Different Approaches to Tackling Poverty

“The Scottish Government is taking a different route on poverty and this will be an important issue, politically and constitutionally.”  

Ewan Gurr: ‘Benefit rises at forefront of public consciousness’ (eveningtelegraph.co.uk)

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 15/02/2021

On two occasions, once after leaving school and another time following redundancy, I fell upon the mercy of the welfare state. Therefore, when I have previously written about the social security safety net, I have done so both with personal and professional, lived and learned, experience. This, coupled with many years working alongside people experiencing poverty, is why I believe in the welfare state and why I have not, during more fortunate times, objected to paying the higher rate of tax.

The subject of increasing benefits is understandably at the very forefront of public consciousness. The reason is the UK Government is considering making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, implemented in March 2020 to support claimants, a permanent fixture. Last Wednesday, an article uploaded on the Evening Telegraph Facebook page regarding the uplift stimulated 178 comments and multiple shares. Doing so would cost the taxpayer £6.6 billion per year and that focuses minds.  

Not everyone, for fair and considered reasons, believes the same and those who do not have been unfairly besmirched for being hard hearted. However, I, evenly spliced between the political left and right, believe in both supporting people to both survive but also to strive. This was the heart of William Beveridge who, in founding the welfare state, challenged opposition claims of feather-bedding, saying: “Adventure comes not from the half-starved but those who were well fed enough to feel ambition.”

The UK Government has been openhanded in the dispensation of over £317 billion to, in the inimitable words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, put their “arms around the nation” and has been whimsical in spending on other issues of questionable concern. In November, for instance, at precisely the same time as UK Ministers were straining every sinew over whether or not to invest in free school meals, they proudly announced a £16.5 billion increase in defence spending.

Where do our priorities lie when we are willing to spend tens of billions protecting ourselves from an international threat that may or may not even exist when we are so unwilling to spend a third of that sum supporting our own citizens through a time of unrivalled financial hardship? This is why the UK Chancellor’s budget statement in March matters. It matters economically to the 5.7 million Universal Credit claimants but also politically to the Prime Minister in his withering relationship with the union.  

The reason I say this is because, from today, thousands of families become eligible for Scottish Child Payment, a new benefit designed by the Scottish Government precisely to lift children out of poverty. The Scottish Government is taking a different route on poverty and, for all its domestic faults, this is and will continue to be an important area as the governed consider whom they wish to govern, politically and constitutionally.