FOOD POVERTY IS our lead story in Source, following yesterday’s statements from Marcus Rashford and others over the paltry parcels handed to free school meal entitled children. “FSM Hampers are currently distributed to provide 10 lunch meals per child across 2 week,” the footballer posted. “This concerns me firstly as I relied on breakfast club, FSM and after-school clubs. Is 1 meal a day from Mon-Fri sufficient for children most vulnerable?”
To add to this message, statistics today from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) further expose the scale of poverty in the UK. They show that, despite interventions such as the furlough scheme, lockdowns are helping push many families “to the brink”. Although poverty in Scotland is marginally better than other areas of the UK, it is growing. 19.2 percent of our country now fall into this grim category, compared to 17.8 percent a decade ago.
Matters will only deteriorate if the UK Government, as planned, withdraws schemes cushioning the blow of the coronavirus. Figures for Scotland already show a spike Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance has soared from 111,280 in November, 2019 to 210,750 in November, 2020. Even before considering those on furlough, 6 percent of working age Scots rely on benefits.
And this may underestimate the challenges. Since last March, the capitalist economy has been kept alive on life support, but there are no guarantees of how long government support can or will continue. Simply preventing collapse and restoring a semblance of normality is going to require faster, deeper interventions.
Yet some of us dreamers also expect governments to achieve the modest goals of economic and social progress. And any prospect of that seems a distant historical memory. Before the coronavirus was 2008 and austerity: we have normalised going backwards.
In a sense, the whole global system is at fault. There is a danger in romanticising “Europe” and ignoring the vast discontents and the breakdown of order in most European countries. The same would apply to virtually anywhere else.
Then again, Britain carries historical baggage that adds to its dysfunctions. There’s the background of Thatcherism which ripped the heart out of industrial Britain and imposed unemployment that carries lasting scars today. The New Labour era of extraordinary complacency and a City of London boom that disempowered working class communities and regional Britain. Then the cataclysm of austerity, now intellectually discredited, but back then a cross-party Westminster consensus parroted by pompous, PPE-trained politicians.
Inevitably, these figures will be interpreted through a constitutional lens. Of course, crucial controls over welfare and the labour market are wholly or partly reserved to Westminster. Equally, I don’t buy the argument that the Scottish Government has maximised all the powers of devolution.
Then again, I don’t buy the fanciful unionist schemes either. And if you want to hold our Holyrood leaders to account, political control is a major part of the answer. The layers of devolved power leave a trial of confusion about who is liable for these grim statistics. One function of a Scottish state founded in popular sovereign, above all, would be to hold leaders in Edinburgh culpable for regression and accountable for restoring that modest aim of progress.