Expert group sets out vision to tackle poverty in Fife – Fairer Fife Commission report recommends ambitious plan to help 75,000 Fifers

AN INDEPENDENT Commission has set out a far-reaching vision to eradicate poverty in Fife. ‘Fairness Matters’ the report of the Fairer Fife Commission, is challenging Fife Council, public services, charities and businesses in Fife to work together to deliver a “significantly fairer Fife by 2030.”

Fairness Matter Report 2015

Over 40 recommendations are listed in the hard hitting report by the Commission, including a push on building more affordable housing, encouraging a million more hours of volunteering a year, creating a new apprenticeship for every £1 million of public expenditure in Fife, a call for free travel cards for low income families, and more support for people facing welfare benefit sanctions,

The Fairer Fife Commission was established by Fife Council in September last year to examine the root causes of poverty in local communities and make recommendations on how best to tackle the issue. Membership was made up of senior figures, who gave up their time freely, from across public, private and voluntary sectors.

At its launch today (Monday) at the Cottage Family Centre in Kirkcaldy, the report was formally handed over by Martyn Evans, Chair of the Commission and Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, to Fife Council Leader David Ross.

Cllr Ross welcomed the report, calling it “a document of huge significance for Fife.”

He added: “We estimate that around 75,000 people are directly affected by poverty in Fife – a situation that is completely unacceptable in the 21st century. But the impact, the cost and the loss of potential through poverty are things that concern us all.

“We  set up this independent Commission  to bring together expertise and knowledge from across Scotland, to help us tackle this blight on our society, and consider how the council and its partners  can make a real difference to people’s lives.

“This report is the result of a lot of hard work and thought and my thanks and appreciation go out to all the Commissioners who gave up their valuable time to focus on this project over the last year. Our pledge now is that the recommendations made here will shape the future direction of public services in Fife and will have a positive impact on people who need it most.”

The Commission met regularly over the course of the year focussing on issues including financial capability, welfare advice, transport links, employability skills, childcare provision, early years services, educational attainment, health inequalities, housing and homelessness and addressing stigma. They heard evidence from looked after children, users of foodbanks, people suffering the effects of sanctions, and others whose lives are affected by poverty.

Chair Martyn Evans commented: “It was a great privilege to be asked to Chair the Fairer Fife Commission. I am grateful to my fellow Commissioners for the commitment, energy and expertise that they brought to this process. I am also grateful to the many citizens and organisations across Fife who took time to submit evidence and share their views and experiences about what can be done to tackle inequality in Fife and make it a fairer place to live and work. Their input has been critical in shaping our final report.

“We have set out an ambitious set of recommendations for Fife Council and its partners in the public, private and voluntary sector.

“These proposals are challenging and will require new ways of working across many areas of policy and practice. Our vision requires the capabilities and views of citizens to be placed at the heart of service delivery. Decisions must be clearly informed by the data and evidence about what works. There should be transparency and openness about the progress made. And there must be shared sense of purpose and commitment from all those in Fife whose work can impact upon fairness.”

The Commission defines a Fairer Fife as somewhere “where all residents have the capability to live good lives, make choices and reach their full potential and where all children are safe, happy and healthy.”

The report’s recommendations are collated under eight themes – A Fairer Fife is: ambitious, poverty-free, fair work, affordable, connected, empowered, skilled and healthier. One of the key recommendations concludes that the council and its partners should be more ambitious in the work they do, aiming to be one of the best performing local authority areas in Scotland where “people feel enabled, supported and confident to access the opportunities available.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Establishing a Knowledge Hub to become a centre of excellence in translating data on fairness in Fife into practical action
  • Strengthening partnerships with the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) to improve the local welfare system and create trust between those looking for work and job centres
  • Making more use of participatory budgeting in communities to guide spending
  • Increasing the number of people who are members of Credit Unions to 30,000 by 2030
  • More emphasis on reducing the educational attainment gap by working with all Fife schools individually
  • Establishing a pilot project to help those suffering from stress and anxiety as a result of their circumstances, particularly people who are living alone

Today’s launch is hosted by the Cottage Family Centre in Kirkcaldy, a location deliberately chosen by the Commission in recognition of the fantastic work it does to help the most vulnerable. Several Commissioners visited the Centre as part of their work to gather evidence earlier this year and were extremely impressed by the wealth of positive stories they heard.

