Scottish ministers accused of ‘inaction’ over cost-of-living crisis

The Scottish Government has been accused of “inaction” over the worsening cost-of-living crisis by unions, anti-poverty campaigners, and civic groups, who have called for a national food summit amid a list of urgent demands.

An unprecedented summit heard on Friday that households across the country that are struggling to make ends meet do not care what powers are devolved or reserved.

With prices rising at their fastest rate for 40 years, those behind the event have declared a cost-of-living “emergency” and made a series of key demands of Scottish ministers.

They include a national food summit following the Government’s decision to reject universal free school meals throughout primary and secondary school, as well as a national lobby of Holyrood on the issue of endemic low pay.

The calls come with tens of thousands of people expected to join a protest march in London today separately calling on the UK Government to do more to tackle the cost-of-living crisis amid “harrowing” evidence of the impact of soaring inflation on families.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, accused the Scottish Government of making a “deliberate choice” by not providing further support for those impacted by the crisis, and criticised its stance on the public sector.

Last month finance secretary Kate Forbes said Scotland had to “reset” its public services and become more efficient.

Her spending review said that while there would be some staffing increases in the public sector, mainly around tax and social security services, continued growth was not sustainable.

The price of petrol and unleaded fuel has surged again. Picture: AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi

The Government said it will now consult with trade unions and workers to "navigate the challenge" of a post-pandemic reset.

However, unions warn such a strategy could cut tens of thousands of public sector jobs in coming years at a time when investment is required.

Ms Foyer said :“Our summit, representative of Scotland’s trade union and civic movement against this crisis, has declared a cost-of-living emergency.

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Organisers of the summit have called on the Scottish Government to do more to tackle the cost of living crisis. Picture: PA

“This is just the beginning. We’re building a nationwide movement that is seeking action on low pay, housing, transport and poverty.

“It’s no longer tolerable to wait on decisions from our political class. We’ve made it simple for them and our summit was clear. This is an emergency situation that requires an emergency response.”

She added: “Inaction is not an excuse. Whether something is devolved or reserved doesn’t matter to workers across Scotland; they just need decisive action from our political leaders which, until now, has been decisively lacking.”

Earlier, Ms Foyer told The Ferret website the Government was choosing to put workers “on to the scrapheap” at a time of sharp rises in inflation, energy bills and rent.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC.

“We have suffered through a decade of UK Government spending cuts,” she said. “In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, we cannot allow for tartan Tory austerity from the Scottish Government to cut over 30,000 of our public service pandemic workers.”

Other demands set out at Friday’s summit include a national rent freeze and key reform of public transport.

It comes as the RAC said the average cost of unleaded petrol reached 187.51p a litre on Friday, with diesel hitting 191.17p. The surging prices means it now costs over £103 to fill the petrol tank of an average 55-litre family car.

A survey commissioned by the BBC also found more than half (56 per cent) of the 4,011 people questioned had bought fewer groceries or skipped meals due to financial pressures.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said the crisis was like "no other" he had seen in the three decades since the network was established.

"I don't remember another time like this," he said. "We've been through some really tough times over the last 30 years, poverty-wise. I don't recall anything just quite like this.

"There are workers I've heard about who are struggling to get to work because they can't fill up their car. It is also about, can they afford to put their heating on?

"There's people who are going to food banks and unable to cook the food they might have been able to get there because they're having to decide 'what do I spend my precious pounds on in terms of my energy?'."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it was investing almost £770 million this year through a package of measures, including social security support, not available anywhere else in the UK.

He said: “This includes the Scottish Child Payment, which has doubled, and uprating Scottish Government delivered benefits by 6 per cent – action unmatched by the UK Government. We have also called on the UK Government to use its powers to provide a more sustainable support package.”

The spokesman said Scottish ministers’ public sector pay policy was “progressive” and provides “greater protection to public sector workers on lower incomes, meaning action is targeted towards those worst impacted by rising costs”.

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