The sudden rise in poverty in Shetland over the last five years, as documented by council policy manager Emma Perring and reported on by John Robertson in these pages today, will come as a surprise to many in these prosperous islands. Income is of course only part of the cause of deprivation, and with benefits set nationally there seems little the council can do to improve the financial predicament of poor individuals. The idea of a local, non-binding minimum wage is intriguing but would not help those unable to work or get a job.
Improvements can and are being made to housing, something that is bound to be helped by the drive for greener homes and reductions in electricity and fuel use. Fuel poverty is a major issue, but the council missed a golden opportunity in September to help those truly in need by approving, without any research having been carried out (either into the tax consequences or the level of need), Cecil Smith’s foolish, back-of-an-envelope idea of a fuel grant to everyone over the age of 60.
What is encouraging is that the council has put the effort into studying what is happening here and re-energising the discussion about how we can begin to tackle this major issue. This is a community that prides itself on helping those in need. We must now find some means of doing so.
As we detail on our front page this week, Shetland Amenity Trust has not provided information to this newspaper on trips made by senior staff in recent years, more than a month after the request was made. Given the amount of funding received by the trust from the council and charitable trust, this is a legitimate matter of public interest, no matter how impertinent the questions may seem to those in charge. We are going to keep on asking, and asking, and asking, in the nicest possible manner.