Credit cuts to poorest is cruel and reckless - Lorna Slater

There are few decisions as harsh and damaging as knowingly and purposely cutting the incomes of many of the poorest people in our country. To do it amid a pandemic is even worse.

Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 7:00 am
PIC LISA FERGUSON First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intention to appoint two new Ministers following the approval of the historic Bute House agreement. For the first time anywhere in the UK members of the Green Party will enter government and for the first time since devolution a formal cooperation agreement will be in place in Scotland. Patrick Harvie will be Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, working with the Housing Secretary and Net Zero Secretary. Mr Harvie’s responsibilities will include driving policy changes that shift Scotland away from reliance on high carbon modes of transport and heating and towards greener alternatives – essential as part of the push towards a net zero economy by 2045. Ensuring fairness during that transformation will also be key, and Mr Harvie will lead on delivering a new deal for tenants, and ensuring building standards are fit for purpose. Lorna Slater will take on the role of Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, working with the Finance and Economy Secretary and Net Zero Secretary. Ms Slater will drive a Green Industrial Strategy, helping people access training and opportunities as part of a net zero Scotland, and ensuring our economy is supported through a just transition to net zero. Supporting biodiversity and protecting our national parks and natural heritage will also form part of Ms Slater’s role, working closely with NatureScot and Zero Waste Scotland and supporting the development of a circular economy that minimises the impact on our natural environment. The First Minister said: “This historic cooperation agreement is founded in a shared drive to work together in the Scottish Government to build a greener, fairer, independent Scotland. “We have massive challenges to overcome: a global pandemic and its lasting effects, the climate emergency and the assault by the UK government

But that is exactly what happened last week when Boris Johnson and his colleagues chose to take over £1000 a year from people that are receiving Universal Credit.

There can be no doubt about the severity of the consequences, with the Joseph Rowntree Trust warning that 500,000 people will be plunged into poverty by this cruel, reckless and totally unnecessary move. It will have a terrible impact on children, with 200,000 feeling the blow. This will not just have an impact on their present, but also on their future.

Poverty leaves a big footprint. People living in poverty are far more likely to work in unstable jobs, far more likely to experience poor physical and mental health, and far more likely to live in cramped and overcrowded accommodation. To willingly consign more people to this is indefensible.

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The timing could not be worse. It has been a particularly difficult 18 months, and far too many people are living hand-to-mouth and enduring huge levels of anxiety. There are some positive signs in terms of our Covid rates, but it is a fragile time for so many households.

The scale of the challenge we face in Edinburgh was underlined this week with the publication of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission’s latest report. It revealed that even prior to the pandemic there were 80,000 people in our city living in relative poverty. Many of them will be hit by the latest Tory cut.

There are steps that we are taking in Scotland to mitigate some of the impacts. By 2032 we will deliver 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland and invest an additional £50 million over the parliament to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. We will introduce new rights and protections for tenants, including rent controls.

We will also double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week and provide immediate support to children and young people through Scottish Child Payment bridging payments of £520 in both 2021 and 2022.

But there is so much more that we would like to do if we had the power to do so. I would like to see Scotland introducing a Universal Basic Income to ensure that everyone has access to a stable and sustainable income.

Unfortunately, as long as the biggest economic and social security decisions are being made by Boris Johnson and his Tory colleagues they are unlikely to address the real problems that people are facing in this city and beyond. As the cut to Universal Credit shows, they have the wrong priorities and the wrong solutions.

There is nothing natural or inevitable about poverty. This generation has the technology and the skills to end it for good. Not just here in Edinburgh, but around the world. But we cannot do it through cuts and austerity.

We can build a fairer, greener and independent country. And, when I think of the prospect of more years of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, it feels even more imperative that we act now.

Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity