It was with a heavy heart that I said a few words at the opening of the new food bank in Perth last week. Think about it! A food bank in the 7th richest nation in the world at the beginning of the 21st century. From its location in Perth, it will serve all of Perth and Kinross and the churches who have put all of this together “hope” to have satellite foodbanks in all the main population centres in Perthshire.
How has it come to this and what has gone so badly wrong that we need food banks in a wealthy abundant country? Poverty and austerity don’t just appear, they are the result of political choices and priorities. Governments can choose a variety of different policies to meet the challenges of difficult situations like this terrible downturn. This Westminster Conservative government therefore chose a particular way to deal with this recession.
Their choice was to embark on a major programme of austerity by slashing budgets in an attempt to reduce the UK’s massive deficit. They particularly identified the welfare budget as a prime target and since then the onslaught has been unprecedented. In the meantime the other part of our community were to be looked after and protected. They chose, for example, to give tax cuts to millionaires and recently they have chosen to give tax breaks to married couples.
In order to secure public support for these policies a narrative also had to be contrived and engineered. You therefore became a ‘striver’ or a ‘skiver’ and the poor were to be effectively demonised. Life on benefits was also to be made us difficult as possible. If you are on disability benefits you are to be subjected to a variety of tests by Atos. If you have a spare room and in social housing, then that will be dealt with by the bedroom tax. If you’re working in low pay there is now the indignity of zero hours contracts. People with practically nothing were to be given even less and to secure these meagre ‘handouts’ tougher tests were to be introduced. Workfare, daily signing on, ‘re-education’ classes, etc will be a feature of any future Government support
This is what created the conditions that requires food banks. Many in our communities unable to cope with their new impoverished condition and having to rely on handouts. Unable to meet the demands of the new conditions imposed on them. What an indictment of our society. The thing is we didn’t vote for any of this and Scotland wouldn’t do it this way. Our strong sense of community would reject this Conservative approach.
Last week we found that a majority of Scots want welfare to be the responsibility of our own Government in Scotland. That is now possible, but it is only possible with independence. It is only with independence that we can take the responsibility of welfare in Scotland out of Tory hands and put it in the hands of our Parliament and design welfare to meet our aspirations and values.
I refuse to accept that this is the way that things should be. I believe in a better way of doing this and that this starts with us taking control and responsibility and designing the community we want.