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Much more still to do to loosen grip of poverty

Posted: 03/07/2018

Much more still to do to loosen grip of poverty

At the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament on 1 July 1999, First Minister Donald Dewar described his vision of a Scottish Parliament where “men and women from all over Scotland will meet to work together for a future built from the first principles of social justice.” On that historic and hopeful day, there was a belief that the Parliament would provide a new approach to solving some of the entrenched social and economic challenges that we faced. Most pressing of those challenges was the poverty that held so many people in Scotland in its grip.

 

Almost 20 years on, 1 million people in Scotland still live within that grip. Rising living costs and stagnating wages – combined with policies like the benefits freeze – have meant that the number of people living in poverty in Scotland has increased in recent years and is projected to increase further in the years ahead.

 

Yet as MSPs left the Scottish Parliament yesterday evening for the beginning of their summer recess, they were entitled to a moment of positive reflection at the steps they’ve taken in the last parliamentary year to begin to loosen poverty’s hold on the lives of people across Scotland. With the unanimous passing of two pieces of legislation - the Child Poverty Act and the recent Social Security Bill – MSPs of all parties have laid the groundwork for creating a more socially and economically just Scotland.

 

We now have national targets to eradicate child poverty; this is momentous and welcome. A Scottish social security system is being put in place that has the reduction of poverty at its heart and that is being built on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect; this is progressive and essential.

 

But as welcome as they are, targets and principles will mean nothing without action and so – to ensure the 2017/18 parliamentary session really is considered a historic one - we cannot allow the satisfaction at a legislative job well done to morph into complacency about the task ahead; not when there is so much more we can do.

 

We can do more to provide adequate levels of benefits so that people are not forced into decisions like whether to heat their home or pay their rent. We can top up child benefit by £5 per week in order to immediately lift 30,000 children out of poverty.  We can build a taxation system that addresses the huge wealth inequalities that exist in Scotland. We can ensure that local authorities have the resources to invest in the services that we all rely upon. And we can listen to the voices of people experiencing poverty, and secure their real and meaningful say in the policies that most impact their lives.

 

These are the choices that we can take about our priorities and resources which would help create the kind of just and compassionate Scotland we all want to see, where everyone has a decent standard of living and where the economy works for everyone.

 

So our 129 MSPs should enjoy their summer recess.  But they should return to Holyrood in September with a renewed energy for realising the founding vision of the Scottish Parliament as a vehicle for doing things differently and for making different decisions about how our society works; viewing our enhanced devolved powers not just as an end, but as a tool for achieving the greater ends of social justice.

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