In a New Year message, Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said: “People in Scotland believe in justice and compassion. This coming year will be a test of whether our political leaders will turn those values into concrete action.
“2023 saw Poverty Alliance members across the country working harder than ever to protect people in their communities from the worst impacts of poverty. The turn of the year is a good time to recognise them, and thank all the staff and volunteers who make it happen.
“But while they are working hard to keep people’s heads above water, our unjust economy and inadequate social security system continues to drag them under. For many people struggling on inadequate incomes life can feel like a continuous battle against the threat of debt and destitution.
“In November, one of our members, the Trussell Trust in Scotland, announced that they had provided more than 128,000 emergency food parcels between April and September this year. That’s the highest six-month figure ever – and nearly 42,000 of them went to households with children. At the same time the Independent Food Aid Network, also members of the Poverty Alliance, reported 80% of their members had seen an increase in demand for support over the last year.
The efforts of these foodbanks to help people is inspiring and they deserve our support, but it is simply cannot be right that thousands of people now rely on charitable help for basic foodstuff. Access to an adequate standard of living is a fundamental right, and the inability of so many to be able to afford food is a clear denial of that right.
“The coming year will mark the interim target of our legally-binding child poverty targets. By March 2024 there should be no more than 18% of children living in relative poverty in Scotland. We strongly welcomed the unanimous support of all parties in the Scottish Parliament for the Child Poverty Act – but words must now be turned into action. If Scottish Ministers want to make history by achieving this target, they will have to raise the Scottish child payment to £40 a week.
“In August, Government figures showed that more children than ever are homeless and living in temporary accommodation in Scotland. As of March 2023, 9,595 youngsters were in the system – the highest number since Scottish Government records began in 2002.
“The shortage of housing stock in Scotland is driving people into unaffordable and unsuitable housing. The Scottish Government can help by following calls from Shelter Scotland to reverse unjust cuts to the housing budget so that we can provide 38,500 social homes by 2026, as well as fully funding local authority homelessness services and guaranteeing the right to a permanent home for every household.
“Scotland is a wealthy nation, and as the STUC, Oxfam, IPPR and others have repeatedly shown during 2023, MSPs have the powers and responsibility to raise the social investment we need to fill holes in the Scottish Budget, and repair our broken social infrastructure.
“This year may also see a UK General Election. We have repeatedly spoken out against UK Government policies that cause poverty and create hardship. Plans announced in the Autumn Statement around forcing disabled people into work under the threat of losing their social security support fly in the face of the evidence of what works; these plans will do nothing to provide the genuine support that people need move into work. Instead, they will further increase the risk of destitution for more disabled people. We need a new approach to providing security for everyone, rather than rehashing failed schemes from the past.
“That’s one of the reasons why we will continue to support the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation in their campaign to lift Universal Credit to levels that at least allow people to buy the essentials in life. We will push parties to commit to scrapping the unjust and ineffective sanctions regimes, along with the cruel bedroom tax, and two-child limit.
“There is hope for change. Our conference in November focussed on the Scottish Government’s commitment to a Minimum Income Guarantee – a transformative assurance that no one will fall below a set income level that would allow them to live a dignified life. In the coming year, we will be pushing for progress to make it a reality.
“Together, we can end the injustice of poverty in wealthy Scotland.”