May must change

Rutherglen Reformer - - Reformer View -

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

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