FAITH Leaders across Scotland have called for governments to come together to help those living in the grip of poverty.
Nine of the country’s most senior faith leaders have issued a joint statement demanding action, arguing that allowing more people to slide into poverty “goes against everything we stand for as a society”.
The Moderator of the Church of Scotland has also described the “body blow” of universal credit cuts, rising energy bills and food prices having a profound effect on Scots already struggling, and has reiterated his calls for the Scottish Government to immediately double the Scottish Child Payment, rather than do so throughout the next parliamentary term.
He added that the Chancellor must consider wiping the debts accrued during the pandemic of those most struggling, with a so-called Jubilee payment.
The joint statement, signed by representatives of the Muslim Council of Scotland, the Catholic church, Quakers, Sikh community among others comes at the start of Challenge Poverty week this week.
It also comes amid warnings that the UK Government’s decision to cut the £20 increase in Universal Credit will plunge thousands of households further below the breadline, as energy prices rise and businesses inflate the costs of goods and services due to supply chain problems.
As well as calling for direct action to challenge poverty, the faith leaders say that climate change and addressing global warming is also a key part of helping those most in need and that both crises are “linked”.
The letter states: “In Scotland too many people are, right now, living with the constant pressure of poverty, including one in four children.
“This goes against everything we stand for as a society. We need all those with power and influence to take action to boost incomes and reduce the cost of living.
“By doing this we can stem the rising tide of poverty.”
It continues: “Our experience of serving communities in Scotland and in hearing stories of our international partners reminds us of the pressing need to work for a vision of a world where hunger, poverty and the exploitation of creation are eliminated.
“Action is needed to bolster communities, to protect people living in the grip of poverty and whose voices are too often ignored, and to mitigate against the worst effects of global heating.
“We also acknowledge that these crises are linked, and that it is people who are locked into poverty who experience the greatest impacts of climate change.
“In the face of the challenges before us, Scotland’s faith groups share hope for a Scotland which is free from the grip of poverty, and one which responds to the climate crisis with the urgency it demands.
“This urgency must be matched by our sense of compassion.”
It has been signed by Omar Afzal, of the Muslim Council of Scotland; Lord Jim Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland, Bishop William Nolan, President of Justice and Peace Scotland Commission on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Scotland; Elizabeth Allen, Clerk of the General Meeting for Scotland, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); Reverend Neil MacMillan, Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland; Rev. Paul Whittle, Moderator of the United Reformed Church Scotland; Rev. Thomas R. Wilson, Chairman of the Congregational Federation in Scotland; Nicola Livingston – Chairwoman of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and Charandeep Singh of Sikhs in Scotland.
They argue that the pandemic, the current cost of living crises and climate change means “now is the time for action” and add: “By acting boldly, we can redesign our economy and our public services so that they support efforts to mitigate the climate emergency, while also unlocking people from poverty.
“We ask all levels of government to use every power at their disposal to meet the most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges we face.
“Now is the time to act, with urgency, to build a green economy that helps to create a more just Scotland that is free from poverty.”
Writing exclusively in the Herald on Sunday, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland Jim Wallace also urged government leaders to be bold in their ambitions to tackle climate change and re-shape public services, in a way that will reduce the burden of poverty.
He said: “If we are going to be bold enough to re-think our economy and public services to mitigate the climate emergency, surely that can go hand-in-hand with a re-design which can tackle poverty.”
Lord Wallace also said that Holyrood Ministers should be “supported” in plans to “explore a Minimum Income Guarantee” adding: “There is no shortage of ideas. What we would like to see is urgent action to rise to the challenge.”
Campaigners have warned for months that a “perfect storm” of energy price rises, labour shortages and issues with the supply chain would lead to more people living below the breadline, or just struggling to meet everyday household costs.
Boris Johnson, in his speech to the Conservative party conference last week, insisted that the way out of the problem was to crack down on immigration to create a “high skilled, high wage” economy.
However businesses have hit back, arguing that his comments showed he had no clue of the situation on the ground, and felt as if they were being blamed for the current problems of labour shortages.
On Friday, Labour leader Keir Starmer sought to capitalize on the growing rift between Mr Johnson and the business community, saying; “In a week where UK business is looking to the Government for solutions to the ongoing supply chain chaos and growing shortages crisis, Boris Johnson resorted to form – refusing to take responsibility, offering only jokes and slogans.”