The big news in Parliament this week was, of course, the Budget and the Chancellor’s latest attack on the poor and the vulnerable. In his continuing obsession with austerity, George Osbourne has once again cut Employment Support Allowance (ESA) by a further £30 and also attempted changed eligibility to Personal Independence Payments (PIP). This would reduce support to disabled people in Scotland to the tune of £130 million, affecting 40,000 disabled people. Given the backlash across the country since, however, including the resignation of their own Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who is responsible for Welfare, it appears that they will revise their plans. Whilst this may appear good news on the surface, the devil will be in the detail, as the money the proposed to save by doing this will still need to be found somewhere. So, it may be that we see a similar story play out as with Tax Credits, where the UK Government claimed to have reversed their proposed changes in the face of huge opposition, but, in fact, they have merely been delayed. Those of us who have been arguing against these cuts from day one will not allow such backpedaling by the Tories to disguise what has effectively amounted to the wholesale destruction of the Welfare system since they came to power in 2011, a system upon which so many genuinely depend. What is worse is, whilst taking from those who can least afford it, they have systematically given more to those at the other end of the economic scale though increases in the upper tax and capital gains limits. It is nothing short of cruel.
Thankfully, the Scottish Parliament has secured new powers over Welfare, which will include disability benefits, and the First Minister has committed to using to build a welfare system based on dignity and respect, if her SNP Government is re-elected in May’s elections. This will help protect some of the most vulnerable from the worst of these cuts but it is nonetheless shameful that we have a Government in London who believe this is an appropriate way to treat people in need.
The Chancellor also announced the creation of a ‘sugar tax’ to try and tackle rising obesity levels, particularly amongst children. The proposal is a welcome step towards reducing the amount of sugar in our diets but, if the overall objective is to be achieved, it must form part of a wider plan to tackle obesity. The Scottish Government is already working in this regard by tackling other, related issues such as the promotion of unhealthy foods and portion sizes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic answer but if we don’t act now thousands more of us will develop obesity related conditions and our health service will struggle to cope in the future.
On the home front, I would like to congratulate local youth worker, Elaine Baxter, who has won the Young Person’s Education Champion of the Year at the National Youth Work Awards 2016. Elaine is a Community Development Worker at Greenwood Academy and supports young people to learn new skills and build up their confidence with activities and volunteering outwith the classroom. She also supports vulnerable youngsters struggling at school, encouraging them to get involved in employability programmes and a range of creative and sporting activities. To win a national award like this is a great achievement and a huge well done goes out to Elaine – keep up the good work!