That’s why the SNP is calling for Rishi Sunak to make boosting incomes and tackling poverty the number one priority at the UK Budget on Wednesday.
Under Boris Johnson, the UK suffers from the worst levels of poverty and inequality of any country in north-west Europe – and in-work poverty has risen to its highest levels this century.
This hasn’t happened by chance. It is a direct consequence of the damaging political choices made by the Tory government over the past decade – many of which were taken in the full knowledge that they would push people into hardship and leave the UK economy worse off.
Boris Johnson’s disastrous hard Brexit has already cost Scotland billions of pounds – and it is projected to cost every person in our country the equivalent of £1,600 a year by 2030, compared to the economic benefits of remaining in the European Union.
Scotland didn’t vote to leave the EU but we are being made to pay a very high price for the Tory government’s political choice to impose the hardest of Brexits, which ripped Scotland out of the world’s largest single market and increased costs, red tape and barriers to trade.
The impact of that decision is now being felt acutely by businesses and families across Scotland. UK exports have plunged, industries are facing severe staffing shortages, food is rotting in the fields, petrol stations are running dry and supermarket shelves are empty. As a result, businesses are losing millions of pounds and the price of goods and services is rising.
While the EU is looking after its member states, with financial help to mitigate the rising cost of Brexit, the UK government hasn’t lifted a finger. It tells you everything you need to know that while Ireland is getting €1.05 billion from the EU’s Brexit mitigation fund, Scotland has yet to receive a single penny in compensation from Westminster.
The SNP is calling for the Chancellor to follow the EU’s lead and introduce a multi-billion-pound Brexit Recovery Fund at the Budget on Wednesday – to provide Scotland with compensation and to ensure proper financial support for struggling businesses and industries.
The soaring cost of Brexit has compounded the pressure that families were already under after a decade of Tory austerity cuts, regressive tax hikes and stagnant wages.
In the past year alone, Universal Credit cuts have reduced the incomes of 5.5 million people by £1,040 a year. The Tory public sector pay freeze has reduced the wages of frontline workers by hundreds of pounds. Scrapping the triple lock will see Scottish pensioners lose out on £486 next year, and regressive VAT and National Insurance hikes will force the majority of families to pay hundreds of pounds more in taxes next year.
By making these choices, the Tory government is stamping out any chance of a fair recovery in the wake of Covid. The pandemic exposed the weaknesses in the UK’s threadbare social security safety net but instead of addressing the problem, Westminster is making it even worse.
That’s why the SNP is calling for an emergency package to boost household incomes and reverse the damage caused by a decade of cuts. The Chancellor must finally introduce a Real Living Wage, increase statutory sick pay, give public sector workers a meaningful pay rise, and reverse the cuts to Universal Credit.
With energy prices soaring, the SNP is also calling for the Chancellor to introduce an energy payment of at least £300 for low-income households to ensure that no family has to choose between heating and eating this winter.
All of this should be part of a meaningful UK government strategy to eradicate poverty – with statutory targets, like we have in Scotland. Tory policies have made people poorer and it is the Chancellor’s responsibility to ensure he undoes the damage these cuts have caused.
The SNP government has made tackling poverty a priority – but the reality is that while we are putting money into people’s pockets with progressive policies like the Scottish Child Payment, the Tories are taking it away again and undermining the progress we are making in Scotland.
I urge Rishi Sunak to match the Scottish Child Payment for children across the UK, and emulate other Scottish policies like the baby box, Best Start Grant and our more generous free school meals provision – instead of snubbing the calls of campaigners like Marcus Rashford.
This UK Budget also comes a matter of days away from COP26, and at a time when meaningful investment to tackle climate change must be at the heart of any government budget.
During the 2014 independence referendum, Scotland was promised that if we voted against independence, we would get the world's first gas-fired carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at Peterhead, as part of a £1 billion investment.
It is therefore bitterly disappointing and utterly inexplicable that last week, the UK government broke its promise again and pulled the plug on CCS investment in Scotland – in a move that could also cost 15,000 jobs.
Carbon capture technology is essential to meeting Scotland’s emissions targets and efforts to reach net-zero. That is why the SNP is calling for the Chancellor to U-turn on this decision and match the Scottish government’s £500 million investment in a just transition for the North East of Scotland.
Tackling poverty and climate change are the biggest priorities of our times. This UK Budget will be judged on whether it delivers the radical change needed – or simply continues decades of Westminster failure.
Ian Blackford is MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and SNP Westminster leader