TEXT – Motion: S4M-15290 Alex Rowley: Achieving Social and Economic Success for all of Scotland—That the Parliament believes that current levels of poverty and inequality are of great concern and commits to using the full powers at its disposal to achieve the social and economic success that all of Scotland needs.
Presiding officer, in the weeks and months ahead in the lead up to the Scottish General Election in May I hope that we can in Scotland have a big debate about the most pressing challenges and issues that face Scotland moving forward.
Today I have tabled a motion that speaks about social and economic success for all of Scotland. My desire, my ambition throughout my life has been to live in a society where there is no longer the haves and the have not’s but instead a society where everyone no matter what family they are born into or what circumstances they are born into, they have an equal chance to achieve their full potential. A society where if you are unable to work and provide for yourself there is a social security system to support you with a minimum income and a society where if you are able to work you will work and you will earn a fair pay and be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.
Now I actually don’t think that is an awful lot to ask for and yet in Scotland in 2016 we are far removed from that kind of society and despite what the Tories say in here today it is actually getting worse.
And that is why we need a more open and honest debate about the state we are in. What needs to be done to bring about a more fair, more just and more equal Scotland.
I don’t have any objection with what Alex Neil has tabled as an amendment on behalf of the government for todays debate, indeed I remain proud that it was Labour in Fife that brought about the free bus pass for pensioners first of anywhere in the united Kingdom and it was then a Fifer, a Labour chancellor that rolled that policy out across the UK. It was also Labour in Fife that first brought about free nursery education for three and four year olds which is also a massive tool for tackling poverty and which the Scottish government now recognises.
So whilst not disagreeing with the measures outlined by the government some brought about by the SNP and some by Labour I would have to say on their own these measures are not going to create that fairer society that we want. Indeed, despite these measures being in place things are for many families particularly for families on lower fixed incomes, getting worse.
And I would say today that there is a very legitimate debate to be had about how we target resources to reach those in the greatest need.
The government’s own poverty Tzar has flagged up issues around universalism and I would hope moving forward in Scotland we can debate such matters in a more open, honest and transparent way.
But for now let me give you the example of the Cottage family Centre in Kirkcaldy.
Five years ago at Christmas the Cottage provided Christmas parcels for one hundred children – in 2014 it was 500 but by this Christmas, it had risen to 780 children.
So nearly eight times as many children as five years ago needing help at Christmas and in contrast to five years ago when the need was for the extras, for toys for kids that families could not afford this year the urgent need was for the basics- the food that families could not afford to put on the table.
So the suggestion by the Tories in their amendment today that levels of poverty are at a historic low is simply not the case.
And whilst I am on the subject of the Tories the proposal put forward by the Prime Minister yesterday that families should be encouraged to save money in a bid to tackle poverty shows just how out of touch these people are with real life.
As the Trussell Trust said; “The UK government are trying to find ways of eating into the national debt, while many people are just trying to find ways to eat”.
Last night I was at the Food Bank in Cowdenbeath run by Dunfermline Trussell Trust. I met the volunteers to thank them for the work they do to help others and heard from them first hand examples of people who are accessing emergency food parcels.
I say to you today it cannot be right and it is not right that in 2016 we have men, women and children reliant on charity to feed themselves. The first time in over half a century that we have absolute poverty in communities up and down the country.
We must use the benefits system to help and support people, not to drive them into desperation, you cannot starve people back to work you must support people.
In the Dunfermline area which includes food banks in my constituency in Cowdenbeath, Crosshill, Inverkeithing and Rosyth over 10,000 people have been supported with emergency food parcels in the last three years.
The most common reasons that people need to turn to emergency food parcels according the Trussell trust is benefit sanctions and welfare reform.
We need a social security system based on respect for those it aims to help treating people with dignity and with a focus on increasing peoples opportunities and choices.
