Some very interesting – and very concerning – research emerged from the House of Commons Library last week regarding poverty in the UK.
The analysis has revealed the UK has the highest poverty rate of any country in North-west Europe, with 11.7% of people living in relative poverty under the OECD definition.
This puts the UK in a worse position than all thirteen neighbouring countries, including Iceland (4.9%), Denmark (6.1%), Finland (6.5%), Belgium (8.2%), the Netherlands (8.3%), Norway (8.4%), France (8.5%), Sweden (8.9%), Ireland (9.0%), Switzerland (9.2%), Austria (9.4%), Germany (10.4%), and Luxembourg (11.4%).
The figures, using OECD data, show that the UK has a significantly higher poverty rate than the average for independent countries of Scotland's size or smaller (7.7%), and has had the worst or second-worst poverty rate in every single year since UK data was first recorded in 2002.
Despite the limited powers available to it, the Scottish Parliament is able to take some steps to help mitigate against poverty in Scotland. Chief among these is the Scottish Child Payment.
Announced in June 2019 and coming onstream in February this year, the Scottish Child Payment is the most ambitious anti-poverty measure currently being undertaken anywhere in the UK, supporting carers, young people, and low-income families. Significantly more families are now relying on benefits due to the pandemic – some perhaps for the first time and the aim of the Scottish Child Payment is to help lift children in Scotland out of poverty.
I very much hope that worthy aim is still achievable in the light of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak pressing ahead with Tory plans to slash Universal Credit payments for six million families by £1040 a year from September. The move has been described as "catastrophic" by the Children's Commissioner for Scotland, who has warned the cuts would “effectively knock out the benefits that the Scottish Child Payment brings".
It really does appear to me that for every progressive step forward the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government manages to make to try to improve the lives of the people of this country, Westminster manages to take us two steps back with some draconian measure which gives every impression of having been dreamt up by people who have no regard whatsoever for families and individuals who struggle to get by.
The UK is suffering from a growing Tory poverty crisis - with the worst levels of any country in North-west Europe. While Gordon Constituency is seen as being relatively affluent, this masks some areas of real deprivation – poverty amongst plenty - and we need to be clear that this is about people, not abstract statistics or balance sheets in the UK Treasury.
Rishi Sunak's plans to slash Universal Credit payments for six million families, and impose a public sector pay freeze, will inevitably make this crisis even worse and push more people into hardship and deprivation. There needs to be an urgent u-turn.
The cold hard reality however is there will be no fair recovery at Westminster. The only way to keep Scotland safe from Tory cuts and build a fairer society is to become an independent country, with the full powers needed to secure a strong, fair and equal recovery and eradicate poverty.