Peter Kelly (The Poverty Alliance):
Thank you for the invitation to address the Parliament today.
As many members know, one of the main aims of the Poverty Alliance is to raise awareness and improve public understanding about poverty and inequality in Scotland. In doing that, we are often called on to give talks and presentations about the issues, and over the years we have spoken to thousands of people across Scotland, from school pupils to trade unionists, front-line workers, campaigners and, of course, politicians.
We are asked to talk about the impact on individuals and communities, or to highlight the root causes of poverty. Of course, we are always asked to identify the solutions. In our talks we often focus on trends and statistics. Members will be familiar with many of the numbers: the 200,000 children in Scotland who live in low-income households; the almost 1 million homes that are affected by fuel poverty; the 400,000 workers who are paid less than a living wage.
However, we know that what makes an impact is talking about the real lives behind the numbers—the people and not the statistics. People like the young woman I know in Fife. She is a lone parent who sometimes struggles to feed her family or heat her home. She is at college now and, in the long term, she will get her degree and continue to make a contribution to her community. Or the man from Glasgow we worked with, whose life had been scarred by drugs and crime but who is now clean and in recovery. He spends much of his time volunteering and helping others to make the journey that he has made.
There are hundreds and thousands of lives like that in Scotland, which confound our expectations of poverty and highlight that real change is possible for individuals and that people are not passive victims. Such stories remind us that labels such as skiver, scrounger or cheat just do not fit.
When it comes to what we do about poverty, we have choices to make. As our elected representatives, you have more say than most over those choices. You will rightly debate how we use our resources and focus our energies. However, in those debates, never forget the people behind the statistics, because if we treat people who live in poverty with dignity, as we expect to be treated, rather than as mere numbers or problems, we will increase the chances of finding the lasting solutions to poverty that I know that we all seek.
Thank you very much. [Applause.]