The Scottish Government is at risk of failing to meet its pledge to deliver United Nations’ goals on sustainable development because of deepening economic inequality, according to a new report drawn up by 22 charities and public sector organisations.
The report, spearheaded by Oxfam Scotland, the University of the West of Scotland and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, claims the government is set to miss targets across the board.
And the authors say that despite last week’s announcement to introduce a new income supplement to tackle child poverty a year ahead of schedule, the “significant powers” of the Scottish Parliament are not being used to their full extent.
The sustainable development goals are the UN’s blueprint to ensure “a world free from poverty, injustice and discrimination”. By 2030, the UN says, countries should have addressed 17 global challenges including eliminating poverty and hunger, tackling climate change and environmental degradation, and ensuring gender equality and peace and justice, with the aim of “leaving no-one behind”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made Scotland one of the first countries in 2015 to pledge to deliver those goals and embedded them in the government’s National Performance Framework.
But the report “On Target for 2030?” states that reality does not match rhetoric, and the slow progress of delivery is hitting Scotland’s poor the hardest.
Rhiannon Sims, of Oxfam Scotland, said: “These goals will only succeed if every country signed up to them puts in place the measures needed to drive change. Whilst there is clear policy commitment in Scotland, more needs to be done to achieve the 2030 vision.
“The snapshot assessments provided by organisations working on each UN goal show a cross-cutting theme of inequality – geographical inequalities; health inequalities; inequality between different groups based on gender, race, ability; and, in particular, wealth inequalities. Taken together, it is clear that the negative effects of slow progress on the goals are felt more acutely by low-income households.”
She added: “Despite welcome policy attention on poverty and inequality in Scotland, we’ve yet to deliver meaningful reductions in the gap between rich and poor. In fact, the incomes of the top 10 per cent of the population are over a quarter more than the bottom 40 per cent put together. Far from narrowing, income inequality in Scotland is deepening.
“That’s true for the distribution of wealth too, including financial, property, pensions and physical wealth. And those at the sharp end often have no wealth at all.”
Sims said although “many important levers remain reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Parliament does have significant powers which should be used to their full extent”.
In the report, Nourish Scotland says there has been little progress in reducing the numbers of infants who are overweight and there are “substantial inequalities in child unhealthy weight” across the country, while there is “no strategic plan” to phase out foodbanks. Citizens Advice Scotland calls for more “targeted financial support” for those households struggling to pay water and sewerage charges.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was “extremely disappointing” the government could miss the goals. He said: “From a failure to tackle educational inequalities to the real challenges facing staff in our health service, there is a clear picture of a government who would rather put off until tomorrow what it could be doing today.”
Scottish Greens climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell said the report must be taken seriously. He said: “Twenty years after devolution I would question how much progress successive Scottish governments have made on tackling these goals in a joined up way. The top goal of government remains economic growth, which has failed to trickle down and lift people out of poverty.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to reducing poverty and inequality, which is why we were one of the first nations to sign up to the sustainable development goals and provide international leadership on reducing inequality.”