£20 a week can make a big difference says Lorna Slater

Wednesday October 13th 2021


Lorna Slater, Scottish Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lothian MSP and Scottish Greens co-leader writes her monthly column for Midlothian View.

£20 a week can make a big difference. For some families it can be the difference between heating their homes or not. For others it can be the difference between eating three meals a day and not.

Over the course of a year it amounts to over £1000. That is the sum that was taken away from millions of households across the UK when the UK Government brought in its long-threatened cut to Universal Credit last week. The timing was made even worse when considering that it coincided with Challenge Poverty Week.

There are 7620 families who will be impacted in Midlothian alone, which is more than one third of all families with children. All of those families will be feeling a greater degree of stress and financial anxiety than they otherwise would have. And, as long as Westminster carries on down this road, then it will only get worse.

We are in a perfect storm of cuts and austerity from Westminster, with social security being cut at the same time as the furlough scheme ending.

Almost every day I hear from people who are feeling stretched. They are worried about these cuts while being hit by rising fuel prices and an increase in national insurance, which disproportionately affects people on lower incomes.

They can see the effect that these decisions are having on their lives; young families who are locked in the grip of poverty, elderly people who have worked all their lives and are now unable to heat their homes, people earning below the real living wage who are stuck in a cycle of exploitative rents and unstable accommodation.

The most recent available data from the Department of Work and Pensions shows that before the pandemic, child poverty in Midlothian was at its highest level for 6 years. Its figures tell us that 15.7% of children in the area were living in families on low incomes.

Decisions being taken in Westminster will stretch these families even further. And the impacts aren’t just financial. People living in poverty are far more likely to be in unstable jobs, far more likely to experience poor physical and mental health and anxiety, and to live in cramped and overcrowded accommodation.

There are steps that we are taking in Scotland to mitigate some of the impacts. By 2032 we will deliver 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland and invest an additional £50 million over the parliament to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. We will introduce new rights and protections for tenants, including rent controls.

We will also double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week and provide immediate support to children and young people through bridging payments of £520 in both 2021 and 2022. These are big changes and will go some way to mitigating the cuts.

Looking to the future, we want Scotland to be the best country in the world to grow up in. By investing in young people we are investing in a better future for Midlothian, and for our country.

But there is so much more that we would like to do if we had the power to do so. I would like to see Scotland introducing a Universal Basic Income to ensure that everyone has access to a stable and sustainable income.

Unfortunately, as long as the main macro economic and social security decisions are being made by Boris Johnson and his Tory colleagues they are unlikely to address the real problems that people face. As the cut to Universal Credit shows, they have the wrong priorities and the wrong solutions.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. I don’t want children to grow up in a Scotland where a cabinet full of millionaires can inflict poverty on hundreds of thousands of people overnight.

There is nothing natural or inevitable about poverty or inequality. Nobody should have to choose between heating or eating. We have the technology and the skills to ensure a good life for everyone and to build a fairer, greener and better country.

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