The Guardian story today has no Scottish data and I await, once more, a breakdown from the TUC. Three years ago, they made similar claims and the Scottish media picked up on it uncritically. I was able to offer evidence that might qualify their claims. I suspect it still applies:
Council Tax debt was a major factor in debt crisis in Scotland due to the Scottish Government’s actions. See this quote from ‘The job of protecting Scottish poor from excesses of Tory austerity’ (http://newsnet.scot/archive/job-protecting-scottish-poor-excesses-tory-austerity/):
‘Scotland has statutory protection for people with solvable or temporary financial difficulties through the Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS). This protection allows people the space and time to regain control of their finances – by making affordable repayments to creditors, and freezing all charges from the date of application – as soon as debt advice is sought. Council tax arrears are included in DAS. A similar statutory scheme is needed for England and Wales. Only by giving this protection a statutory underpinning can it be guaranteed to people struggling with mounting debts, encouraging them to seek advice, and ensuring that their repayments can remain affordable and sustainable.’
This is the kind of contextual explanation that the Scottish media should be using as a matter of course, but don’t. Returning to possible level of ‘extreme poverty’ in Scotland, here’s my first evidence suggesting that the TUC report’s conclusions need to be modified for Scotland.
From the Scotland Institute’s ‘CHANGES IN HOUSEHOLD INCOME AND EXPENDITURE IN SCOTLAND 2008-2014’ of February 2016:
‘In effect, the current Conservative Government is continuing with New Labour’s reliance on debt to offset drops in income so as to maintain consumption levels. At the moment, while incomes drop, debt is steadily increasing which is unsustainable both for individual households and the wider economy. In consequence, 52% of Scottish households described the level of personal debt as being a burden. Even so, household debts in Scotland remain below the UK average.’ (8)
Further evidence of less debt in Scotland comes from ‘Unsecured and insecure? Exploring the UK’s mountain of unsecured personal debt—and how it affects people’s lives’ published by Citizen’s Advice in 2016:
‘How is unsecured debt distributed throughout Great Britain? Breaking down unsecured debt by region reveals that those living in the South West of England and Yorkshire and the Humber are the most indebted, with mean debts of £5,036 and £4,796 respectively. With average unsecured debts of £3,144 and £3,441, people living in Scotland and the West Midlands tend to have less debt on average than the rest of Great Britain.’
Perhaps undermining the TUC/Unison study, across the UK and not just in Scotland, here’s a second piece of evidence actually suggesting less debt problems in recent years, across the UK. The Office for National Statistics Early Indicator estimates from Wealth and Assets Survey, Wave 5, July 2014 to June 2015, suggest:
‘The percentage of people reporting their debt burden as “not a problem at all” rose from 66% during July 2010 to June 2012 to 75% in July 2014 to June 2015.’ (1)
‘Approximately a third of people (34%) in the period July 2010 to June 2012 felt it was either a heavy or somewhat of a burden compared with 25% now in the period July 2014 to June 2015.’ (17-18)
So, as with previous dodgy dossiers from the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of General Practitioners, suggesting a crisis in NHS Scotland, this TUC/Unison report hides Scottish data with the effect of denying the Scottish Government any credit for its efforts to minimise the effects of Westminster’s austerity policies and to protect Labour’s Scottish branch office from further humiliation. Look back, in particular, at the Herald’s headline and consider how the evidence presented here makes it both inaccurate and ludicrous.