THE society we rebuild must be fairer and more equal than what came before. Tackling poverty and inequality must be at the heart of our vision for Scotland.

The Downing Street Christmas party scandal isn’t going away. The Prime Minister has tried to blame everyone else, but it’s been getting worse with every passing day.

It’s not just the usual story of there being one rule for them and one for the rest of us. It’s because of the big sacrifices that so many of us have made, and the people we know who have done the same. All across the country there are people who have missed weddings, funerals and births. There are people who spent Christmas Day alone on Zoom calls rather than seeing loved ones and attending drunken (or sober) parties.

The last 20 months have been difficult for everyone. They have stretched our mental and physical health and made life a lot harder. According to the Legatum Institute think tank 700,000 people across the UK have been plunged into poverty because of the pandemic, including 120,000 children. The impact has been exacerbated by rising inflation and energy costs, as well as the regressive national insurance hike and Westminster’s callous decision to cut Universal Credit.

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Almost every day I hear from people who are feeling stretched; young families who are locked in the grip of poverty, elderly people who have worked all their lives and are struggling to heat their homes, refugees who are held back by cruel anti-migrant legislation, people earning below the real living wage and people who are stuck in a cycle of exploitative rents and unstable accommodation. 

Poverty is multifaceted, and disproportionately hurts people from marginalised groups: disabled people, people of colour and refugees are among those that are most affected. People living in poverty are far more likely to be in insecure jobs, experience poor physical and mental health, and live in cramped and overcrowded accommodation. 

There are big steps that we are taking in Scotland to crack down on some of the worst contributing factors. I was delighted and relieved that we have been able to double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week from next April. This will mean a boost of more than £500 a year for parents, with more than 400,000 children being eligible.

The devolution of disability benefits will be an opportunity for us to undo some of the injustices done to disabled people by Westminster. According to analysis by Scope, families with disabled children face, on average, supplementary costs of £500 per month, with many having been forced below the poverty line.

One of the biggest drivers of inequality is the housing crisis. Addressing it is one of our biggest priorities. Where we live is so fundamental to our lives and our wellbeing. It impacts every aspect of our lives. Yet, rents are going up, and, for many people, the thought of buying a house has become a distant pipe dream. Children in particular need safety and security – yet, according to Shelter Scotland, there are more than 70,000 children on social housing waiting lists across the country.

The other side of the housing crisis is the increasing scale of homelessness and rough sleeping, which has been made even worse by Covid – 256 people died in Scotland last year while experiencing homelessness, an increase of 40%. Behind every one of these deaths is a sad and painful story and many years of potential that have been lost. Their deaths were not only tragic, they were avoidable.

We have a mountain to climb when it comes to housing, and we must act fast. By 2032 we will deliver 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland and invest an additional £50 million over the parliament to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. We will also introduce new rights and protections for tenants, including rent controls. 

Improving accommodation and social security is vital. But they are only part of the problem. Poverty is structural, and so much of it begins with low wages and insecure jobs. 

As we face up to the climate emergency, we must transition to a net zero economy that offers good and secure jobs. This is particularly urgent in the north east communities that I represent, which have been hit by the long-term decline of oil and gas jobs.

What we cannot do is repeat the catastrophic scenes of the past when entire industries were closed without alternatives, leaving thousands of families without an income and shutting down whole towns and villages. Large parts of our country still bear the scars from those days.

That is why I am glad that this Budget included the first £20 million of what will be a £500m just transition fund for the north east and Moray. The oil and gas workers in these areas must be at the forefront of our renewables revolution.

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These are just some of the changes that we are delivering with Greens in government. But there is a lot more that we want to do. This is only the start. One of the biggest challenges is going to be navigating the limitations of devolution. As long as we remain in the UK, many of the most important powers over wages and welfare rest with Boris Johnson and his Tory colleagues.

In Holyrood we have managed to mitigate some of the damage done by Downing Street, such as offsetting the impacts of the brutal bedroom tax and the horrific rape clause. But we cannot be in a position of constantly having to undo the worst excesses of Westminster.

There may have been champagne flowing in Downing Street, but, for a lot of people, times are really difficult. This parliament, and this Scottish Government, will be judged on what it does for them. There is nothing inevitable about poverty. Tackling it is one of the moral obligations of our age. If we take the right action now we can end it.