Thank you gala committees
I want to begin this column by thanking all the people who work all year round to make the local galas and community events happen at this time of year. Such events are great for community spirit and from what I have observed also good for the local economy as thousands of people come into the town and village centres to celebrate their community. My Dad has been involved with the Kelty gala for over 60 years so I know the amount of time and effort that committee members put in and over this last few weeks it has been great to see that these events continue and indeed are getting stronger in so many communities in central and west Fife.
Over the summer months I want to highlight the need for a strategy in Scotland for full employment giving everyone who can work the opportunity to work. But I also want to make the case for work to pay and the benefits that come from having a living wage.
For many, even being in work is not a safeguard against poverty. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed of the 920,000 people living in poverty in Scotland on average in the three years up to 2012/13, 41 per cent were working-age adults or children from working families. The report highlighted the scale of low pay in Scotland – 600,000 were paid below the Living Wage in 2013/14; 250,000 men and 350,000 women. These numbers represent 23 per cent of male employees, 31 per cent of female employees and 27 per cent of employees overall.
In Scotland today underemployment is also a real issue with substantial numbers of Scots who are in work but who would prefer to work more hours than they do. Over 215,000 (216,500) people in Scotland in 2014 were deemed ‘underemployed’, and although the rate slightly decreased from the previous year it still effected 8.6% of the workforce.
And although the Scottish Government hold no official records on the numbers of people employed on zero-hour contracts, it is estimated that there are currently 80,000 workers in Scotland suffering these insecure working conditions.
It is vital that we continue to focus on the issue of in-work poverty, alongside tackling unemployment and the associated poverty. Tax credits – now under threat from a Tory Government committed to ending them – are key to fighting in-work and child poverty.
Tax credits, introduced by Gordon Brown when Chancellor of the Exchequer, played a major part in one of the biggest improvements in poverty alleviation seen in Britain since the war. Today in Scotland, 350,000 people received tax credits, 71 per cent of whom – 250,000 – are in work. So make no mistake, the majority of those who receive tax credits are on low paid work. When the financial crash came, tax credits were what enabled families to get by, and now they persist at a time when the working poor outnumber, for the first time, those out of work who are living in poverty.
Earlier this month, David Cameron launched an attack on tax credits. He did this to meet his commitment to make £12 billion in welfare cuts. Tax credits cost the Government around £30 billion, accounting for 14.3% of welfare spending. One likely scenario is that the Tories will choose to cut back tax credit, in real terms, to 2003 levels. This would have a huge impact on the family budgets of the working poor. In Fife 18,600 families receive tax credits and this is one reason why the welfare reforms being proposed are simply wrong and will drive up in-work poverty.