Fri 27 Apr, 2018

John Finnie MSP

Highlands and Islands
Justice, Transport & Tourism, Rural & Island Communities

Website

My Green colleague Patrick Harvie got it spot on when he called out the excessive “fawning over privilege” by some politicians about the birth of William and Kate Windsor’s third child.

In case you missed it, Patrick’s amendment to a Tory motion, that was in awe of the royal couple and their new baby, received quite a bit of media attention. In it, Patrick rightly congratulated the parents of the thousands of children born in the UK on the same day while highlighting that 30% of the babies will be born into poverty.

Don’t get me wrong, all the best to them, but as a society we need to be focussing on what kind of future awaits all children in this country and not just those deemed to have royal blood and who will face no monetary hardship in their lives.

Behind all the flag waving and newly printed tea towels lies a sobering statistic – that one in four children in Scotland now lives in poverty. To think that four million children in the UK, that’s more than the entire population of Wales, now lives in poverty shows that we have our priorities so unbelievably wrong.

We know that such lavish attention for one privileged child is wrong because poverty overall in Scotland continues to rise, now sitting at 16%. It’s no secret that I want Scotland to be independent, in part because we could decide for ourselves if spending money on Trident nuclear weapons is more important than tackling child poverty. I also don’t believe in standing still and waiting for independence day to take action and I’m proud of what my Green colleagues and I are trying to achieve at Holyrood, albeit with the limited powers of a devolved parliament.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation that we can all be proud of with a Social Security Bill. Moreover, my Green colleague Alison Johnstone had an amendment to the Bill passed that seeks to ban assessments from being undertaken unless the Scottish Government can demonstrate that already existing evidence from GPs, social workers and other professionals is not sufficient to corroborate a claim. This will have the effect of significantly reducing the much-hated assessments, a move described by Citizens Advice Scotland as “the highest priority for the Scottish Social Security System”.

Throughout the Social Security Bill and Child Poverty Act, the Scottish Greens have pushed for measures that will make a real difference to people's pockets.  Topping up child benefit by £5 a week would lift 30,000 children out of poverty and our amendments to the Child Poverty Act made sure the Government has to consider this in every Child Poverty Delivery Plan.  The Poverty and Inequality Commission agrees that the Delivery Plan should be clear about how the government plans to use powers to top up and create benefits to meet child poverty targets. 

We’ve also pushed for a national roll out of the Healthier, Wealthier Children programme, which makes sure pregnant women and families with young children get the financial help they need.  By making sure midwives and health visitors can refer parents directly to trusted money and welfare rights advice, this approach has helped families across Greater Glasgow and Clyde gain almost £16 million since 2010.

We’re determined to see families right across Scotland benefit from these measures and after pressing the public health minister on the progress of the roll out, she confirmed that the Child Poverty Delivery Plan will provide resources to progress this programme.

It's crucial that everyone can access the benefits they're entitled to quickly and easily.  That's why Greens secured an end to unnecessary face-to-face assessments when people are applying for disability benefits.  The Social Security Experience Panels agree that these onerous assessments must stop.

Most of us are aware of the stress that can come from financial insecurity and I can’t think of many stronger messages that Scotland could send the world about its intent to tackle poverty than to implement a Citizens’ Income.

A Universal Basic Income would provide stability to parents who work part time, who might feel required to take some breaks from employment to fulfil caring responsibilities and who wish to study or retrain to improve their circumstances. The Scottish Government should follow pilot projects in Glasgow and Fife closely and continue to lead research and modelling in the impact of a basic income.

Some on the right might be incensed that Patrick Harvie had the audacity to speak the truth and say that “the scandalous level of poverty and inequality in society is unlikely to be corrected until politicians and media outlets stop fetishising privilege and fawning over those who enjoy it”. While eradicating poverty and abolishing the monarchy are unlikely to happen before independence, until then, it should never stop us from doing everything we can to make Scotland fairer.

This article first appeared in The National.

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