Manager of the Centre is Pauline Buchan. She commented: “We’re delighted to host the launch of Fairer Fife Commission report. It’s an important step for all organisations in Fife who are working to help people affected by poverty.

“Our communities are strong and do a lot to help each other but they desperately need more support and investment to get through these hard times.”

Fife Council Leader David Ross is confident the Commission’s recommendations will help achieve the council’s vision of a “better, stronger, fairer Fife.”

He concluded: “This is a real milestone in the fight against poverty in our communities. It’s reassuring to receive confirmation from experts in the field that Fife is doing some great work but there is much more to be done.  We are now going to build on that todevelop and implement further practical action to reduce poverty in our communities.”

Download a copy of the The Fairer Fife Commission report, “Fairness Matters”.

A video showing the experiences of people living with poverty and those who help and support them is also available:

Fairer Fife Commission – Fairness Matters

Fairer Fife Commission members:

  • Director of BT Scotland, Brendan Dick
  • Director of the Glasgow Centre for Population and Health, Professor Carol Tannahill
  • Director of One Parent Families Scotland, Satwat Rehman
  • Director in Scotland of the Child Poverty Action Group, John Dickie
  • Professor of Strategic Urban Management and Finance, Professor Duncan Maclennan
  • Chair of the Scottish Health Council Committee, Pam Whittle CBE
  • Global Research Policy Advisor, Oxfam GB, Dr Katherine Trebeck
  • Director of Delivery, NHS Scotland, George Dodds
  • Stakeholder Manager (Scotland), Working Links, Nicholas Young

Dr Jim McCormick of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation acted as a special advisor to the Commission and Fife Council’s Chief Executive Steve Grimmond also attended Commission meetings.

Case studies from the Cottage Family Centre, Kirkcaldy

John’s story – attends the Dads’ Group at the Cottage Family Centre

“My dad passed away from a serious illness when I was 12 years old.

“When he passed it seemed like I was the only one without a dad, all of my friends had their mums and dads and he was supposed to see me grow and progress in life.

“From an early age I started binge drinking with friends. Sometimes I would drink so much I couldn’t remember what had happened the night before.

“Looking back now I can recognise I had depression probably since my dad passed away. No one knew, no one asked.

“When I left school I had no idea where I would go in life. I felt forced to either get a job or leave home so I joined the army. Looking back this was not the right choice for me. I was in the army for approximately five years. When I came out I thought I would settle into life, get a full time job and have a family. I was applying for jobs and nobody was interested. Even with experience and training I could not get a full time job. Myself and my partner had a beautiful daughter and I was determined to provide for my family but unfortunately this opportunity never came. I continued to apply for jobs and continued to get knock backs. I was constantly having suicidal thoughts – it would it be easier if I wasn’t here. This wasn’t how I saw my life.

“My partner started attending The Cottage and I was not interested in being involved. Luckily she pushed and pushed and eventually I came down and met with staff who were very supportive and listened to me and asked what I needed. I was very low at this point and was contemplating whether to continue with life or not.

“I started attending the Dads’ Group at The Cottage and gelled with the other dads, I liked being with likeminded people who I could speak to.  I was offered the opportunity to attend local gym, Raw Anatomy and I thought of every excuse not to go that day but luckily with the support of Louise at the Cottage, I did and I have never looked back.

“Following a lot of support from Noel, the owner of Raw Anatomy and the team, I am now employed there and training people and hope one day that I can be the support for someone and help them to grow in confidence and improve their mental wellbeing. I’m still working on my own confidence and determined I will never be back in that place.”

Noel’s story – owner of Raw Anatomy

Noel spent time in the care system as a child after the death of his father, didn’t attain well at school and latterly joined the army. After leaving the army, he found employment but was subsequently made redundant. During this time he was living in a flat in the Tanshall area of Glenrothes which was run down and his mental health had deteriorated.

Noel had purchased a weight bench and weights from Argos and would use them underneath the flat in a disused basement area as something to try and focus on. His friends who were also unemployed, seeing the difference this made to Noel’s physical appearance and also as they had nothing else to do, joined in. Before long other members of the community, men and women of all ages, wanted to join in too. Together they would each contribute a £1 so that they could buy some other equipment as they all recognised that physical activity and coming together socially was improving their mental health.

 From this basement, Noel recognised that there were a huge number of people looking for support and that what he had started to improve his own wellbeing had also supported others to do the same. He took a leap of faith and thereafter Raw Anatomy Transformation Centre was born.