In July, Chancellor George Osborne published his emergency Budget. Despite a warning from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that reductions in welfare would affect 3.7million low-income families, potentially plunging 300,000 people into poverty, the Chancellor cut tax credits and housing benefit and lowered the welfare cap.
The announcements were met with anger by many of us working with and on behalf of children and families in Scotland. These changes will adversely impact some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The cuts will fall heaviest on the working poor and families with children.
Among the Conservatives' pre-election promises was the eradication of child poverty by 2020. But after the poll the Government announced plans to change the definition of child poverty. According to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the way child poverty is measured will no longer be based on the household income. Instead the measurement will consider 'root causes', such as worklessness and educational success.
Addressing the issues that create and shape poverty is crucial. But simply changing the goalposts, and abolishing legal targets, will not make poverty go away. In many instances it will exacerbate the problem.
In Scotland, it has been suggested that this change in definition will impact as many as 120,000 families. No longer classed as in poverty, they will lose out on the benefits that have already come under attack. Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Alex Neil, has called for more focus on tackling the root causes of poverty, not just changing how it is measured.
Worryingly, figures from the Department of Work and Pensions suggest that two thirds of children who are living in poverty belong to families where someone in the household works. This shoots down the stereotype that those relying on benefits do so simply because they are too lazy to work. And it raises a different issue: even with employment, there are still families who are living below the poverty line. If we truly want a fairer and more equal society, this must be addressed.
The support for a living wage, not just a minimum wage, is certainly a start. It represents a commitment to ensuring that those in employment reap the benefits. But the decision to apply this only to workers aged 25 and over is baffling. Are our under-25s not worthy of the same rate of pay as everyone else? Taking out the casual age discrimination, the living wage on its own is not enough.
For the 350,000 families in Scotland that rely on benefits, such as tax credits, to 'top up' their wages, the cuts announced by the Chancellor will have a devastating effect. Tax credits are the primary and most effective means of redistributing wealth to the families who need it most, assisting those families who, even in full time employment, on the national minimum wage, still fall short of the amount required to provide a minimum standard of living.
We are not talking about families going on expensive holidays, or buying the latest gadgets. We are simply talking about the basics - food on the table, clothes on your back and heat in the home.
And what of those who have no home? The Chancellor has removed housing benefit for 18-21 year olds, meaning that those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of having no home but who fall into this age bracket will receive no state help.
Homelessness is an unfortunate circumstance, not a choice. Given that those in this age bracket who are most at risk of homelessness are already some of our most vulnerable citizens - young people leaving care, victims of violence at home, or teenage runaways - these cuts will only force more into the shadows and more into despair.
Poverty is the darkest shadow cast upon our nation. We need politicians at all levels to act with compassion and understanding. We need them to ensure that tough financial decisions and cuts do not fall heaviest on the working poor, families and innocent children.
This is not just a political obligation, it's a moral one.Suggest a correction