Action on the injustice of poverty is new FM’s defining mission

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly
Director, The Poverty Alliance

With the contest for Scotland’s new First Minister over, attention now turns to the priorities of our new government. Our hope is that Humza Yousaf will turn Scotland’s shared values of justice and compassion into concrete action to tackle the ongoing injustice of poverty.

During the campaign to become SNP leader and First Minister, the Poverty Alliance and The Robertson Trust held an online hustings where the three candidates were asked about their vision to reduce poverty and inequality.

During the event, Humza Yousaf told us that he was angry about the injustice of poverty. He was angry that in a country as energy rich as Scotland, we have people who are unable to heat their homes, and that despite being a wealthy country, we have people who cannot afford a healthy diet.

He said: “We have made some progress, but there’s no doubt we need to go further, and whoever the next leader of the SNP and First Minister is, I believe it should be their defining mission to reduce, if not eradicate, poverty.

“Poverty is at the root of every single challenge we face in government.”

He pointed to recent research by the Scottish TUC, showing how we could use Scotland’s devolved tax powers to raise an extra £1.3 billion a year for social investment. He pledged to continue to use progressive taxation to invest in what he called a ‘wellbeing society’ that could provide wraparound support for people looking to get back into work – including an expansion of childcare to one and two-year-olds.

And he said that Scotland’s social security benefits should always rise with inflation, and that we should use it as a foundation for more and better targeted support for people in poverty and low incomes, and especially for carers, people with disabilities, and children.

We welcome these commitments, but look forward to hearing more about the First Minister’s priorities in the coming weeks.

The cost of living crisis is latest aspect of a decades-long injustice, where many people have been denied the adequate incomes necessary for a life of dignity and security. It is clear that our economy, labour market, and social security system, are failing to ensure that everyone benefits from Scotland’s abundance of wealth. The new First Minister needs to make fundamental change, to increase our wellbeing, lower inequality, and deliver financial security for all.

The latest Scottish Government figures showed how little progress has been made in addressing the injustice of poverty. ‘Stable’ poverty rates are nothing to celebrate, especially when the figures didn’t cover the period when people were feeling the full impact of the cost of living crisis.

We should not tolerate living in a country where a quarter of a million children have their life chances restricted because they live in the grip of unjust, preventable poverty. There is much we can do to loosen that grip: increase the Scottish Child Payment to at least £40 a week, and making sure every child is entitled to a nutritious free school meal.

Essential services can be made more available to people living on low income by expanding free bus travel to people on benefits like Universal Credit, and to everyone under the age of 25. That should be seen as one step along the road towards a Social Guarantee, where everyone has access to life’s essentials – the things we all need to participate in society and flourish. In Scotland, we already provide basic healthcare and education free for all at the point of use. Bringing that model into other areas of social life – such as transport – will reduce the cost of basic living for those on the lowest incomes, and release people from the grip of poverty.

The new First Minister must take forward work on creating a Minimum Income Guarantee for Scotland – setting down a level of income beneath which no one in Scotland will be allowed to fall. It will be a universal guarantee of financial security that everyone can use as a stable foundation to build a better future for themselves and their families. If Humza Yousaf wants to eradicate poverty, then it is big ideas like this that he needs to prioritise.

And we can create a rights-based society, where our human rights as individuals no longer live just as words on a page, but a concrete tool that we can use to secure a life of freedom, dignity, and security.

We agree with Humza Yousaf when he said that action on poverty and inequality should be the defining mission of his leadership. We look forward to working with our new First Minister on all these issues, so that together we can build a better Scotland, where the injustice of poverty is a thing of the past.

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