24 October 2018
Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate :
Ending Austerity, Poverty and Inequality
There can be few more important topics for debate than the aim of ending austerity, poverty and inequality.
It is understandable that the debate has been passionate, mostly well informed and, occasionally, animated about poverty and deprivation.
Richard Leakey once said:
“Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.”
We do not need to look far to find evidence in Scotland for Richard Leakey’s powerful comments on the human condition.
As many speakers have mentioned, in each year between 2014 and 2017, 1 million people in Scotland were living in poverty; 8 per cent of people were in persistent poverty; the poverty rates for single adult women were higher than for single adult men, as Elaine Smith said; and there were particular worries about minority ethnic groups, with higher rates of poverty than among white ethnic groups.
Relative pensioner poverty is also a major issue.
Elaine Smith said that no one in 21st century Scotland should have to live in poverty and that it is simply unacceptable that one in five people and one in four children are forced to live in poverty.
Many speakers, including Alex Rowley, Pauline McNeill, Alex Cole-Hamilton and Brian Whittle, spoke about health inequalities—when the poor die younger than the affluent.
We know that poverty, social deprivation and inequality are significant contributors to poor health expectations and that the least well-off are most at risk.
In 1948, the national health service represented the advance of egalitarianism in our nation.
There was great hope for the new future that it heralded.
A news article in “The Guardian” at the time said that the health service was “designed to offset” as far as it could
“the inequalities that arise from the chances of life, to ensure that a ‘bad start’ or a stroke of bad luck”
and the “often crippling … economic penalty” of the past should be changed.
Inequality in health is fundamental to the debate.
The increases in life expectancy in the UK have stalled and, in the past 50 years, the chasm between the health outcomes of the rich and those of the poor has widened. [Interruption.]
For those who are listening, I say that it is an outrage that, in our 21st century society, individuals’ health expectations are intrinsically linked to their postcode.
However, I believe that health inequalities are just a symptom of the problem and that we have to look at the wider issues.
I apologise that I cannot mention all the speakers. In the brief time that is available, I will make a final few comments.
The greatest enemy that we face is not some distant foe, hiding in foreign fields.
It is here today and every day in Scotland, hiding in plain sight.
It is poverty, discrimination, inequality, ignorance and want.
Those are different creatures in size and scale from the five giants of the Beveridge report of 1942, but they have the same roots.
Too many people are living below the poverty line, the poor are dying younger than the affluent and we have a dysfunctional and inadequate system of welfare protection and a postcode lottery of healthcare.
The root cause is a fundamental inequality of power, rights and wealth in society.
We will slay the five giants only when we win the battle against austerity and the war against inequality.
All that we need is
“the will to do and the soul to dare.”