It is vital that we support low paid workers - Lorna Slater
Every day my office is contacted by people who are struggling. It is often people who are in debt, people who are overwhelmed and people who are working around the clock but cannot make ends meet. Very often they are desperate.
Edinburgh is an expensive city, especially for families. The Edinburgh Poverty Commission estimated that almost 80,000 people in our city were living in poverty prior to the coronavirus outbreak, including almost one in five of all children. Those numbers will only have worsened during the pandemic.
Poverty does not exist in isolation. It often manifests itself in lots of ways, including poorer health, housing and access to education.
Westminster has exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis, with a cut to Universal Credit worth £1000 a year and a punishing national insurance hike that hits people on low incomes.
Costs may be skyrocketing, but wages are flatlining. We are now 14 years on, but real wages across the UK are still lower than they were on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. The situation has been made even worse by the casualisation of work and the explosion of zero-hour contracts.
It's a horrible combination, with low wages and higher living costs providing a pincer movement that is squeezing people across the country. Analysis from the Trade Union Congress shows that workers today are suffering from the longest pay squeeze for 200 years.
We’ve had a very unequal pandemic, and, as we re-open, we need to ensure that the society we build is a more equal and caring one.
Unfortunately, the most important powers over wages and working conditions lie with Westminster. But, over the next four years, we are taking big steps to lead by example.
With Greens in government, we are introducing a requirement on public sector grants to pay at least the real Living Wage to all employees and to give a voice to workers, including through trade unions. This will provide real and practical help to families across Scotland by improving terms and conditions while also setting a bar for others to meet.
This will go alongside a series of measures to reduce the cost of living, such as doubling child payments to £20 a week, expanding free school meals and introducing free bus travel for everyone aged 21 or under.
This month my team met with representatives from Living Wage Scotland Hospitality group, who shared positive stories about the difference that the real living wage is making to hospitality workers.
They explained the impact that it’s had on staff wellbeing, but also on retention, with the employers that pay a living wage keeping their staff for far longer. This is the exact sort of positive change that we are doing all we can to encourage.
As we face up to the climate crisis and the aftermath of the pandemic, it is vital that we do everything we can to support low paid workers while creating well paid jobs that are built to last. If we are to protect the planet while tackling inequality, we will need a fair and just transition that invests in our communities.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city, but also one that is rife with poverty and inequality. This generation has the wealth, means and technology to ensure that everybody can live comfortably with an income that allows them to do so. What is needed is the political will to make that happen.
In Scotland we are doing everything we can to increase wages and reduce inequality. It is time for Westminster to do the same.
Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity