In 2018, the UN Poverty Rapporteur Philip Alston issued a damning report on the UK. Then, a fifth of the population was living in poverty and 1.5 million were unable to afford basic essentials. Since then, the combined impacts of Brexit and Covid have significantly worsened the picture. Rocketing energy bills, soaring food prices and regressive tax increases have forced millions more into poverty. Alston warned that the impacts of Brexit, which Scotland soundly rejected, would hit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged the hardest, and he’s been proven right.
Alston identified the root cause of the misery as a deliberate shift, since 2010, in the underlying values shaping UK government policy. “Compassion for those who are suffering, has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.”
A recent example of this approach was provided by food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe. She demolished the UK government’s claim of a 5% cost of living increase, showing that for those who have long relied on the cheapest supermarket staples to survive such as pasta, rice, baked beans, canned spaghetti and bread, prices have risen by 141%, 344%, 45%, 169% and 29%, respectively. In addition, she points out that many products are smaller but priced the same, a practice known as ‘shrinkflation.’ Yet a particular upmarket supermarket price for a ready-meal hasn’t changed since 2011, and if subject to the same inflation rate as rice, would cost £26 instead of the current £7.50. We are not, as David Cameron claimed, ‘all in this together.’
Alston acknowledged the Scottish Government’s frantic efforts to mitigate the worst aspects of UK austerity policy. However, as helpful as they are, the Scottish Child Payment, free school meals and Best Start Foods cards can only scratch the surface of what’s needed to build a more equal and fair society.
Creating a nation that cares for the wellbeing of all its citizens will only happen once we reclaim our independence.