General election: Before you vote, spare five minutes to read about poverty in the UK – Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly is the director of the Poverty Alliance
Peter Kelly is the director of the Poverty Alliance
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A reform of Universal Credit and tackling in-work poverty should be core isues of the general election, writes Peter Kelly of the Poverty Alliance.

December’s general election has been described as the most important in a generation and holds the prospect of finally determining our relationship with the EU.

While it’s true that it offers the opportunity to begin to end the Brexit back and forth, it also offers the chance to chart a different course for people who continue to endure the injustice of poverty.

The last decade has been dominated by policies that have resulted in more people – particularly women, disabled people and black and minority ethnic groups – being swept into poverty. Being unable to pay the bills, put food on the table, or plan for the future has become normal for so many.

It is a decade that has seen an unprecedented growth in foodbanks, with the Trussell Trust now reporting that demand for emergency food parcels has increased by 23 per cent in the last six months alone.

And this barely scratches the surface of what is happening in our communities. Many more people struggle to get by – skipping meals and going without – but never visit a food bank.

READ MORE: Scottish poverty levels rise after 10-year decline

READ MORE: Scots toddlers living in poverty three times as likely to develop language and communication issues

How did we get to a situation where so many people are relying on charities to meet their most basic needs? Why is it that despite more people being in paid employment than ever before, work no longer seems to be a certain route out of poverty?

The answer is clear: we’ve made decisions about the way our society and economy operate that have resulted in more people being locked into poverty; people who have seen their opportunities to thrive restricted and diminished.

A million acts of kindness
Wrong turns in social security policy – like the benefits freeze – and a lack of protection in our labour market have been accompanied by a failure to address the wide inequalities that exist between people and communities in our society. This simply cannot go on.

We are a compassionate country. The evidence of that is around us all the time; people volunteering their time to help others in their community, fundraising for important causes, or the million other acts of daily kindness that help make people’s lives better.

But all too often decisions – primarily about our social security system and labour market – are made in ways that deny people the dignity and respect that should be at the heart of a compassionate society. This is something we can change.

At the end of a decade that now sees more than one million people locked in poverty in Scotland, we must begin to reshape our economy and society to put compassion and justice at the heart of both.

We need to take practical steps to reduce poverty; putting dignity back into social security and building fairness into our labour market.

Policies that would make a difference
That’s why today the Poverty Alliance is calling on all political parties to support some of the key steps that will help us move towards the kind of society and economy that works for everyone.

We can put solving poverty at the heart of the next UK Government’s work by setting ambitious poverty reduction targets.

We can begin to create a more compassionate social security system by ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit, removing the two-child limit, and ensuring that social security is adequate and meets people’s needs.

We can create a labour market that works for everyone, by boosting workers’ wages and taking action on precarious work.

And we can protect people on low incomes from the worst effects of Brexit, by maintaining and enhancing workers’ rights and ensuring that the EU funds that have helped create jobs and support communities across Scotland are effectively replaced.

So this general election might well be the most important in a generation, and will likely be remembered as the one that determines Brexit. But it can also be remembered as the one that sees us commit to the actions we need to loosen the grip of poverty on people’s lives, and create the kind of society we all want to see.

Peter Kelly is director of the Poverty Alliance