Comment: Combination of people and land is force for good

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne holds up his red Ministerial Box. Picture: PA
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne holds up his red Ministerial Box. Picture: PA
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Recently, the Scottish human rights commissioner, Alan Miller, interpreted the current welfare cuts as a threat to human rights.

Greater pressure on food banks is being predicted once the so called “bedroom tax” reduces the income available to people on benefits. What price then is our commitment to ensuring an adequate standard of living, adequate housing, or the right to family life for everyone – all obligations under the UN covenant on economic, social and cultural rights?

Times are tough and public money is tight. The temptation is to let standards slip and cut back on public expenditure. Yet, as a country, we have other non-financial resources that could be deployed better.

The two fundamental resources any country has are its land and its people. The land nourishes us and provides shelter. It is the base from which all our economic activity proceeds. It recharges our physical and spiritual batteries through recreation and leisure.

People also have resources we must not neglect. They bring ideas, energy and commitment that power the enterprise that is fundamental to any country’s capacity to flourish. Bring land and people together constructively and we have a strategy for weathering any recession.

There are signs that we could do better in managing the relationship between land and people. Why do we export food, yet need to set up food banks? Why do rural communities need houses they can afford to rent when suitable land is lying empty? Why is there fuel poverty in a country that is as energy rich as we are?

These are big problems that call out for fundamental answers. Many of the barriers to better solutions are quite local and creative local initiatives could mitigate some of them. Sympathetic affordable housing, or cycle paths, or allotments or effective community engagement are around and could be adopted more widely. The land reform challenge is to smooth the way for these kinds of initiatives and release the creativity and goodwill that are available to us.

• Dr Alison Elliot is chair of the Land Reform Review Group, www.landreformreview.org