Poverty campaigner urges Holyrood and Westminster to stop blame game

A LEADING think tank has urged both Holyrood and Westminster to stop the “finger pointing” and urgently tackle poverty rates in Scotland.

Chris Birt, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s associate director, has called for both governments to work together to help people struggling on the breadline.

His comments come ahead of a report published by the think tank today outlining what more could be done by ministers in both governments and why their current positions are not sustainable.

Mr Birt said that the Scottish Governments’s stance that it does not have enough power to make all the changes necessary, while Westminster’s position that Holyrood is able to change things if it does not like the UK Government’s plans is “does nothing to help families get a good job or pay for the weekly food shop”.

He explained: “Both the UK Government and Scottish Governments, when challenged on their own track record on poverty, have a predictable habit of pointing the finger at their counterpart.

“The UK Government likes to remind us that the Scottish Government has significant welfare powers and can top up existing benefits, while the Scottish Government prefers to mention that it is doing all it can but has ‘limited powers at our disposal.'”

He added: “These are both powerful and attractive lines, fitting with the broader political positioning of both governments. The subtext from the UK Government is, “if you don’t like what we’re doing, you can do it yourself” and from the Scottish Government, “we’ve taken action but would go further if only we could”.

According to the latest statistics, around a quarter of children in Scotland (24 per cent) live in poverty, while 19% of working age adults are also impoverished.

The UK Government’s Households below average income data show that since 2011, the level of child poverty has increased slightly in Scotland, rising from its lowest recorded level of 21% to its current level of 24%.

For adults, the poverty levels have increased by 1% over the past 25 years, rising from 18% in 1994/5 to 19% currently.

Mr Birt has called for the UK Government to use its “considerable taxation powers more effectively” as one way of improving inequality, and also called for the planned £20 cut to universal credit to be scrapped.

The reduction comes amid widespread condemnation from Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP politicians, charities and local authorities alike.

Mr Birt explained: “This cut will remove £1,040 per year from the incomes of over a third (37%) of all families with children in Scotland and as many as two-thirds in Glasgow Central.

“As the cost of living continues to rise and energy bills are set to increase in October, this policy is almost guaranteed to increase poverty and the Prime Minister must change course.”

He has also suggested Westminster speed up its proposed employment bill, which could “reverse some of these most pernicious elements of the jobs market.”

Holyrood ministers can also go further, the think tank director argued.

He said: ” Their plans need greater scale, urgency and focus.This week’s Programme for Government is a perfect example; it has many welcome commitments that will help to an extent but don’t go far enough to put us on course to meet poverty targets.

“Employability programmes show the challenge: they support small numbers of parents and are often not targeted to the needs of particular families.”

Politicians have argued that the UK Government’s decision this week to break manifesto commitments on raising taxes will only push more people into poverty, while others say Ms Sturgeon’s programme for government does not go far enough to help those struggling to get by.

Read Mr Birt’s opinion piece exclusively for The Herald here 

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992