Scottish independence: Poverty should be ‘at the heart ‘ of referendum campaign

Scottish independence: Poverty should be ‘at the heart ‘ of referendum campaign

Poverty campaigners have welcomed SNP minister’s ambition of 
eliminating poverty in an independent Scotland

Scottish independence: Poverty should be ‘at the heart ‘ of referendum campaign

by Cameron Ings-Hodgson

Cabinet minister Alex Neil’s claim that by properly managing Scotland’s resources, an independent Scotland could “effectively eliminate poverty from our society” has been welcomed by anti-poverty organisations in Scotland.

John Dickie, head of Child Poverty Action Group was encouraged to see the issue of poverty in Scotland “at the heart” of Scotland’s independence referendum debate.

Responding to Mr Neil’s vision – outlined at a cabinet meeting of the Scottish government on the Isle of Skye – Mr Dickie told Scottish Times:

“It’s good to see tackling poverty at the heart of the independence debate and we now need to see all sides of the debate set out how their preferred constitutional arrangements would help achieve the aim of a Scotland free of child poverty.”

“Wherever powers end up lying we need commitments to use those powers to tackle the low pay and lack of affordable childcare that means work is too often not a real route out of poverty, to invest in social security so that it genuinely protects families from poverty and to develop a more progressive approach to taxation so that the wealthy pay a fairer share toward the services and supports families need to give their children a decent start in life.” (The poverty line sits at less than 61 percent of the average British household income per year.)

Peter Kelly, the director of Poverty Alliance, also welcomed Mr Neil’s comments telling Scottish Times that they are “happy to see poverty being discussed in the constitutional debate”

In Scotland the number of children officially recognised as living in poverty has fallen from 300 000 (28 percent of all children) in 1998/99 to 170 000 (17 percent of all children) in 2010/11.

However, an Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis forecasts that child poverty is set to surge upwards by an average of 100,000 children a year across the UK. This is largely as a consequence of the Coalition’s  austerity plans to cut £20bn off the welfare budget by 2014.

During the Scottish Cabinet meeting Mr Neil outlined his ambition saying that: “The two things that I would particularly want to see are very high levels of well-paid employment and the elimination of poverty.”

“We are sitting in a country here that is so rich in resources, particularly in relation to our population. Sixteen per cent of our pensioners are living below the poverty line. One fifth of our children are living below the poverty line, and a very high percentage of our disabled community are living below the poverty line.”

“That is neither in my view morally acceptable or socially justifiable. I honestly believe that if we were independent and could manage our own resources in our own way not only would we get much higher levels of employment amongst younger people and indeed older people, but we could do what every Scandinavian country has done and effectively eliminate poverty from our society.”

In expressing his vision on poverty Alex Neil has already faced some harsh criticism from Unionist opponents. Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson said:

“It is utterly absurd for Alex Neil to claim that independence will end poverty. He is treating the people like fools. Poverty wasn’t created in 1707 when we joined together and it won’t be abolished by erecting a border at Gretna. That is a malicious falsehood, put about by those not brave enough to tell people what their politics are really about.”

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown commented: “The Scottish Government is once again preaching its very own brand of flat-earth economics. If it wanted to spend more money as a separate country, it would have to either borrow significantly more, or tax significantly more. It would be interesting to know which route the SNP intends to take.”

In 1999, Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the historic aim of ending child poverty within a generation. When the former Prime Minister left office he took up a post as an advisor to Wall Street bank JP Morgan. The post had a starting fee of £2mn annually putting Mr Blair on the path to becoming the richest former Prime Minister in history.

Scandinavian model

One path Scotland could follow is the example of “what every Scandinavian country has done” and model an independent Scottish economy on the Nordic system, which is implemented by countries like Sweden, with high rates of taxation and high rates of welfare spending.

Sweden has traditionally enjoyed high rankings in quality of life indexes like the UN Human Development Index, where it scored global tenth in November 2011 – eighteen places ahead of the United Kingdom.

However, Sweden is also one of the world’s most expensive countries to live in according to an International Life Magazine Quality of Life Index from 2010, which rated Sweden global thirtieth when living expenditure was factored in.

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