemed to be overcrowded
  • 34,100 registered as homeless
house builds

A National Statistics Publication for Scotland.

In the social sector (local authorities and housing associations), 819 social sector homes were completed between April and June 2017 bringing the total for the year to end June 2017 to 3,708, 6% less than in the year to end June 2016. So overall there has been a 3% increase in housing but that is nowhere near enough to deal with the housing crisis 21st Century Scotland is facing.

So I’m not overjoyed at viewing on TV newscast after magazine programme after historical documentary about Royal weddings, fabulous meals in stately homes, Big Ben not bonging, or repairing the Palace of Westminster. I’m even more uncomfortable at the complete mess the UK Government is making over Brexit negotiations. Who would have thought we could see something even more incompetent than how the Eden Government handled the Suez Crisis of 1956 ? Jings that’s pale compared to this chaos of indecision and lack of diplomatic skills. It doesn’t matter whether or not you voted Leave or Remain – it’s a complete meltdown. And I am sure that those who voted Leave in the belief that billions would be ploughed into the National Health Service must now be feeling totally betrayed by  a UK Government hell bent on creating a tax haven for the super rich few, not a land of equality for the many.

It disturbs me that we have come to accept Foodbanks as the norm and that thousands of Scottish children do not have a permanent place to call home. Scotland is a resource rich nation. Our people are well educated and skilled. And yet we seem prepared to accept that sticking plasters will do when elective surgery is needed. You can be like Mr Scrooge and divvie out some of your wealth, just some, and accept that this is the way it will be or you can take George Bailey’s route and seek to make transformational changes to society. We have a choice to make.

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? “ (It’s A Wonderful Life)


By National Telefilm Associates (Screenshot of the movie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons








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4 replies »

  1. That’s a very well written, thorough piece, Fiona.
    It is all there – food, shelter. But…but…but……..the balance has gone – if it was ever there – maybe I should say it’s gone even more askew than it was.
    There is plenty of …everything – too much. Those ridiculous ‘aircraft hangar’ supermarkets with 6 aisles just for cheese! I went in one once, got confused, and will never do so again, if I can help it. At least I can afford to go to a supermarket – and I can cope with Stromness Co-op.
    I risk wittering, when you’ve said what needs to be said. Just a supportive comment really.
    “Them that’s got shall have, them that’s not, shall lose.” – Billie Holliday

    And, by the by – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is one of my favourites too – hold onto ZuZu’s petals.

  2. I totally agree with your comments on the incompetence of our “representatives” in Westminster. I don’t remember there ever being such a level of ineptitude, across all parties, in London. I dread to think what this circus is costing the nation. Sadly there doesn’t appear to be anyone standing in the wings capable of sorting things out.
    Why Johnson, Gove, Farage, et al are not in prison is a mystery to me. If I sold a car, based on the lies such as they peddled, I’d be locked up.
    I wonder how Indyref would have turned out if it had happened after the Brexit vote.

  3. An excellent thought provoking piece Fiona, great to see Orkney News leading the way with informative journalism which makes the reader think for themselves by providing the hard [accountable] facts [statistics]. Scotland and indeed the world needs more of the Orkney News style of reporting and less of the Daily Mail variety.
    Keep up the good work!

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