THE SNP NEEDS TO MAKE PROGRESS ON POVERTY
- 10:00 am, Fri 28th Sep 2012
Progress on poverty must not become a hostage of the SNP’s constitutional obsession.
One in seven of Scotland’s poorest children regularly don’t get enough to eat; Save the Children’s report hammers home that away from the SNP’s fascination with the constitution, the reality is that families the length and breadth of this country are struggling to make ends meet.
Staggering cuts to services and more people relying on food banks to get by is not the fair and just Scotland we deserve. The danger however is that action on poverty is being put on pause while the constitutional debate takes over. Action is needed now to protect and support the most vulnerable in our society and the Scottish Government should not side-step the issue of poverty by using the constitution as a smokescreen.
This double-dip recession is hitting people hard across Scotland. With every day it continues the number of people worried about their jobs, their families and their future rises. The average Scottish household is around £1,200 a year worse off compared with last year. One more day of denial and dithering from David Cameron and Alex Salmond is one more day that Scottish families struggle to get by, put food on the table and feel the squeeze on their budgets.
Labour’s landmark progress on child poverty has stalled in Scotland. With Labour, the percentage of children in absolute poverty fell from 28 per cent in 1998/99 to 12 per cent in 2005/6. The overall reduction in rates of relative poverty were the largest seen in any UK region. Since then, levels have largely remained unchanged. Why is that? It’s not that we in Scotland don’t have the powers - it would be disingenuous for anyone to say that we are powerless to make progress to eradicate poverty and injustice - governments just need to make it a priority.
The SNP’s priority is separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. Every problem in Scotland is explained away by “independence tomorrow”, but what about action on poverty today? Progress on poverty must not become a hostage of the SNP’s constitutional obsession. To do so ignores what can and should be done now.
The Scottish Government can and should create jobs. It has the power to invest in communities and attract outside investment. Steel jobs for the Forth Replacement Crossing could have stayed in Scotland, but instead disappeared to China, Poland and Spain. Almost a quarter of the Housing Budget was cut last year; that’s £86 million taken out of supporting construction jobs.
The Scottish Government can and should tackle low pay. Around six in ten children in poverty in Scotland live in families that suffer from in-work poverty. That’s why Scottish Labour is proposing a Living Wage that stretches beyond public sector workers to the private sector through the use of public sector procurement powers.
The Scottish Government can and should give people the means to lift themselves out of poverty. Instead budgets are slashed for the very colleges that people in deprived communities rely on. Even a move to increase childcare provision is tangled up in a Bill when it could actually be delivered now at the stroke of the First Minister’s pen.
The power over welfare payments like Council Tax Benefit, crisis loans and rules on “passported benefits” all reside with Scottish Ministers. So far their commitment has been to pass on Tory cuts or pass the buck to councils. It’s just not good enough. This is an opportunity to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and engage in new partnerships with the third sector, not invent new excuses for inaction.
I don’t think that a border control at Gretna will deliver a country free of poverty. Simply asserting that everything will be better with independence is not the answer to the shocking inequalities that still exist in our society; we need powers for a purpose. For me, that clear purpose is always tackling poverty and inequality and the Scottish Government is not doing enough with the powers it has to achieve that.
As head of Save the Children in Scotland, Douglas Hamilton, puts it:
“The Scottish Government must do more by supporting parents into work, make work pay, provide extra childcare and protect the poorest and most disadvantaged from further cuts.”
I couldn’t agree more.