Leading Scottish campaigners and church leaders have called on politicians elected tomorrow to commit to “righting the wrongs” caused by a decade of austerity.
Whoever wins the keys to 10 Downing Street must prioritise tackling “outrageous” levels of poverty, they said – while Scots should use their votes to help shape a more equal society.
The calls follow a four-part series by The Ferret and the Huff Post on film and in words, investigating the devastation seen in communities across the country following a decade of UK austerity policies.
Our reports looked at child poverty in former mining towns of Fife and drug deaths in Dundee where more than 400 people have died in the past ten years, highlighting cuts to services and benefits introduced by the Conservative-led coalition following the 2008 recession.
We also investigated severe threats to disabled people’s human rights due to social care cuts and welfare reforms, leaving many with “an existence, not a life”. The struggle of young people leaving care to escape the trap of poverty, homelessness and low-paid work, was also highlighted.
In October 2018, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, claimed that austerity was over. But a report released in November by the Resolution Foundation found that child poverty was at risk of rising to a record 60-year high under a new Conservative government, because its manifesto retains benefit cuts.
Leading research and social change organisation, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, told The Ferret that no party manifesto went far enough in terms of offering solutions to poverty.
In its Poverty in Scotland 2019 report the charity found that poverty was rising “from an already unacceptably high level” to affect one in five Scots. Researchers claimed that history over the last 20 years showed routes out were possible and called on UK and Scottish governments to do more to achieve that.
Dr Jim McCormick, associate director of the foundation in Scotland, argued that while spending might have increased slightly it did not address the devastation caused in the last decade.
“It’s not just about more spending in the round – it’s about investment that allows people to prosper, not just survive,” he said.
“These might be complex issues, but really the solutions are not complex. People in poverty need to be supported to organise and advocate for themselves but they also need strong allies.”
He added: “We need to build a strong consensus and look at the credibility of all the political parties on providing solutions to poverty. There is no single party that has cracked that and they all need to be put through their paces.”
Peter Kelly, director of the Scotland-wide charity Poverty Alliance added: “In this election we need all political parties – and the next UK government – to commit to putting tackling poverty at the heart of everything they do. Whoever is elected, one of their first actions needs to be setting ambitious targets to reduce poverty.
“The last decade has been dominated by policies that have resulted in more and more people being swept into poverty. Being unable to pay the bills, put food on the table, or plan for the future has become normal for so many. Candidates in the election should commit to righting this wrong.”
He claimed the election offered a possibility to redesign the labour market to work better for all Scots “by boosting workers’ wages and taking action on precarious work”. Ending the five-week wait for universal credit, removing the two-child limit, and ensuring that social security is adequate and meets people’s needs, should be priorities, he argued.
Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society council, urged Scots to use their vote to “shape” a fairer future. “We are fortunate to live in a wealthy and peaceful country and yet an increasing number of people struggle with poverty in a way that harms their health and their relationships and prevents them from fully participating in society,” he said.
“The depth of poverty that we see around us could be significantly reduced if there was political will to do so. If you have the right to vote in the general election on Thursday 12 December please remember how important it is to use your vote to shape the society in which you want to live.”
Ewan Gurr, the anti-poverty campaigner who set-up Dundee’s first food bank, said many people are disillusioned with politics due to its failure to adequately address constitutional questions from Brexit to Scottish independence. But focus must be put on domestic issues such as the links between austerity and drug deaths and increases in rough sleeping, he argued.
“We need a systematic and radical transformation that comes from the grassroots up,” he added.
Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance agreed the election was about far more than Brexit. “Ten years of austerity have pushed the UK’s disabled people deeper into crisis, resulting in grave and systematic violations of human rights,” she said.
“Disabled people frequently lack choices and have little control over our lives. This is why it matters to vote and to exercise the control that we have.”
The organisation is calling for an end to austerity, an increase to funding for social care and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to be embedded in UK law.
She added: “We can start to build the kind of society we want to create together – one which does not leave disabled people behind and instead decides that their aspirations, lives and contributions are worth fighting for.”
The UK government insisted that austerity is over. “The UK government spends over £95 billion a year on welfare,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions in London.
“We have simplified the benefits system through universal credit – making it easier for people to access support, including care leavers. Under personal independence payments, a higher proportion of disabled claimants are receiving the top rate of support.”