Excuses, teachers have heard them all. The dog ate the entire jotter, a wee brother threw it down the loo, or hadn’t they gone and left it at great aunt Annie’s house…50 miles away!
Ok, hands up to being a tad creative with the truth just there, but homework excuses come in all shapes and sizes and there are times when you simply stand back and admire the sheer level of creativity involved, whilst struggling to keep that straight teacher face.
But there are other excuses where a straight face feels the most natural response in the world. Excuses of a different kind, cover ups for the very real stories of poverty now experienced by too many of our children in schools throughout Scotland today…and in this day of in work poverty, not all where you’d expect. More than 1 in 5 in now live in poverty, 1 in 3 in some parts, with a 50% rise in 5 years predicted if austerity is allowed to continue.
Words vary each time but the same warning bells ring. Headaches and tiredness to hide a hunger that shames them, mum doesn’t get paid until Friday, when she’ll never have enough for the school trip, or a PE kit or school sweatshirt constantly in the wash because poverty has priced them out of the uniform market. And so the list goes on.
Poverty isn’t a straightforward business, as those in lofty and distant places would have us believe. To most of us who live in the real world, it’s not invited through life choice but enforced by a variety of factors out with the control of its victims, and a set of policy decisions that shrug off the vulnerable in our society and rail road ahead at full steam anyway.
Sadly, housing has now been added to that list of growing factors, and it’s at the end of the day, when the home bell rings, that teachers across our schools can wonder how many of our young people are actually heading out of the door to a place that feels like ‘home’.
Dorothy, Wizard of Oz Dorothy, remember her? Or at least remember her ruby shoes tapping together as she chanted “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Right at the end of her yellow brick road adventure, Dorothy longed for nothing more than the warmth and cosiness of her own home. A sweet kids’ story it is, and with a feel good ending too, but tragically just not one shared by a growing number of children and families across our schools in these austerity driven times.
The stark reality in Scotland today is that against the backdrop of austerity, soaring house prices and a lack of affordable housing have obliterated any dreams of home ownership, leaving many longing for just anywhere to call home. Instead, around 85,000 of our school families find themselves struggling on in the private rental sector, where rents are escalating out of control and one in ten of all tenants fail to meet their monthly payments.
Poor families make up 25% of that figure, and all they can long for is a home that doesn’t eat into a quarter of their family’s income, or force them to join the additional 62% now seeking housing benefit – both ultimately pushing them further into poverty. It’s a vicious circle and the plight of those who come to the end of the road of options is no better highlighted than in the 38% rise of tenants now declaring themselves homeless in the sector.
Attainment, there’s a lot of talk about it these days and it’s not difficult across the teaching world to spot the role of poverty in this gap. In school, the housing factor manifests itself in different ways. Homework excuses are back, this time due to overcrowding and poor conditions. Backgrounds vary, but the lack of space and quality common to private rentals, is not supportive to a learning environment, and certainly not when fuel poverty and sleep deprivation kicks in and children arrive in the classroom tired. Financially, life for the family becomes stressful and it’s easy to understand the relationship between that pressure and the addiction stories born out of that sense of hopelessness, and which impact on the child’s behaviour, or the educational gaps that are a result of those eventually caught up in the transient nature of homelessness.
Excuses, how many do we need to hear before we take action against the poverty and inequality that ravishes our land in these days of Westminster austerity? Too many of the necessary decisions here in Scotland are frustratingly out with our control, but we do have the powers to make a difference, to ring that home bell and bring an end to some of the housing situations experienced by our families so that all can find a home that is safe, affordable and secure.
The Scottish Government has worked hard to soften the blows that have come our way from Westminster by reducing housing costs. They’ve frozen council tax and over this next year alone, they’ll have supported half a million vulnerable families through the council tax reduction scheme, mitigated the bedroom tax in full for the 71,000 families affected, invested an unprecedented £119 million into fuel poverty, and helped 100,000 households through the safety net of the Scottish welfare fund.
However, the ideal solution is, of course, more affordable homes and the Scottish Government, with its £1.7 billion investment, is well on track to delivering 30,000 of these, with at least 20,000 for social rent. But we need more, and this takes time. In the interim, the Private Tenancies Bill seeks to take a step forward to modernise and regulate the private rental sector, ensuring safe and good quality rental experiences for tenants, whilst introducing the much needed rent controls in high rent spots throughout Scotland.
Edinburgh Central is a high rent spot. It’s a diverse constituency with many affluent areas and deep pockets of poverty too. Many struggle here in the private rental sector – families and particularly lots of young adults who have now left our schools with the hope of making their own way in the world and finding their own home, their own community.
As the SNP candidate, I utterly believe that the diversity of our constituency, and indeed our nation, should not be reflected in the contrasting stories of those who can afford a place to call home, and those who can’t. Building a community of which we can all be proud involves coming together to create opportunity for all. As a first step, I want to campaign for the Council to implement those rent control powers and to explore other actions to ensure that no-one is priced out of the ‘home’ market because in the end, what kind of community would that be? From my perspective, it’s time to ring the home bell on unaffordable homes.
POSTED AS A GUEST BLOG ON THE LIVING RENT CAMPAIGN WEBSITE