CommonSpace, by Neil Cowan
Neil Cowan, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at Poverty Alliance, says we should spare a thought for MSPs on their first day back at parliament from their summer recess – and remind them that stopping the growing scourge of poverty in Scotland needs to be at the top of their to-do list
We all know that the first day back at work can be a difficult one. Memories of the holiday just gone can seem a distant echo as you work to catch up on your inbox and try to pick up where you left off. You might start the day with renewed energy and optimism about what can be achieved, but can end it feeling overwhelmed by the reality of all the work to do.
Let’s spare a thought, then, for our 129 MSPs who are returning to the Scottish Parliament today after their summer recess. While all will have been working hard in their constituencies over the summer, the truth is that the truly transformative work of an MSP largely hinges on what happens in Holyrood, where laws are made and where millions of lives can be changed for the better. So as they return to their parliamentary offices this morning, it’s not difficult to imagine MSPs feeling swamped by the reality of the challenges that we face as a country and as a society.
Chief among those challenges is poverty; which exists in every city, town and community in Scotland and which impacts us all. Stagnating wages and the benefits freeze have combined with rising living costs to mean that poverty now holds one million people in Scotland in its grip, with that grip projected to tighten in the years ahead. There is not an MSP in Scotland whose constituency is unaffected by poverty, and all will have spent time with constituents over the summer who are finding it harder and harder to get by.
But rather than feeling overwhelmed – on their first day back – by the challenge before them, MSPs should glean inspiration and energy from their work in the last parliamentary session. The Child Poverty Act (which set targets for the eradication of child poverty in Scotland) and the Social Security Act (which created a new Scottish social security system with poverty reduction at its heart) both received unanimous support across the chamber. We also saw the Scottish Government publish its plan for tackling child poverty, which included a commitment to delivering a new income supplement for low income families.
These Acts and the delivery plan – on their own – haven’t changed Scotland yet, but they have given us both the targets and more of the tools to do just that. The task now is to continue this work; to make real the rhetoric and to deliver the solutions required. The great gift of politicians is to be able to make decisions about our society’s priorities and resources, and in the parliamentary year ahead there’s so much potential to use that gift to unlock people from poverty.
We can use the Transport Bill to address the very real challenges that people on low incomes face in accessing affordable transport. We can use the Fuel Poverty Bill to ensure that nobody in Scotland has to make a choice between heating their home and paying their rent, and we can use the budget to ensure more adequate levels of support within our social security system.
So as MSPs get back into the everyday routine and machinations of Holyrood life, let them not forget their power – indeed their duty – to create the just and compassionate Scotland that we all want to see. A Scotland where everyone has a decent standard of living, where the economy works for everyone, and which is finally free from the grip of poverty.
Picture courtesy of dun_deagh