The Standard ran an article about child poverty levels and the worrying statistics about how many local people who may be affected. The measure used by Child Poverty Action Scotland suggests 1 in 4 children locally are deemed to be living in poverty. That is truly shocking. Commentary was allowed from politicians, including myself. I was interested in Brian Whittle’s response – the Scottish Government simply need to offer more support to families living in poverty. Easily said, but the truth is that the Tories at Westminster cut Scotland’s budget by £2.6bn in real terms; the Tories have cut benefit payments, and at the same time the Tories at Westminster have cut corporation tax for the rich companies; cut inheritance tax for millionaires and cut capital gains tax. Meanwhile, the SNP Government is having to find the bedroom tax and council tax benefit relief removed by the Tories The Scottish Tory MSPs are also against the SNPs new progressive tax system, which means those working on low wages will now pay less tax giving them greater spending power and of course helping mitigate those who fall in the “in-work-poverty” category.
Another suggestion from Brian was to cut the number of people smoking. He is absolutely correct, which is why laws were changed on the marketing and selling of cigarettes in Scotland. Wouldn’t it be good if the tax Westminster receives on tobacco actually was ring fenced for health spending including smoking cessation? Another good suggestion was that the SNP should focus on the education attainment gap. Actually, that is a stated priority. Although changing generational inequality does not happen overnight. It is why the SNP have allocated educational attainment funding to schools. The SNP have also protected and improved the educational maintenance allowance. The Tories? Of course they have cut this funding altogether in England, which then contributes to a shrinking Scottish budget.
When you have children going hungry then this clearly affects the educational attainment gap. Foodbanks do great work, but are a symptom of a wider problem. Centrestage locally do fantastic work under their motto of Fun, Food and Folk. However, again, this ties back to the bigger picture of imposed cuts and choices.
The SNP are further increasing the free childcare provision. This makes it easier for people to return to work; clearly means more money in their pockets that would otherwise need to be used to pay for childcare and also benefits children giving some better learning and social skills that they would otherwise already be behind children from more affluent backgrounds.
My office is now seeing the impact of the roll out of universal credit with people waiting too long for their money and in some cases losing money altogether due to blunders in the system.
I believe all politicians want to see an end to child poverty. However, cutting spend, and cutting taxes at the same time is an impossible way to do it, and “actions speak louder than words”. This is why I believe the two Governments need to be compared.
These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.