What is the most important dividing line in politics? Brexit or no-Brexit? Independence or unity? I don’t think so.
Child poverty is shorthand for the one that matters. Politicians who want judged on other counts should be pulled back to that yardstick.
There were days of hope, not long ago. As the Rowntree Foundation in Scotland pointed out: “Child poverty can be eradicated. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were substantial falls in poverty driven by a supportive policy environment and a rise in employment.”
What now? This week, the Scottish Government’s Poverty and Inequality Commission published its response to the Scottish Budget for 2019-20. It did not mince words. Poverty and inequality “continue to rise and are predicted to continue to do so”.
As for assessing measures to reverse this prognosis: “The Commission’s scrutiny was hindered by the lack of transparency around how much is being spent on different policies. Therefore, it was impossible to calculate accurately how much the Budget is spending on addressing poverty and inequality.”
We live in a land of smoke and mirrors. Grand announcements are followed by not much happening. When someone tries to pin down figures and outcomes, they find a treacle of fiscal obfuscation.
The Commission states bluntly: “If the Scottish Government is to have any chance of tackling poverty effectively and meeting its statutory targets on child poverty, it will need to take sustained action and invest considerably more than current levels.”
Holyrood now holds many powers. Everyone there must take serious note of this report and demand something better. An essential starting point is clarity on priorities and spending to meet them. Nobody expects miracles but progress must be non-negotiable.