Our recovery must always support the most vulnerable

Saturday July 22nd 2023


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.

The cost of living crisis has been felt by almost everyone in the country. But it is the most vulnerable, and the people with the least, who are being hit the hardest.

With inflation soaring and food prices hitting record highs, there are millions of people and families struggling to make ends meet.

The social cost is huge, with so much avoidable misery and so many people experiencing stress, anxiety and sleepless nights while wondering how they’ll get through it.

Right now, one in four children in Midlothian are growing up in poverty. This will shape their lives and life chances for years to come. Poverty is not a single issue, it often means a lower life expectancy, less opportunities and greater health inequality.

There is nothing natural or inevitable about poverty. It is a result of political choices.

There are clear steps that governments can take to pull people out of poverty, and steps they can take that they know will only make it worse.

That’s why Keir Starmer’s announcement that a Labour government would keep the cruel two-child benefit cap and ‘rape clause’ was so shocking, and why it has clearly infuriated so many of his Labour colleagues and lifelong Labour voters.

Using the language of “tough decisions” he and his Shadow Cabinet colleagues have promised to uphold one of the most brutal and punishing legacies of David Cameron’s government. The cap removes a vital financial lifeline from families with more than two children.

The Tories knew exactly what they were doing, and how devastating the impacts would be for stretched families, with almost every anti-poverty charity having warned them in the starkest terms.

The charities weren’t wrong. According to the Child Poverty Group, the cap has already impacted 80,000 children in Scotland since its introduction.

We have to do better. With Scottish Greens in government we have taken a very different approach and made significant strides to tackle poverty and inequality.

We have raised the few benefits we control in line with inflation, delivered a groundbreaking Scottish Child Payment of £25 per week for the most vulnerable families, introduced free bus travel for everyone under 22, a real living wage for all government contractors and a rent cap and protections for tenants.

These are all vital steps that are not just putting money in people’s pockets but also expanding their opportunities and building a fairer and better society.

It all stands in sharp contrast to the punishing cuts and chaos we have seen from successive UK governments.

We have done all of this despite the huge constraints and extremely limited powers that come with devolution. With full powers over social security we could do even more to ensure a fairer, greener recovery that leaves nobody behind.

There are a lot of Labour MSPs who I know and admire. We have our disagreements, but they are good and principled people. I don’t believe that any of them got into politics because they wanted to entrench one of the harshest and most punishing Tory policies.

I hope that they will use their influence and their voices to call on their London leadership to drop this terrible pledge and for any future Labour government to introduce the kind of policies that we are delivering here in Scotland.

Our Parliament, and our country, are at our best when we are working together to tackle the biggest issues. With so many being plunged into despair by this Tory government, we need that determination and spirit of cooperation more than ever.

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