'The budget fell short of the action we need to tackle poverty' - Neil Cowan

Government spending decisions should act to mirror the ambitions we have for our country; what we value and what we deem to be our priorities.

Yesterday’s Scottish Government budget was always going to be about responding to Covid-19. But it also had to be about putting in place the foundations for the kind of Scotland we want to see emerging from the pandemic; one that is more just, more compassionate, and where one million people no longer live in the grip of poverty.

It took place amid a rising tide of poverty across our communities. Even before Covid-19, unacceptably high levels of hardship existed across Scotland, particularly for low-paid women, disabled people, and people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Now, ten months on from the start of the pandemic, the grip of poverty has tightened for many, while many more have been newly swept into poverty.

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So we needed this budget to prioritise boosting the incomes of low income households, while reducing the cost of living to ease the constant pressure that too many people in poverty experience. But while it contained some welcome actions, overall the budget failed to signal the kind of acceleration toward economic justice and social renewal that Scotland so urgently needs.

The headline anti-poverty spending commitment was the Scottish Child Payment, a new £10 per week per child benefit for low income families. It is a hugely positive policy; one that signals a landmark use of Scotland’s social security powers and that should lift tens of thousands of children from poverty. Yet the £10 figure was set in June 2019. Since then, the depth of poverty being experienced by families across Scotland has only grown. We needed to see its value increased, along with other action to put extra cash into the pockets of families struggling to stay afloat. That action was missing.

The impact of the pandemic on the labour market has been stark, especially for women and young people. The Finance Secretary rightly highlighted the importance of protecting jobs, and sought to do that, in part, by cutting business rates. Protecting jobs is vital, but it is equally vital to ensure that support for businesses is conditional upon them providing fair work.

The jobs that are protected must be good jobs that pay at least the real Living Wage, provide security, and protect people from poverty. ‘Any job is a good job’ is a mantra that – with over 60% of children in Scotland in poverty living in working households – must be consigned to the pre-Covid era.

And it is these type of decisions, taken now, that will shape the Scotland that we all live in for years to come. We may still be in the midst of the pandemic, but we cannot wait until the pandemic is over before we turn our rhetoric around creating a more just and equal Scotland into a reality. Yesterday’s budget, by that measure, fell short of the action we need.

Homeless in Edinburgh. Picture: Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Neil Cowan, Senior Policy and Parliamentary Officer, Poverty Alliance

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