The leader of Perth and Kinross Council has revealed his anger at having to launch efforts to tackle poverty in the region.
Grant Laing was speaking as the first meeting was held of a new poverty taskforce on Friday.
The meeting was held alongside a big lunch that brought together about 100 representatives from businesses, charities and other groups – designed to highlight issues that residents and organisations are facing and discuss how they can be addressed.
Mr Laing says the fact such action is needed is a “disgrace”.
What is the anti-poverty taskforce?
The taskforce, which councillors agreed to set up last month, brings together a range of people to respond to the cost of living crisis.
Unlike most normal council business, its first meeting on Friday was held in private.
Officials said this was due to concerns that interruptions from the public may distract from the main issues being discussed – with reassurance offered that the taskforce is representative of the whole community.
Topics discussed included the need to encourage more employers to pay the living wage, obstacles to work and rural poverty.
Those involved in the taskforce attended the big lunch to hear from people dealing with poverty on a daily basis and help inform their discussions.
‘This is the time to step up’
Mike Robinson, chairman of Perth City Leadership Forum – organiser of the big lunch – told those in attendance: “If there is a time to step up and help then this is it,” saying that hidden poverty is on the rise and charities are also struggling.
Mr Laing – whose own council is facing a £24 million funding black hole – said: “Normally I’m glad to be bringing forward an initiative and doing something like this, especially with bringing other agencies to work together – but I’m not glad, I’m angry that we’re having to do this.
“In Perth and Kinross in 2022 we’re having to look at ways of providing warm spaces, a way for people to heat their own homes and ways of feeding children.
“A total of 5,155 children in the county were in poverty in 2019, that number will have obviously got higher since Covid.
“It’s a disgrace and we shouldn’t have to do it, but unless we can bring people together and fight it from within the community, I can’t see any help coming from anywhere else.”
John Swinney, deputy first minister and MSP for Perthshire North, was among those in attendance.
He told The Courier: “It’s impossible to separate the issues that we’re wrestling with here from the overall strategic decisions that are taken by both governments.
“The Scottish Child Payment was recognised as a significant factor in helping alleviate poverty but we are facing the risks of a renewed programme of austerity because of the financial chaos of the last few weeks and months.
“I think what came out of the discussions today is that perhaps not everyone is as aware as they could be of the support that is available.
“We are working to eradicate poverty and child poverty in particular, that is a real focus.
“We’ve got to make sure we do as much on the ground to improve the situation that people face.”
What happens next with the taskforce?
The anti-poverty taskforce plans further meetings in the coming months to discuss ways it can help people in poverty.
However, no firm commitments have yet been made, as those involved say its work is in the early stages.
What help is available?
Perth and Kinross Council has already set out a range of support available to residents to help with the cost of living crisis.
This includes additional benefits, support and advice, and a financial insecurity fund using Scottish Government funding.