May must change
With the general election results in and a government in place, there is an urgent need to create a new drive for a UK that no longer tolerates growing levels of inequality and poverty.
The Prime Minister has said her government will put fairness at the heart of everything that it does but that will require a radical change in direction on key policies – changes that should be a test of the seriousness of the new government to create a fairer UK.
Issues of Brexit and poverty received scant attention during the election campaign but these are areas where a new direction is most urgently needed.
The Poverty Alliance believes in solidarity, equality and fairness. These values must be at the heart of the next government and apply to all people across the UK. It should not be the case that people living in different parts of the UK have different rights.
Our human rights must be protected and many of these rights have been enhanced and are underpinned by our membership of the EU. As we prepare to leave the EU it is critical that the vital rights that ensure fairness in relation to employment, health and equalities are not put under greater threat. It is important that the voice of civil society and of those who have experience of poverty is heard during the Brexit negotiations.
The austerity policies that have been pursued over the last seven years need to change too if we are to have policies that have fairness at their heart.
Before the election we asked community activists from across Scotland what their priorities for the next government were. Social security was a key area where people wanted change.
If Theresa May is serious about fairness then the new government will scrap the freeze on working age benefits. We are repeating our preelection call to reverse the benefit freeze and will be asking all the newly-elected Scottish MPs to support this change.
According to research by Sheffield Hallam, the benefit freeze led to losses of £300m in Scotland per year. It is expected that this will affect 700,000 families in Scotland, with an average loss of £450 per year.
On top of this we will be extending our call for child benefit to be increased by £5 per week to the UK Government. Topping up child benefit has a high take-up rate and we know from the families that we have worked with that an increase of £5 per week would be a big help in providing for their children.
Last week’s result is one that few would have predicted but it is important that in the weeks and months ahead we begin to put the values of solidarity, fairness and equality at the heart of government.
These values should be central to new policies for the coming years and should guide us in the vital negotiations that will take place on the UK’s departure from the EU.
With the number of people living in poverty increasing, it is clear that we need a change of direction in social security.
It is unacceptable that in a country as rich as the UK there are so many families unable to afford the basics such as food, good quality housing and heating.
Issues surrounding poverty and inequality were not particularly high-profile around the agenda and this needs to change. If Theresa May wants to put fairness at the heart of government then she needs to make a change in her government’s approach to social security.
Inequality is bad for us all, both for our society and the economy. We cannot allow it to continue to widen. Peter Kelly Poverty Alliance