It’s official. Six years of a New Labour government and four years of the Scottish Parliament has made little or no difference to the lives of millions of working class people in Scotland.
This is according to the recent report by the New Policy Institute entitled "Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland (2002)".
Low income in Scotland increased from 1997 to 2001 from 21.5% of the populatioin to 23.5%. That’s 1.2 million people and 310,000 children living on less than 60% of avaerage incomes.
This won’t come as much of a surprise to people at the sharp end of New Labour’s policies. One of the features of the report is the increasing numbers of "working poor" – we now account for 41% of the low income working age households.
This is despite the introduction of the derisory £4.20 min wage, which they claimed would eradicate poverty.
One of New Labour’s key pledges has been to abolish child poverty in 20 years and indeed to reduce it by 25% by 2004 – 05. They are already falling way short of this target; in fact there has been no reduction.
Of course the withering away of pension rights will ensure that millions of people will be condemned to a life of poverty from the cradle to the grave.
The report also highlights the enormous pressure that’s inflicted on people living in poverty, pointing out that low income can mean you pay more for essential services.
If you can’t get a bank account because you’re on benefit, you can end up paying more for electricity, gas and phone. Because of lack of decent housing you can end up paying more in fuel bills.
It goes on to expose the extent to which poverty kills. The mortality rate among the 10% most deprived areas is twice as high as the least deprived 50%, while for stomach cancer, lung cancer and heart disease its 30% above average.
Of course the lack of investment in the NHS means that working class people are not getting treated as quickly as is needed.
The only way to abolish poverty across the board is not by neat slogans and spin. It requires the introduction of a decent living wage, which guarantees a minimum income of £320 a week and introducing decent benefits.
A massive increase in public spending into health, housing, education, childcare, leisure and community facilities.
This can only be achieved on the basis of socialism which would ensure that society and the economy would be run to meet the needs of all not the profits of a few.
This article is from the February issue of the International Socialist, monthly paper of the International Socialists, the CWI’s section in Scotland.
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