I am always reminded that throughout the history of the Labour movement, the Jarrow marches, the upper Clyde sit ins, the miners strike of the 1980s, these people they did not march for benefits they marched for jobs and today our ambition must be to use all powers at our disposal to support people get the skills and the opportunity to get the jobs.
So let us all agree today that full employment must be our goal. For the key issue is jobs good jobs, jobs for young people, jobs for the long term unemployed, jobs that are quality jobs, jobs that will last, jobs that we can build our future around.
And that is why we need to set out a strategy for the jobs we need, the education and training we need, the industrial investment we need, for the hope in the future that we urgently need – to make for a better Scotland where having a decent paid good job is the norm for all of Scotland and all of Scotland’s people.
And that is the second point from last night; it is that people in work are also accessing food banks.
60 per cent of Scottish children in poverty have a parent in work.
So today let us agree, the Living wage across all of Scotland is something we will work toward achieving in the next five years.
Labour is committed to funding the living wage across the care sector, we are committed to using the procurement process to expand the living wage for all public sector contracts and we will work with employers, with trade unions to make this happen. Action to put an end to poverty pay once and for all, that is what is needed in this country.
And we should take that action further – Scotland’s jobs strategy must be driven by a partnership of government, of employers and with trade unions working alongside each other to grow a dynamic economy. We need an industrial strategy for Scotland, we need the conditions and support put in place for new business start ups and the support to grow existing businesses all of which must be the backbone of the Scottish economy. So our policy priority has to be to develop a dynamic approach to growing Scotland’s economy and most of all we need a Scotland of high skills, good education where no one, no one is left behind.
It is widely acknowledged we have a housing crisis in this country and yet we are not building the houses for rent and to buy in the numbers that are needed. But to compound that if we were building the houses that we need to be building, we would find there is a skills shortage in the construction sector.
A shortage of brickies, plasterers, sparkies, joiners and plumbers.
We need a national house build strategy for Scotland. New Council houses for rent sitting alongside a drive for new build to buy. This will not happen by itself and needs political leadership and drive nationally alongside strategic planning and leadership at a regional level across Scotland.
I suggest to you we need this national house build strategy developed and put in place now as well as the skills strategy sitting along side it giving young people here in this country the apprenticeships and the skills that will set them up for life and tackle our housing crisis.
And lets be clear in this chamber we do have a Housing crisis. We can and should address it now as the gap between housing need and supply is bad for people and bad for our economy. It drives up prices and inflates rents in the private sector.
- There were 150,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists across Scotland as at 31st March this year.
- There are over 10,000 households in temporary accommodation.
- Every 18 minutes a household in Scotland is assessed as homeless. That is 81 a day.
- Over 1 in 10 households in Scotland are affected by dampness or condensation (or both).
- 940,000 households are in fuel poverty in Scotland – 39% of all households.
- 75,000 households are overcrowded in Scotland.
- Homeless children in temporary accommodation missed an average of 55 school days, equivalent to a quarter of the school year.
- Over the last 10 years, the number living in the private rented sector has doubled to 368,000.
- The number of households in poverty in the private rented sector has also doubled in the last decade to 120,000.
I suggest that these statistics should galvanise government and society into action. That is why today I am calling for a national housing strategy to address these issues.
But there are also the economic benefits of action. 15,562 new homes were built in Scotland in 2014 which created £3.2 billion Gross Value Added to the economy, supported 63,260 jobs in the industry including 380 apprenticeships, 200 graduates and over 1,000 16–24 year olds employed.
If we can increase the supply to pre-recession levels of 25,000 homes per year, this would generate a £1.9 billion increase in economic output with 38,000 extra jobs, £84 million more tax paid nationally and over £50 million investment in local infrastructure.
As they say where I come from it is a no brainer.
I do not believe any of this is rocket science it just needs the political will, the determination and the drive to make it happen.
So lets move beyond the rhetoric of a fairer more just Scotland and agree what needs to be done to achieve that fairer more just Scotland and get on with doing it.
Surely that is the role of this Parliament, surely that is the role of government.