Christine Grahame: The Tories' Dickensian values put our country to shame
When you read a United Nations report on poverty you don't immediately think Scotland. No, it's usually some far-flung country with droughts or a cruel dictatorship or both. Not so. A UN report on extreme poverty and human rights has underlined that poverty is here and now.
This the world’s fifth largest economy has seen an enormous growth in food banks, nearly 88,000 claims for food in Scotland in the last six months, and of those 27,520 were by children. I’ll repeat that, from April 2018-September 2018 27,520 times children had to resort to collecting food parcels.
These figures are from the Trussell Trust, the largest food bank provider, so it takes no account obviously of the local collections by churches and community groups. That vast increase matches exactly to the introduction of Universal Credit so the Trussell Trust has no qualms about pointing the finger at UK Tory government’s policies. From the Trussell Trust back to that UN report and I quote: “It seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.
“The result is that 14 million people UK-wide, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50 per cent below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials and the figures are set to grow yet the UK Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial.”
In Scotland mitigation is the name of the game, the Scottish Government paying Universal Credit fortnightly and paying housing benefit directly to the landlord so at least the tenancy is secure; free school meals for Primary 1-3; the bus pass which I know some pensioners use to keep warm on the buses, saving on fuel bills. But mitigation has its limits and these have pretty well been reached. Yet according to Theresa May, when she is not firefighting her own cabinet and party on Brexit, austerity is ending. Where? Who for? Not for those 88,000 food bank claims. Worse still, the Tories both at UK and Scottish Parliament level support the two-child limit on benefit claims, so unless that third and any subsequent children are as a result of rape (which the mother must prove) there will be no support.
You know, any one of us at any time, for reasons of family break-up, illness such as cancer of job loss could be one of those 88,000 food claims. We could have more than two children to support, yet Tories, often with more money than compassion, blame, yes, blame anyone trying to claim Universal Credit for having more than two children. They say have no more children than you can afford! Well we’re not all Jacob Rees-Mogg complete with six children and a nanny, or indeed the Scottish Tories’ spokesperson on social security, Michelle Ballantyne with six children, who actually said in Parliament that “people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like”. Dickensian morality and Dickensian justice in 2018 and echoes of a Christmas Carol and Tiny Tim.
Christine Grahame is the SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale