Have you ever experienced poverty? According to the SNP’s Shona Robison, the Chancellor’s plans to end the £20 uplift in Universal Credit means 60,000 Scots families, including 20,000 children, will soon find out what it feels like.

It’s a shocking claim. But will this result in destitution for tens of thousands of Scots? And if so, why aren’t we more angry about this? Where are the mass protests?

One of the biggest problems surrounding the issue of poverty is the term “poverty” itself. What does it actually mean? The dictionary may define it as a “state of being extremely poor”, but it suffers from ambiguity in the same way terms such as “politics” or “art” do. It means something different to different people.

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It can be emotive. For the less charitable, it can smack of failure and weakness. We may have moved on from Victorian-era moralising of the poor or Norman Tebbit’s “get on your bike” insensitivity, hopefully, but traces of “poverty is a choice” remain.

Indeed, figures from the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2010 found, over 15 years, that individual factors (laziness or lack of willpower) (23 per cent) were becoming increasingly viewed as an explanation, while social injustice less so (21%). It will be interesting to see if the pandemic reverses this trend. Thirty-five per cent thought living in need was an inevitable part of modern life, while 13% put it down to bad luck.

For the Joseph Rowntree Foundation poverty is “when your resources are well below your minimum needs”. But research it carried out in 2013/14 found it to be “something associated with the problems of the developing world, rather than the UK. This led participants to feel disengaged when hearing about poverty, as they could feel that the problem was being overstated”.

So, in the UK, by poverty we are not suggesting five-year-olds openly begging on the streets a la the Indian subcontinent. But we are talking insecurity, uncertainty and impossible decisions about money.

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Poverty is insidious and can even be invisible, having as much, if not greater, effect on the mind as material circumstances. It clings to every aspect of life, clouding judgment, effecting self-esteem and hence life chances, passing from generation to generation.

It’s unsurprising the drug death rate is 18 times higher in poorer areas than richer ones as substance abuse dulls the pain of reality.

I consider myself fortunate, but I have brushed against poverty briefly. During a jobless year after graduating, I recall having to sleep at night in an unheated flat wearing a winter coat and two pairs of tracksuit bottoms. I had a limited choice of clothes and food, and struggled to scrape together enough for bus fares. It felt shameful and embarrassing, so I kept it secret. But I was young and knew it was just a stage in life.

The pandemic has worsened an already dire situation for the worst off, and a little extra would make a huge difference. But poverty is a stain no civilised society should tolerate. And sadly a £20 handout isn’t enough to solve that.

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