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Poverty Alliance Annual Conference

On October 1st, a conference entitled 'It's Everyone's Business' - Working Together to Combat Poverty' was hosted in Glasgow by the Poverty Alliance - which brings together a range of Scottish organisations dedicated to the eradication of poverty - with the support of the European Parliament Office in Edinburgh.

The twofold aim of the alliance is to raise awareness of persistent poverty in Scotland and identify ways to combat it. There was a particular emphasis on the ways in which the European Union can be of help, with 2010 being the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.  Discussion concerned a number of EU-wide activities, such as the campaign for an EU directive on minimum income and the Lisbon Agenda and it's successor, the EU 2020 Strategy.

Those attending the conference had the opportunity to engage in a panel discussion with Scottish MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler on EU policy on poverty and social exclusion. David Martin referred to himself as a "cynical optimist", the cynicism resulting from the lack of progress made in the last decade - arguing that the Lisbon Agenda had failed as a result of its watered down and non-binding commitments. He was nonetheless optimistic about the future, pointing to the alliances that have been formed across the EU between anti-poverty campaigners.  He warned, however, that the 2020 Strategy, suffered some of the same flaws as its predecessor.

Mrs. Stihler emphasised the importance of EU-wide solidarity and action, and stressed that progress can also be made at the national level by examining the practices of other EU Member States. She discussed the notion of a "living wage" - which prevents people in work from falling below the poverty threshold - in particular, pointing out that such legislation is already a reality in some Scandinavian countries and can serve as a blueprint for the rest of Europe.  Both Mr. Martin and Mrs. Stihler noted that Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso did not mention the European Year for Combatting Poverty and Social Exclusion during his "State of the Union" address to the European Parliament in September.  The two MEPs concluded that EU intervention can help in eradicating poverty, but that action at the community and national level are equally important.

The Conference also heard from Maureen O'Neill, member of the European Economic and Social Committee, Ann Ramsay and Innocent Jakisa, who sit on the Poverty Alliance's Community Activist Advisory Group, and Ludo Horemans, the President of the European Anti-Poverty Network. Workshops were hosted by dr. Carlo Morelli from the University of Dundee ("Making work pay"), Veronica Ferguson of Scottish Business in the Community ("Scotland's skills challenge") and Marion Macleod, Senior Policy and Parliamentary Officer for Children in Scotland ("Investment in early years: key to tackling poverty?").