This is the day of the first phase budget debate. For over a year – since before the last budget – we have called on the Scottish Government to make more money available to mitigate the brutal welfare cuts. We presented a petition to the petitions committee, and we backed up our case with detailed arguments and evidence.
We have always been very clear that the cuts are the product of Westminster austerity, and we have acknowledged the significant help the Scottish Government already gives – but that doesn’t mean that they should not help further. If they abandon the poorest members of our society to destitution, they have no right to our respect.
We know that Scottish powers are limited, and we are ready to believe that if Scotland had control over welfare, the situation would be much improved; but Scotland does have the power to provide more help where it is most needed, and the power to raise money through more progressive taxation to pay for this without making cuts elsewhere. The Scottish Government has shown that they are prepared to set different tax rates from the rest of the UK, but so far, the differences have been very small, and earlier promises to replace Council tax with a fairer system have been left to gather dust.
(We can also see the hypocrisy of Scottish Labour now demanding that the Scottish Government pay a bit more to mitigate the cuts when it was Labour that ensured that welfare was not devolved; but this should not be a reason to reject further mitigation and play politics with people’s lives.)
We are far from alone in our call for further help. A coalition of third sector organisations has been campaigning hard for an increase in child benefit as the best way to reduce further child poverty. The Scottish Government’s own Social Security Committee recommended an increase in the Scottish Welfare fund as Universal Credit piles on the pressure, and desperate homeless families have demanded that the funding for Discretionary Housing Payments is increased to make up for the financial devastation brought on by the Benefit Cap. If the Scottish Government is serious in claiming to treat people with ‘dignity, fairness and respect’, it must respond to these calls.
Every time we raise these issues we are met with knee-jerk responses defending the SNP and suggesting that because the cuts originate in Westminster it is not the Scottish Government’s job to take action. Last time we even had someone tell us that we shouldn’t demand more off their 48,000 a year salary. If anyone – including MSPs – is tempted to make such arguments, perhaps they should first imagine themselves saying this to one of the 465 Scottish households a day who are only kept afloat thanks to a Trussel Trust food parcel.
Please join us outside the Parliament at 1.