EMPLOYERS will be told to take responsibility for helping lift people in Scotland’s “most unequal city” out of poverty as we emerge from the lockdown – while council bosses are investigating taking over hotels from struggling businesses to help shelter homeless people. 

The Edinburgh Poverty Commission, which was drawing up recommendations to help lift the 80,000 people, including 20,000 of the city’s children, out of poverty before the pandemic emerged, has now seen a nine-fold increase in people in the capital turning to universal credit. 

Low-paid workers have also felt “disposable” with some businesses declining to take up the UK Government furlough scheme, plunging more people into poverty by being made redundant. 

The commission, which has today published its interim findings on the impact of Covid-19 on poverty, has warned that many agency staff are being let go as “neither agency nor employer take responsibility for including them in the job retention scheme for which they are eligible”.   

Cammy Day, the vice-chairman of the commission, has stressed that ambitions for Edinburgh to become Scotland’s first living wage city should not be derailed by the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

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He said: “When people go back into work, can we have a new approach that says Edinburgh should become the first capital city to have its own living wage for everybody – whether that’s a cleaner in a private company or a worker for the government or council, there should be an appropriate living wage for everybody. 

“We’re coming to a different world now in Edinburgh – it's time for the whole of the city to come together  to try and get the best to deal with the issues around poverty, which have not gone away – and as a result of this, have increased considerably.” 

He added: “I think we should still have a commitment to looking to have this capital city provide a living wage for the people who have worked here.”  

Edinburgh and Glasgow have temporarily given rough sleepers secure accommodation during the lockdown by harnessing unused Airbnb properties and hotel rooms. 

Coronavirus: Edinburgh Airbnb flats help solve homelessness crisis

Mr Day confirmed that council bosses in Edinburgh are looking into whether these former short term let properties and any hotel accommodation run by companies who will find themselves in financial strain, could be transformed into housing. 

The local authority has pledged to build 20,000 affordable homes to help ease the housing crisis in the city, but Mr Day, the city council’s second in command, has admitted this will not be enough. The council’s housing programme has stalled as construction has been halted amid the economic shutdown. 

He said: “We’ve already committed to building 20,000 affordable homes and we need to realistically look at increasing that substantially, but that’s not going to happen overnight. 

“We’ve already started a discussion internally within the council that there will likely be properties that come available through short-term lets, Airbnb-type businesses which we don’t see being as successful in the coming year or two ahead. Is there a chance for us to buy up more properties to add to council stock immediately to get people who will have to come out of these hotels into some permanent accommodation?  

“I’m sure some of these big hotel chains might not go back as hotels in future, so we’re keeping an eye on that and if there’s a chance to transform them to some kind of supported living arrangements as well.” 

Dr Jim McCormick, the chairman of the city’s poverty commission, is also the Scottish associate director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

He acknowledged that people in Edinburgh are “pulled below the water line by housing costs, fundamentally rents”. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Universal Credit claims surge by 90,000 amid pandemic

Dr McCormick added: “Edinburgh is the most unequal part of Scotland – the crisis has magnified a lot of that, but also, we are pretty certain that there’s some opportunities.

“If we can manage to share responsibility  in a more decisive way and that means it is not just for the Scottish and UK Governments and city council or the NHS – it is absolutely for employers and housing providers as well, to share responsibility to build something better for the city than we had before.” 

Officials believe as well as creating fairer wages for those living in the city, society needs to grapple with a lack of progression and opportunities for people. 

Dr McCormick added: “The fact you are in a low-paid job with inadequate hours, the injustice is if you are locked in that and you don’t have a pathway out of it.  

“Edinburgh will still be a city in the future of tremendous wealth and opportunity. I think we should be putting our efforts as much into career progression as into just saying well we’ve got a living wage – we need to give people horizons, not just more money in their pay packet.” 

Commission member Zoe Ferguson, from the Carnegie UK Trust, said there was currently a “real trauma across the city”, felt particularly by those who are experiencing unemployment for the first time. 

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She added: “We’re looking at probably around 13,000 extra unemployed on top of what we would expect in Edinburgh in 2020 – welfare  fund applications are at 1,200 a week in the first few weeks of the crisis, Universal Credit applications are up eight to nine times what you would expect in this period. 

“We have heard from organisations and from citizens just how terrifying an experience it is for them. Navigating the system and the structures is not easy in normal circumstances – imagine how difficult that is then as we are now, as we are all separated.” 

Some workers in Scotland have been forced to turn to the benefits system with their employers being unwilling to take up the furlough scheme, which is likely to be wound down by the end of the year – but has been guaranteed until at least September. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Half of Scottish families with children are financially struggling

Ms Ferguson added: “For some businesses, they just don’t have the resilience to be able to cope with short-term cash flow issues and they will go under before the support from the government will kick in. 

“We’ve also sadly heard of lots of cases where employers are feeling actually the easier option for them is to just lay people off and to just re-recruit when business picks up. This is impacting mostly low-paid workers – people have felt disposable.”