The “romantic” notion that Shetland is a classless society has been laid to rest by the release of a report highlighting a likely increase in in-work poverty, it has been claimed.
Findings contained in Shetland’s new Outcome Improvement Plan for the next four years show a steady rise in the number of low-income households over a six year period up until 2014, where people are in need despite having employment.
The high cost of living, with the economy generally being in rude health, only serves to exacerbate the problem, according to the report.
So-called “gender segregation” – an uneven distribution of men and women at work – is also believed to be a contributing factor, with more women than men finding themselves in part-time or lower-paid work.
“During a period where the overall Shetland economy was performing well, the proportion of people earning in the low-middle income bands decreased, while the proportion of people in low very-low income bands increased,” the report states.
The proportion of people earning in the low-middle income bands decreased, while the proportion of people in low very-low income bands increased
“There has been little change in the percentage of households with an overall income of £45,000 or more a year, but there has been a two to three per cent shift in the number of households within, for example, income bands £20,000-£30,000 to lower household incomes.
“This indicates that, whilst employment levels are high, earnings are reducing for those earning a typical household income.
“This raises the prospect of ‘in-work’ poverty, where the money a household brings in is not sufficient to avoid the negative outcomes associated with poverty despite employment being available to householders.
“Gender segregation (unequal distribution of men and women) in the workplace may also be a factor and it is thought that this results in a higher proportion of underemployment, part-time and lower paid employment for female workers compared to males.”
The report follows last year’s far-reaching Tackling Inequalities Commission, which set out to investigate poverty levels in the isles.
It may also add weight to claims by the Salvation Army that those relying on its food bank service are often in work.
Statistics also highlight strained budgets in rural areas. The figures show:
• The weekly budget of a single person living in a town like Lerwick is 33.3 per cent higher than a similar person living in urban UK.
• The same budget for a single person in a remote area of the isles, such as Hillswick, is more than 74 per cent higher than the equivalent person than in urban UK areas.
The findings have been welcomed by Unison Shetland president, Brian Smith, who says any remaining views that Shetland is free of poverty should now be silenced.
“I’m delighted that piece of work was done and I am pleased that the council is attending to it.
“There is a romantic view in Shetland that there are no classes.
“Often you hear that there’s no poverty, and the report reveals that there is serious poverty at many levels.
“It would be desirable if Shetland, especially since there is plenty of money here relatively speaking, could actively try to rectify that situation.
“There has been this view around for a long time that Shetland is a classless society and no-one is suffering in that way.
“I doubt very much that many people believe that now but it certainly will be dispelled by this report.”
The report also describes the misuse of alcohol as a “common factor” in areas which impact negatively on the quality of life in the isles.
It shows a “distinct overlap” between mental health issues and substance misuse while audits of suicides and sudden deaths show drink is almost always a factor.
Almost one in 10 Accident and Emergency cases are alcohol-related. Of those, a third have mental health issues.
Alcohol and drugs are the top cause for child protection referrals in the isles and resulted in 11 registrations on the child protection register in 2013/14.
The report also says the proportion of people who never have access to green space is increasing.
The improvement plan sets out a number of key improvement targets. It was approved by members of the full council this week.