Jason Frost is a councillor in the Mawneys Ward of Havering.
Glasgow has a long and illustrious history as a hot-bed for radical left-wing politics. Indeed, in some respects, one could call it the true spiritual home of the organised labour movement in Britain and – by virtue of its once vaunted status as the “Second City of the Empire” – across the Anglophone world.
For so long, it has been a place where concepts like the entrepreneurial spirit and “profit-making” have been confined to the dark corners of the city, mentioned only in hushed conversation. Here was a realm where “the State” ruled supreme. This fearsome leviathan gathered up the good burghers of the city in an iron-like embrace. It insisted that it had the people’s “welfare” at heart.
Let’s just see what the Beast’s welfare looks like, shall we?
According to the most recently published Scottish Government figures, the numbers of unemployed in Glasgow represent nearly 20 per cent of the entire nation’s workless claimants. Further to this, a recent report in the Glasgow Evening Times stated that the demand on the Scottish Welfare Fund in the city has exhausted 90 per cent of its budget. Some local authorities in Scotland recorded an under-spend of close to 50 per cent.
Just to clarify, the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) is a separate body from that which deals with statutory welfare benefits. The SWF provides for two services. First, Community Care Grants: one-off payments to families for items deemed necessary to maintain a home. And, second, Crisis Grants: smaller payments given to help those – many already being supported by the State – who need emergency assistance.
The most common items purchased using the Community Care Grant were bedding, cookers and washing machines; whilst the Crisis Grant was predominantly used for food. It would seem that the ability of the State to keep its children from hunger, cold and despair was simply not enough on its own. They were reduced to begging for more support.
When a report was presented to the Scottish Parliament indicating that those on welfare support needed yet more help to get by, the response from the Scottish Labour Party Spokesman was to accuse the Scottish Government of not giving enough away! Did it ever occur to the Scottish Left that it might be the vice-like grip of the State on these people’s lives that left them without the means to buy food or bedding? That the only thing the State seems capable of is insulating people from the hope that things could be better? Of course not.
However, things could be about to change. A voice of dissent can now be heard in Glasgow, and that voice is none other that the Church of Scotland’s. In partnership with the charity WEvolution, the Church of Scotland has been pioneering a brilliant self-help initiative which aims to empower individuals to better their lives through enterprise.
First developed in India among the desperately poor women of Mumbai and Gujarat, the aim was to support people in their efforts to bring themselves out of poverty through the creation of self-help groups which could establish small, but sustainable, enterprises. The Church of Scotland mission in India became involved in the scheme and, as a result, has helped to bring the model back to Scotland.
This remarkably simple model of putting people, aspiration and enterprise at the heart of efforts to tackle poverty in the city has already proven itself in the shape of the Fluff & Fold launderette. This business was born two years ago, when a group of eight women from Provanmill, one of Glasgow’s most deprived areas, started saving £1 a week to open a lunch club at the local St. Paul’s Church. The lunch club catered for the community and soon began to generate profit; funds which would go towards the successful launch of their launderette enterprise in the church basement.
WEvolution looks to build on this incredible success by providing practical support and access to finance at low start-up rates for another 50 self-help groups across Scotland over the coming five years. Up to 350 women are to be involved in these groups, all of them from Scotland’s poorest communities
This model has been so successful that it has compelled the Scottish Finance Minister, John Swinney MSP, to break ranks and admit that WEvolution might have a point in placing aspiration and enterprise at the heart of improving the lives of those in poverty.
Could the penny be finally about to drop on Red Clydeside? The fact that the Scottish Government has pledged a limited amount of funding to support the charity for an additional year is a positive development. Let us pray that it will continue.