Nicola Sturgeon has relegated social security from her Cabinet in a blow to anti-poverty campaigners – Gina Davidson

It has been two weeks since Scotland went to the polls and re-elected an SNP government and indeed a parliament which has barely changed in terms of the party arithmetic.

One million people live in poverty in Scotland. (Picture: Michael Gillen)
One million people live in poverty in Scotland. (Picture: Michael Gillen)

What did change on May 6 though was the number of people who turned out to vote. A healthy democracy needs a healthy voter turnout, and while in the past the public engagement with the Holyrood elections has been somewhat half-hearted, this year was different, with 63 per cent of all those eligible to do so, casting a vote.

There will be a myriad of reasons for that but it would be heartening to believe it was not all about the constitution, but because Scots actually want their parliament to achieve the kind of radical social changes that have been promised.

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Throughout the election campaign, Nicola Sturgeon, and others in her party, urged people to vote for them so they could tackle poverty; and in particular child poverty which had been on the rise even before the pandemic.

A raft of pledges were made in the manifesto, including doubling the Scottish Child Payment (SCP), but in her Cabinet reshuffle this week the key role of Social Security Secretary was downgraded to a junior minister’s brief.

A fully-functioning, supportive, social security system is as key to the creation of a happy and equal society as is the ability of business to create well-paid, secure jobs and wealth. Indeed they are two sides of the same coin, which is why it was disheartening to see the fair work brief disappear from Cabinet too.

The ability to ensure that people do not fall into destitution while they are unable to work, or are looking for work, must be central to a society which wants to value all its citizens.

Child poverty has been rising across Scotland since 2015. (Picture: John Devlin)

The social security safety net is not about charity or handouts, it’s about ensuring that when times are hard people can live with self-respect, that they can put food on the table for their children, pay their rent or mortgage to keep a roof over their heads, and not feel that through disability, illness or redundancy they are somehow worth less.

Through giving people self-esteem, they are far more likely to be able to return to work quicker, to be able to get well faster, to ensure their children can learn while at school because they’re not distracted by hunger; it’s an investment in people which should, ultimately, reap long-term rewards.

Yet in Scotland around one million people live in poverty, a quarter of them are children, and two-thirds of them live in homes where parents work. This is a problem for both Scotland’s governments, but there are tools at the disposal of the one who sits in St Andrew’s House to act against Tory cuts to benefits.

Instead the Scottish government has previously chosen to defer taking full control of social security payments until 2024, rather than this year as originally planned, and while it has said SCP will double to £20 a week, the reality is it needs to be £40 to have impact. And now social security has been relegated from the Cabinet.

For those campaigning to eradicate poverty in Scotland, it must feel the rock they have been slowly pushing uphill for more than a decade is suddenly far heavier.

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