In last week’s column, I concluded a month-long series in which I interviewed five Members of the Scottish Parliament who will stand down in May 2021 and whose presence I believe we will miss.
Taking into consideration that two of the five have previous ministerial experience for social security, and the opposition members I interviewed were once responsible for their party’s respective social security and welfare portfolios, it was unsurprising when they all identified poverty as a political priority.
I may only be in my mid-30s but I still remember a day when there was a hunger rumbling in the belly of the voluntary sector for a poverty-free society.
The phrase “I am here to do myself out of a job” was common currency in discourse and linked to a belief that every man, woman and child should have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and clothes on their backs as a basic standard.
- Ewan Gurr on Alex Neil
- Ewan Gurr on Neil Findlay
- Ewan Gurr on Adam Tomkins
- Ewan Gurr on Gail Ross
- Ewan Gurr on Jeane Freeman
Anything below that was broadly defined as wrong but was not perceived as inevitable and could be overcome.
The pandemic has made the challenge of overcoming poverty greater than ever.
Health Minister Jeane Freeman said: “You could not get a better insight into why we must tackle health inequality. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of developing a world-class health service.”
She added: “We need to rebuild Scotland and restructure our economy, health and services around a values-based approach to eradicate inequality because that is what holds back our potential as a country.”
Reflecting on his time as a local councillor when more resources were available to tackle local challenges, Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “I don’t think we have moved at all on poverty and inequality in recent years and you cannot do much if you are wiping out local government resources.”
He added: “The eradication of poverty should be priority number one for the Scottish Government with everything scrutinised under that lens and ministers tested against that vision.”
Outgoing Scottish Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins said: “We cannot expect to be taken seriously until we attack not only the symptoms but the underlying causes of poverty, which is not solely about not having enough money. That is a symptom but the cause of poverty lies underneath that.”
He added: “The Child Poverty Act sets some really important targets but if we really believe in minimising or addressing poverty in Scotland then we must start by limiting the attainment gap.”
Having known poverty, I am also aware that policy alone cannot eradicate it. I must use my freedom to pursue a sustainable future but our politicians have replaced relationships with regulations that limit liberty rather than loose it.
I agree with the measures our politicians outline above but the one thing they fail to mention is the one thing they have all voted to restrict.
Poverty thrives when it holds people in isolation because only those who are free can truly lay hold of their freedom.