I understand the impact of Tory austerity – because I’ve lived it

We often hear about the choice between heating and eating – but all too often, it’s easy to forget the true impact of that choice, not just on ourselves but on our children.

For those at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis, it can feel like nobody can truly represent them because they can’t ever understand what it’s like to barely get by.

I understand the impact of those choices because I’ve lived it.

Growing up, I understood first hand what it’s like to wake up with no heating, to not have a meal at the end of the night, to count every single penny, and provide care for a family member while coping with the loss of a parent.

It’s hard being a young person and seeing others having so much, going on holidays, enjoying different activities and doing all these great things, while you’re not able to.

I lived just down the road from the school in one of the few patches of social housing in my village. I remember people making fun of the mess in the windows walking home from school one day which really hit me and made me feel very small.

In school, you had to go up to the office and stand in a queue for a dinner ticket – and it was very obvious that the 10 people there were the poor kids.

With the passing of my father when I was a toddler and my mum experiencing poor mental health, there were periods of time where I had to care for her. I do feel the system was against her and there was little support available at that time so I was often in sole responsibility for running the house, shopping, sorting money out, making dinners, getting myself to school, and all those kinds of things.

When I left home at a pretty young age, I always said that I wanted a better life for my children.

My partner and I both said that we didn’t want to start a family until we had security and could make sure that they were going to have a better life than we did.

I don’t want any child experiencing some of the things that I did growing up.

I don’t want any child waking up hungry, or feeling that they have less than their peers.

Being an MSP is not something that I ever anticipated I would do, and I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I walk into the Scottish Parliament.

Growing up, people from my kind of background rarely entered into politics so it wasn’t something that was even on my radar. However, experiencing some of the things that I did when I was younger, you have to grow up extremely fast and it gives you more of an understanding of some of the inequalities faced by so many.

Putting cash in people’s pockets is really important because, especially with the multiple crises currently imposed on us by the Tory government, people need money and there’s no two ways about that.
Natalie Don MSP
Renfrewshire North and West

Becoming the convener of Holyrood’s social justice committee has been really important for me because I think I can draw on that past experience.As elected representatives, we have a duty to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland, especially the most vulnerable in our society.

Putting cash in people’s pockets is really important because, especially with the multiple crises currently imposed on us by the Tory government, people need money and there’s no two ways about that.

But while this is crucial in the here and now, we also have to deliver on our national mission of tackling poverty, especially child poverty and I don’t believe we will ever truly tackle this until everyone has a good standard of living. Alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health, so many of these issues stem from poverty and improving everyone’s quality of life will only help us eradicate this.

We’ve taken some bold steps, with the limited powers and resources under devolution.

Properly tackling poverty will also require more than additional funding and policy changes, it requires the government to take a whole new approach to social security – one that fundamentally treats people with dignity, trust and respect.

These are the principles upon which Scotland’s new social security system was founded, and it’s already delivering 12 benefits – many of which are unique to Scotland.

However, while the Scottish Parliament offers help to support the most vulnerable in our society, the grasping hand of Westminster often comes to take money away from them.

Take the “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment, which we have increased by 150% in the space of a year, and which now provides £25-per-week for each eligible child in Scotland.

Shortly after we introduced this unique anti-poverty measure, the UK government slashed Universal Credit by £20 per week.

The fact is, under Westminster control, Scotland operates with one hand tied behind its back and we will never be a priority for the UK Government.

I have grown up and lived through both Labour and Tory Governments, they have had their chance to set a better course but have only made things worse with more people living in poverty now than ever before. The recent catastrophic choices of the Tories should be the final straw.

A lot of the powers we need to truly tackle poverty lie in the hands of Westminster governments, and when we consistently press for these powers to be devolved, our requests simply get ignored.

Unlike most governments around the world, Scotland cannot borrow money to fund vital public services, nor can we overspend on our fixed budget.

There is a permanent solution to those problems that will empower us to tackle poverty and deliver a fairer society – and that is by becoming an independent country, with the full suite of powers available to other countries, like our neighbours Denmark and Ireland.

Why shouldn’t Scotland have those powers to make people’s lives better?

When Scotland chooses independence, we will be able to make decisions that affect the people of Scotland, right here in Scotland. We can build a fairer, greener country and truly empower the people who live here – instead of putting up with the chaos and damage of Westminster governments.

Our opponents will argue that now is not the time but there has never been a better time. Successive UK Governments have failed to protect people in this country and now the Tories are trying to convince people that the very mess they have helped to create is a reason that we should cling to this doomed Union. It is not on.

Scotland must have the choice, but it’s up to all of us to get out there, convince those yet undecided, and help win that better future.