Humza Yousaf has been told that people struggling on low incomes in Scotland can no longer to wait for bold action to challenge the injustice of poverty.
Some 150 charities, trade unions, campaign groups, and community organisations have come together to sign a letter calling on the First Minister to put tackling poverty at the heart of his next Programme for Government.
The letter was drafted by the Poverty Alliance – Scotland’s anti-poverty movement.
In the letter, acting director David Reilly tells Humza Yousaf: “All of our organisations strongly welcome the development of key strategies designed to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland.
“While this leadership is extremely important… this has not yet led to a meaningful reduction in overall poverty rates in Scotland.
“On your election to First Minister, you stated that the defining mission of your leadership should be to reduce, if not eradicate, the injustice of poverty. We know that people living in poverty cannot wait, and the time for action is now.
“Working together to realise these policy asks will help to ensure that poverty is a thing of the past, providing a lifeline to families who are struggling to stay afloat. We urge you to seize the opportunity to put action to tackle poverty at the heart of the forthcoming Programme for Government.”
The Programme for Government is expected to be published shortly after the Scottish Parliament returns from its summer recess. It will set out proposed Bills and government priorities for the year ahead.
The organisations are calling for it to include: a boost to people’s incomes through a Minimum Income Guarantee; an expansion of funded childcare; an increase in the Scottish Child Payment; a review of the adequacy of support provided to disabled people; and a pause in pursuing people who can’t pay unaffordable debts to councils and other public sector bodies.
It also asks for action to fund new social homes for rent, more action to prevent homelessness, and support for warm homes.
Other measures include:
• expanding concessionary bus travel to under 25s, people in receipt of low-income and disability benefits, unpaid carers, and asylum seekers
• boosting the Scottish Welfare Fund, to ensure people can afford good quality, healthy and sustainable food
• supporting community food initiatives
strengthening support for Scotland’s voluntary and community groups who are often at the frontline of action to tackle poverty
Emma Jackson, National Director Scotland of Christians Against Poverty, said:
“People want a just and compassionate Scotland where everyone has the opportunity to flourish and it’s possible for us to achieve this. We need our government to take bold, urgent action, so that every household has sufficient income to live a decent, dignified, healthy, and financially secure life.”
“This includes strengthening the public services that we all rely on, but which are a lifeline for people on the lowest incomes.”
Marie Ward, CEO of the Cranhill Development Trust in the north east of Glasgow, said: “We see first-hand the way that living on low incomes locks people in and restricts their life chances, denying them the freedom and rights that every one of us is entitled to.
“Our work shows that when people get the right financial and social support, they’re more free to access the opportunities that others enjoy, and build a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.
“We need politicians to remember to support that work, and to make sure that every household has access to the incomes they need to live a decent life.”
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “In the short-term, the First Minister must use Scotland’s existing tax levers to fairly raise the extra revenue needed to invest in the public services and social security entitlement which are so vital to tackling poverty, particularly during this cost of living crisis.
“But this can only be the start – now is the time to move beyond minor tax tweaks and kick-start long overdue tax reform – both nationally and locally – to invest in critical national priorities. The First Minister has acknowledged that Scotland is a wealthy country, but that this wealth is not distributed evenly. He must now act to change that.”
The polices recommended in the letter were drawn up by a working group of Poverty Alliance members, and will also form the basis of campaigning during this year’s #ChallengePoverty Week, taking place from 2 – 8 October.
To find out more about the Poverty Alliance and their Challenge Poverty Week 2023 campaign, visit their website at povertyalliance.org/cpw.