Speech from Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Poverty and Inequality
Elaine Smith MSP to Scottish Labour conference
Dundee, Friday 9 March 2018
Good morning conference.
It’s a privilege to address you here in Dundee as Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the elimination of poverty and the inequality that underpins it.
It’s an absolute disgrace that in 21st century Scotland, 20 years on from devolution, poverty, hunger and homelessness are on the rise; while the richest 1% own more wealth than the bottom 50% put together.
Over 1million people in Scotland are living in poverty.
70% of children who live in poverty, live in a household where at least one adult is in work.
Low wages, precarious employment and zero hours contracts mean that work doesn’t always provide a route out of poverty; and when wages are low, parents are often forced to use food-banks or rely upon vicious pay-day loans.
Here in Scotland, like the rest of the world, it is women who continue to have the lowest incomes and are concentrated in the lowest-paid, least-secure forms of work.
Many health inequalities are symptoms of poverty.
It really is a stark statistic that men in the most deprived areas of Scotland on average die 10 years earlier than those in the most affluent areas; and for women its 7 years earlier.
And, shockingly, child poverty in Scotland is also rising. A quarter of Scottish children, that’s 260,000 children, are living in poverty and that’s 40,000 more than the previous year.
Depressingly, forecasts show this is only set to increase.
The SNP could have used the new powers over taxation right now to tackle the appalling rise of child poverty in our wealthy country – but they chose not to.
With 1 in 4 children in Scotland living in poverty, and the associated impact on their well-being and future life chances, there is no time to waste in tackling this scourge in our society.
The Give me Five campaign, supported by Trade Unions, churches and charities, has shown that a £5 top up to child benefit would immediately lift 30,000 Scottish children out of poverty.
We fully support this top up; only last week, Mark Griffin MSP moved amendments to the social security bill in the Scottish Parliament to implement this. Disgracefully, they were voted down by an SNP/Tory alliance.
That £5 could fund a breakfast every day, or a winter coat; or going on a school trip. That could stop children being hungry, cold, and left out of school activities.
Conference, we know what can be done when Labour is in power.
Right now, in Labour run local authorities, our councillors are fighting poverty and delivering vital services despite the vicious SNP cuts to their budgets.
In my own area, North Lanarkshire, our Labour run council is piloting a scheme in Coatbridge to provide food 365 days a year for children to tackle holiday hunger.
I hope you will join with me in commending all of our Labour councillors for finding innovative ways to tackle poverty.
Scottish Labour will not stand back while children suffer, people in deprived areas die younger and the rich grow richer while the poor grow poorer.
We will ‘poverty proof’ all of our policies to ensure they meet our ambition of reducing poverty and inequality; we will hold the SNP to account for their timidity and lack of ambition; and we will attack the Tories for their austerity agenda and cruel benefit cuts.
The Tory benefit cap is a callous policy that has already resulted in families here in Scotland losing their homes and households struggling to survive.
With the devolved powers, the benefit cap can be mitigated; and that is what Scottish Labour will demand.
Welfare and housing are inextricably linked; with increasing numbers of people being pushed into poverty and homelessness.
Scottish labour believes that a home is a fundamental human right. We will fight for the right of every citizen to have a warm, dry, affordable home and we call on the Scottish Government to stop winter evictions right now.
The private rented sector is out of control, contributing to an increase in poverty; housing must be for people, not profit.
Conference, I believe the people of Scotland are ready for change.
The Scottish parliament set its sights high in 1999. We promised to build a better society, to pass laws and make policies that really made a difference.
Our ambition, Scottish Labour’s ambition, to tackle and eradicate poverty, needs far bolder measures than the SNP are prepared to consider.
Leaving wealth and power in the hands of the few will not deliver better lives and justice for the many.
It’s time for change.
Conference, labour is ready to govern, both in Scotland and in the rest of the UK; our policies are for the many, not the few.