UK Food Banks

The UK has a problem. Despite its wealth, and since 2008, the number of people using food banks to receive emergency food rations has increased from around 26,000 to over 900,000.

The UK is the world’s six [sic] largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below our official poverty line. Oxfam

In Scotland alone, 2013 – 2014’s food bank figure is 71,428, over 22000 of which are children. The forecast is bleak. In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that the child poverty rate in Scotland will increase to 22.7 per cent by 2020, adding another 50,000 children to the living-below-the-poverty-line statistic.

Inside Maryhill Food Bank

Food banks are not new, but in the UK, they were virtually unknown prior to the election of the current Westminster government. Since the election, this government has worked to reform the welfare system, at some considerable cost to the taxpayer. Latest estimates are that the changes will cost £2.4bn, although you can write off £120m of that, or maybe £140m, or is it £200m? No, it’s £425m.

Changes to the welfare system, including the move from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, the “bedroom tax”, and the introduction of a benefit cap, have adversely affected the lives of many old, poor, and disabled people throughout the UK. Additionally, the significant number of women who perform carer roles has meant that they too are a victim of any welfare changes.

With a continuous supply of misinformation about scroungers and dole cheats, it becomes easy to see how this culture is able to thrive. Recent surveys have suggested that the British public think claimants “lie about their circumstances in order to obtain higher welfare benefits or deliberately refuse to take work where suitable jobs are available”.

No wonder so many people think their own families are net losers from the tax and spend system: they believe a substantial chunk of their rising tax bill is being used to support people who are wrongly pocketing large amounts of welfare cash. Prospect, A Quiet Revolution

In truth, the figure the Department for Work & Pensions supplies as being attributable to “fraud and error” (note that it doesn’t declare whose) is “almost 3%“. A very small amount, indeed.

Scotland has very different needs from its southern neighbours. Its population is more geographically displaced; Scottish people die younger; it’s colder; cancer rates are higher; and there is lower growth in the working age population.

Just because you have a hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail. With independence, it will be for the Scottish Parliament and future Scottish governments to determine the future direction of the welfare system in Scotland.

When the present welfare reforms have come into full effect they will take more than £1.6bn a year out of the Scottish economy. The Impact of Welfare Reform on Scotland

The Scottish Government’s white paper, Scotland’s Future states its aims in Chapter 4 – Health, Wellbeing and Social Protection.

Independence will provide the opportunity to create a fairer, more equal society, built around the needs of citizens.

“Independence will provide the opportunity”, is the key phrase. Scotland is not being handed anything on a plate. However, the Westminster alternative would not help Scotland move towards a position where it can …

[build] a welfare system, based on clear principles and values that: supports people who work; provides support for people who cannot work; and fosters a climate of social solidarity

The Welfare section of the most recent British Social Attitudes survey paints a pretty grim picture of the public’s views on welfare and seems to be in direct conflict with those aims outlined in Scotland’s Future, and on a downward trend.

In 2001 43% thought that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes, compared to 32% in 2007 and 28% now.

Not only do we have a Conservative / Liberal Democrats government who are doing all they can to demonise the poor, and a shadow cabinet who plan to continue down the same path, but the cuts are set to continue. Voting No guarantees more punishment for those most in need.

This is not about the current government and how Scotland hates Cameron and Clegg, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there is currently no Westminster solution to specific Scottish welfare needs. A vote against independence is a vote for the political framework which got us into this situation.

Scotland’s future is not guaranteed, whichever the result this week. But the trends are clear; and there are distinct health and social benefits to voting Yes to Scottish independence.

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