When thinking about the launch of our new campaign, which aims to tackle child and youth poverty, this week in Glasgow, I was struck some inspiring words by the late Robin Williams, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
I must admit, I was nervous when I was preparing to address the Membership of the Scottish Youth Parliament with proposals for a campaign to help combat child and youth poverty. Poverty is a difficult subject for many people often due to personal experiences, or the negative stigma, which unfortunately is often associated with the word.
More than one in five of Scotland’s children are considered to be living in poverty. This is much higher than in many other European countries.
For me, I grew up surrounded by poverty, and I have seen the devastating impact it can have on a young person’s future and their quality of life. Poverty can often undermine the health, wellbeing, and the educational opportunities of children and young people.
When pitching the proposals for SYP’s new campaign, I wanted to share my personal experiences having grown up surrounded by poverty. I wanted my fellow MSYPs to understand the passion I have for this campaign, and to understand why there is a drastic need for change, given the devastating impact poverty can have.
Poverty is an enigma. It hides itself behind forced smiles and cracking facades. Poverty can affect anyone, at any time, and that is what we must make people recognise.
There is an image of poverty that is portrayed and largely stereotyped by television and other media. These stereotypes attempt to define poverty as an issue that only exists in certain areas and only affects certain people. The truth is that poverty can affect anyone, at any time. There are many people who society may not recognise as being affected by poverty, but these people are struggling to keep a roof over their head and food on their table. We need to challenge this stigma and misinformation.
In 1999, the UK Government made the commitment to tackle child poverty in the nation by 2020. The UK Child Poverty Act 2010 made this commitment into law. As 2020 is now only five years away, I believe it is time that we recognise the reality of poverty in Scotland, and make it our priority to work together to change it. I hope we can change the way everybody in Scotland, especially young people, view poverty and those who are living in poverty.
At the Scottish Youth Parliament, we have had a number of campaign successes, and our strength comes from every single Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament going out and engaging with young people in their area and effectively using social media. With every MSYP planning a role, we can reach hundreds if not thousands of young people through this campaign. This is a massive opportunity. We must grasp it.
Through our campaign, we hope to use our reach to speak to thousands of young people across Scotland and further their understanding about what poverty really is compared to how it’s often portrayed.
We also hope to celebrate the role many fantastic organisations and projects play in tackling poverty across Scotland. Youth work and youth services are often the unsung heroes leading the fight against poverty. They continually strive to reduce inequality by providing opportunities for young people to harness all of their passion and talent to create a better and more prosperous life for themselves.
Our Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament voted overwhelmingly to campaign on this issue because that is what their constituents were telling them to do. This is a major priority for the young people of Scotland; they want to see change. As the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s young people, we must be drivers of that change.
We can’t do it alone! We need as many people as possible to get involved and get behind the campaign. I would really urge you to engage with us online, work with our MSYPs locally, urge your elected representatives to do more.
Let the campaign begin!
Nairn McDonald MSYP