The last 15 months have exposed the scale of inequality in our society. A handful of people have prospered, with billionaires now using a distasteful space race to flaunt their wealth. Meanwhile, shops and other business across the country are closing and the Trussell Trust has reported a 47% hike in foodbank use.
According to a study by the Legatum Institute, 700,000 people across the UK have been plunged into poverty during the pandemic. That number could increase in the months ahead, with the furlough scheme coming to an end at the same time as the Tory government is preparing to cut Universal Credit payments from struggling families.
Is this the recovery we want? When I think of what Boris Johnson and his colleagues have in store, I know that we can do so much better.
We need a recovery that puts people and the planet first. That means ending tax breaks and subsidies for companies that are harming our environment and paying low wages. Instead, we should boost local businesses and social enterprises that support their staff and pay a living wage. So many of Edinburgh’s best businesses are small locally owned SMEs. They are the bedrock of our economy and should be fully supported to help them thrive.
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It means promoting sustainable jobs and investing in green technology. With a green industrial strategy, we could create tens of thousands of good, well-paid jobs that make a positive difference to our communities. But that can only happen if we leave fossil fuels in the ground and stop major road projects and new oil exploration.
It means properly funding the public services that we all depend on and the welfare system that any of us could find ourselves relying on.
Green spaces have provided a lifeline for people, particularly in built-up areas. We can’t take them for granted and need to invest in them to create the kind of environments where people can relax, unwind and explore.
None of these ideas are new. They have been around for a long time, and it shouldn’t take a pandemic to put them on the agenda. They are all changes that could and should have been made pre-covid, which would have made the pandemic less stressful while leaving us better prepared.
These changes would also help us to face the biggest crisis of all: the climate emergency. We are living in an increasingly interconnected world, and the things that happen in one country can indirectly impact others around the world. That was the case in the pandemic, and it is the case in the climate crisis.
Words are easy, but even then, the Prime Minister is failing to recognise the scale of the challenge or the change that is needed. The world is on fire, but last week his spokesperson’s advice was to stop rinsing plates before putting them in a dishwasher.
World leaders will head to Scotland this November for the COP climate conference. They have a chance to make history. As they look at the world around them, will they learn the lessons from the pandemic and take the vital pre-emptive action that is needed, or will they continue with the same failed approach?
Lorna Slater is a Green MSP for Lothian