Concerned about racism, sexism, and homophobia? Make tackling poverty your business.

Earlier this month, a furore erupted following the “one for road” speech of Bill Copeland at the dinner of the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. 

Eilidh Barbour, one of the shining lights of the profession, walked out in protest. Others, but not too many, followed suit.

In the aftermath, there was much criticism on social media, and the Scottish press.

The Association released a statement the following day, which apologised to anyone who was offended and conveyed that they had agreed unanimously that the backlash would act as a catalyst to review and improve the format of future events.


Cards on the table. I was there. I sat through the whole presentation. I was entertained by much of it, felt discomfort at some of it, and despaired at a very small proportion of it.

No-one was concerned when what was intended as humour poked fun at those experiencing poverty

Some complained that content was sectarian. Most expressed outrage at its “sexism, racism and homophobia”. My thoughts? We should take action to address these pernicious societal problems.

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We should not accept that what has passed as acceptable before, should forever be. Humour should enrich our lives, and we should strive to find ways to ensure that it does.

But it is also important to listen to what is not being said.


No-one was concerned when what was intended as humour poked fun at those experiencing poverty or reflected on the financial stresses of the day.

No-one railed against laughs that were sought at the expense of those begging for money on the streets of Glasgow, or at the rising costs of everyday living (which are – and will continue – to force many of our citizens to heat or eat).

Does this silence reflect the demographic of an audience that can afford the cost of a gala dinner and is too far removed for these everyday realities to understand that it is a serious problem?

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More sinisterly (and perhaps ironically for those who were enraged at other content), does the silence on this issue reflect, that there are none so blind as those who will not see?

We have a problem with poverty in Scotland. Strike that. We have for quite some time had a very big problem with poverty in Scotland.

Set aside the pandemic. Set aside the cost-of-living crisis. Set aside the ramifications of Russia’s assault on Ukraine.


It does not take a genius to work out that poverty is set to widen its reach and intensify its impact as we progress through 2022. 

Yet, even before these crises hit, our best estimates were that almost one in five of our citizens were living in poverty, with most working-aged adults living in poverty living in a household where someone is in paid work.

And although “only” one-in-seven of our pensioners are living in poverty, as many as one-in-four of our children experience the same.

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Many recognise that poverty is a problem in Scotland and are taking action to tackle it.

In 2017, the Scottish Government legislated – with cross-party support – to eradicate child poverty by 2030.

Earlier this year, it released its second tackling child poverty delivery plan, which explained how the actions it is taking could ensure that Scotland will meet its interim targets in 2023-24 en route to its end goal. Concrete actions have been introduced to realise the aspiration.

Its flagship intervention – the Scottish Child Payment – will put £25 per week in the family budget for each of around 400,000 eligible children by the end of the year.

Each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities has its own local action plan to ensure that it is using its resources to tackle child poverty most effectively.

And Public Health Scotland has strengthened its focus on tackling poverty.

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I am an optimist by nature, and I welcome these interventions. But I do have some concerns that niggle away at me.

The tough times that lie ahead will impact adversely on many more than the very poorest.

There is a risk that the limited resources that we have will be used to appease and ameliorate the comfortable, diverting focus and resources away from the most vulnerable.

To return to where I started. I am not claiming that my problem (tackling poverty) is more important than yours (racism, sectarianism, sexism, and homophobia).

On the contrary, it is the same. I am imploring those concerned with these issues to extend their reach.

Scotland needs your outrage to tackle the problems that poverty presents and the inequities that it harbours.

By way of example, when the world of work corrals women into sectors of the economy (such as cleaning and care) that are poorly rewarded, it is important – but not enough – to highlight the injustice of women’s under-representation in fields of work that remunerate more highly. 

It is a dangerous myth that the pursuit of a high-wage and high-skill economy, alongside widening opportunity, will alone eradicate poverty and solve society’s ills.

A more equitable and progressive Scotland needs a sharper focus on tackling poverty.

Professor John McKendrick is Co-Director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University