Scotsman Comment: Poverty indicates failure of political leadership

Half a million people are in
Half a million people are in "very deep poverty" in Scotland with statistics showing women and ethnic minorities are disproportionately at risk, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

The impact of housing costs is singled out as a major contributory factor, dragging 110,000 people in working families into the category. For these Scots, their income should be “enough to escape poverty” but their “excessive outgoings” mean they are unable to do so.

The charity said the Scottish Child Payment benefit administered from Holyrood would help decrease child poverty but that without “significant longer term actions” it is difficult to see how the Scottish Government’s own targets can be met. In any case, the benefit is a sticking plaster that does not address the underlying causes of poverty.

Chris Birt, the JRF associate director for Scotland, gave the following bleak assessment: “Decision-makers are sleepwalking towards another winter that promises to be crushing for households across Scotland.”

Poverty is a key indicator of a nation’s health. In a healthy, prosperous society, poverty levels decline. In Scotland, the opposite appears to be the case. Another key indicator is life expectancy. Last week it emerged that life expectancy had fallen in Scotland for a third period in a row .

These are not only indicators of the nation’s health. They are also indicators of a failure of government. Who has presided over this state of affairs? This is a question voters will ask as they go to the polls.

That day will come sooner for the citizens of Rutherglen and Hamilton West than it will for the rest of us. They should bear in mind when they cast their votes that we have had the same parties in charge at Westminster for 13 years and at Holyrood for 16 years.

If they do so then perhaps the outcome of Thursday’s by-election will provide a much-needed wake-up call our long-standing – and failing – political leaders.