3-9 October was Challenge Poverty Week, the annual campaign to put the spotlight on the causes of poverty and action on tackling it. Sadly, the scale of the poverty we are currently facing is being heightened by a combination of the cost-of-living crisis, the fallout from the pandemic and the failings of both the UK and Scottish governments.
A recent Audit Scotland report on child poverty highlighted that it has increased since 2017, when statutory targets for reducing it were set by parliament. Soaring energy costs are also pushing more households than ever before into fuel poverty, while inflation means food poverty is also at its highest ever level.
This devastating growth in poverty, which is leaving so many struggling to keep their heads above water, is far from what was envisaged when the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999. After becoming First Minister, Donald Dewar noted that the new Parliament had been granted “powers to unlock opportunities and to bind communities that have been torn apart by deprivation and social pressures”. Tackling poverty was always meant to be the new parliament’s central objective.
Of course, many of the root causes of the growth in poverty emanate from the heartless, divisive and increasingly incompetent Tory UK government. However, some of the rise is also due to decisions made in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament should do everything possible to mitigate the impact of poverty.
The cost-of-living crisis is a national emergency that needs a pandemic scale response. That is why Scottish Labour MSPs have been pushing for emergency cost-of-living legislation to give people the help they need.
The Scottish Parliament should be utilising its full powers to not only alleviate the current pressures but also go further to actively reduce poverty, particularly child poverty, and enhance opportunities across our communities. Building a fairer and more equal society will always be Scottish Labour’s defining mission.