Last week was Challenge Poverty Week, established by Scotland’s anti-poverty network the Poverty Alliance. Since its launch in 2013, the Challenge Poverty week has done admirable work to draw attention to the endemic poverty that blights the UK.
And in a week where the Conservative Party Conference doubled down on the party’s shift to the hard right, this work has never been more important.
The SNP has led the fight against poverty in Scotland, with ground-breaking policies designed to mitigate Westminster’s brutal welfare policies and economic incompetence.
But the fact remains that the UK has never been more unequal, with the strict confines of devolution hampering the Scottish Government’s efforts to take a different course to that of broken, Brexit Britain. Here are just some of the ways the SNP is working to build a fairer, wealthier society.
Housing and Social Support
Westminster’s habit of demonising the most vulnerable in society has resulted in the UK’s welfare state being slashed to the bone. The Conservatives are always eager to victimise benefit claimants and Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is no better. Labour is now subscribed to the Tories’ vicious welfare cuts and austerity economics.
In Scotland, the SNP has devoted enormous sums to mitigate the worst of Westminster’s welfare cuts, helping struggling families to keep their heads above water.
Over the past 6 years, the Scottish Government has spent £733m to mitigate the worst impacts of UK Government policy such as the bedroom tax and benefit cap, with £127m being invested this financial year.
In addition to maintaining investment in our Scottish Welfare Fund at £41m this year, this includes making £83.7m available to local authorities to spend on Discretionary Housing Payments.
£69.7m of this investment will help to fully mitigate the bedroom tax, helping over 92,000 households in Scotland to sustain their tenancies and £6.2m will mitigate the UK Government’s unfair benefit cap as fully as possible within devolved powers, supporting over 2,700 families, with over 9,400 children.
And in 2023-24 alone, the Scottish Government will spend up to £84 million supporting families by mitigating Westminster’s brutal bedroom tax and their on-going freeze to Local Housing Allowance rates. This is a staggering increase from £58 million in 2017, a damning indictment of the effect Tory economic policy and Brexit has had on low earners.
Alongside £6.2m to mitigate the benefit cap as fully as possible within devolved powers, these measures will see families in Scotland £2,500 better off on average per year as a result.
With Labour now supporting these wounding welfare policies, that leaves the SNP as the only major party in Scotland standing against Westminster’s savage cuts.
And the SNP has gone even further. Not content with opposing these Westminster policies, in 2021 the SNP launched the Scottish Child Payment, a unique welfare payment available only in Scotland.
Currently at £25 per week, it has been increased by 150% since its inception and is available for all children up to the age of sixteen years old.
The innovative payment is projected to lift 90,000 children out of poverty in the next year, a far cry from the benefit cap on child support, shamefully embraced by both the Tories and Labour.
Education and Training
Education is one of the surest ways to win the fight against poverty in the long term, ensuring both children and adults from lower income backgrounds are not left behind or denied the same opportunities as others.
Since coming into government, the SNP’s policies have resulted in the highest level of education investment across the UK.
In Scotland, we invest £1,685 in education per person – compared to £1,382 in Labour-run Wales and £1,319 in Tory-run England.
Additionally, since the SNP took office, over 1,000 schools have been built or upgraded – providing well-designed, accessible and inclusive learning environments for pupils.
Scotland also has proportionally more schools than England and Wales – 355 schools per 100,000 pupils, compared to 317 in Wales and 259 in England.
Over the SNP’s time in government, we have reduced the number of pupils being educated in unsatisfactory school buildings by over 75%.
Scotland has significantly more teachers per pupil than south of the border – with 7,485 teachers per 100,000 pupils, compared to 5,545 in England and 5,038 in Wales.
Teachers in Scotland are significantly better paid too – with the starting salary for qualified teachers higher in Scotland than in Wales and England, outside of Greater London.
And earlier this year, the Scottish Government delivered on the plea from a coalition of anti-poverty groups that poverty be put at the heart of the programme for government.
This included a commitment to childcare, one of the specific demands from the coalition. The SNP has set out plans to expand access to funded childcare for more than 13,000 children and families by the end of this Parliament.
We have also laid out a pledge to uplift School Clothing Grant by inflation in 2024/25 meaning that clothing grant value will increase again for the beginning of the next academic year.
The SNP recognises the value of long term infrastructure investment, unlike the short term thinking of Westminster parties which only ever worry about their electoral chances and grabbing headlines.
That’s why under the SNP, Scotland has followed a path of social inclusion, connecting low-income areas to urban centres and our natural world, boosting local economies and sharing out Scotland’s immense wealth.
From Edinburgh’s tram network to the borders railway to our pledge to invest in major road improvements across the north and north-east of Scotland, the SNP has a record to be proud of and is determined to use infrastructure as a means to actively fight poverty as well as growing our economy.
The Scottish Government is also introducing a pilot for the removal of ScotRail peak-time fares, beginning in October, a move that will make rail travel more affordable and accessible for all households. Fewer low income families own cars and for those who do they often prove to be an expensive burden. An efficient and affordable public transport network is an investment in the fight against poverty for years to come.
A fight we can win
The SNP is committed to eradicating poverty, but it has never been clearer that this can only be achieved away from the confines of Westminster. A stagnant economy, outdated policy and a lack of vision cannot deliver the fairer and more equal society we all want to see.
Only with the full powers of an independent country can Scotland break free from the nightmare Westminster merry-go-round of cruel and incompetent government offered by Labour and the Tories.
With independence, we could finish the fight against poverty for good.