Last week – in the middle of Challenge Poverty Week – 4.4 million households across the UK saw their incomes fall by £1,000 overnight with the removal of the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit.
The Prime Minister’s choice to take £20 per week out of the pockets of some of the least well-off families in our society – making it harder for many parents to provide essentials for their children – has been widely condemned by charities, politicians, comedians and campaigning footballers like Marcus Rashford.
Anti-poverty charities have also warned that the positive effect of the Scottish Government’s Child Payment, which has been described as “game-changing,” could be wiped out by this cut.
A decade of Tory welfare cuts, damaging policies and austerity means that the number of people living in poverty was already rising before the pandemic hit. And the grim reality is that this deliberate political choice will push struggling people over the brink.
Yet, we are still seeing see an attitude of indifference, even contempt, shown by UK government ministers towards those forced to choose between buying food for their families, heating their homes, or sending their kids on school trips.
✂️ The Tories' Universal Credit cut will plunge 800,000 people across Scotland and the UK into poverty.
📈 All while Brexit pushes up living costs.
— The SNP (@theSNP) October 1, 2021
While the Tories were making the morally wrong, and quite simply indefensible decision to cut the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, the Scottish Parliament was going in a different direction – ensuring that tens of thousands of unpaid carers will receive a double payment of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement this winter.
The difference between our Parliament in Edinburgh and the one at Westminster has never been more stark than during the COVID pandemic – but it’s not too late for the UK government to U-turn on their decision to cut Universal Credit support.
If they do not, it will make one thing clear – the Scottish Parliament simply does not have the powers to protect our citizens from Westminster cuts, and our best attempts to tackle child poverty in Scotland are being done with one hand tied behind our back.
Although our lives are starting to return to a bit of normality after 18 months of living through a global pandemic, this cut to support could not come at a worse time – with the cost of living rising, shortages on our supermarket shelves and the end of the furlough scheme, which has supported millions of people throughout the COVID pandemic.
As the winter period approaches, it’s also vital that we do all we can to put our NHS on the best footing – which is why the Health Secretary announced £300 million winter package for Scotland’s health and care sector last week.
🏥 @HumzaYousaf has just announced the biggest NHS winter boost in the history of devolution.
🧑🏼⚕️ 1,000 additional health and care support staff
🏠 Maximising capacity of care at home services
💷 Pay rise for social care staff
🩺 £28 million extra funding for primary care pic.twitter.com/U4AIEmU5d3
— The SNP (@theSNP) October 5, 2021
This significant additional investment will help people across the country get the care that they need as quickly as possible this winter.
It will also allow health boards to recruit 1,000 additional health and care support staff, increase numbers of those working in adult social care and ensure that those social care staff currently paid at the level of the real living wage will get a pay rise of over 5%.
I know that people will be worried about rising costs as we move into winter – but the Scottish Government is fully committed to doing all that we can to ensure no-one is left behind as we support our economy to recovery from the last 18 months.
On another very serious matter, over the last few weeks and months, a spotlight has been shone on the women across the UK who have bravely shared their stories of harassment, abuse, intimidation and violence perpetrated by men in our society in response to the sentencing of a police officer for the murder of Sarah Everard in London.
It is beyond belief that we are living in a culture, in 2021, where women are still being advised to prevent our own murders by sticking to busy, well lit places, or simply not leaving the house.
That culture – which was shown clearly last week by comments from a Police Commissioner in England who said that Sarah Everard “never should have submitted” to arrest – must change.
It’s long past time that we stopped expecting women to fix the consequences of misogyny. The problem is male behaviour towards women – that is what must be confronted head on and addressed. https://t.co/0uJrbRoBTM
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) October 7, 2021
It’s desperately clear that as a society, we need to shift our focus onto the cause of violence against women and girls. We need to tackle gender inequality and everyone – men especially – must confront the issue head-on and strive to do things differently.
The Scottish Government has, over the last few years, strengthened our laws to tackle sexual violence, threatening or abusive behaviour, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and domestic abuse.
However, the painful experiences of far too many women and girls in our country show that more needs to be done, and quickly.
I am absolutely clear that it’s time we stopped expecting women to change their behaviour to protect themselves from abusive men.
Although it shouldn’t have come to this, I hope that we are finally at a turning point when it comes to unacceptable, abusive or misogynistic behaviour – a point at which we stop expecting women to fix the problems we have not caused and instead put the full glare where it belongs – on those who behave in such an unacceptable way.
This article originally appeared in the Glasgow Evening Times.