AS we progress through the long campaign leading up to a General Election, it is increasingly evident that both Labour and the Conservatives are weak on tackling poverty and the cost of living crisis in Scotland.

Modern Brexit Britain, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has more than 12 million people living in absolute poverty, including 3.6 million children, after the fastest rise in child poverty for around 30 years.

Driven by a severe austerity agenda imposed by Westminster, Scotland grappled with around 1.1 million people living in relative poverty, between 2020 and 2023. According to the Trussell Trust, about 533,000 individuals relied on food aid, including food banks, in the 12 months to mid-2022.

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A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that just over 10% of workers in Scotland are paid below the real Living Wage, with a staggering 72% of them women.

These are heart-wrenching figures which should bring profound shame on the Conservatives for failing on the most fundamental principle of ensuring no-one in this country is left to go hungry and for destroying the welfare safety net.

Multiple studies have shown a clear correlation between Conservative welfare cuts and rising poverty levels, with benefits plummeting by 8.8% in real terms since 2012.

Westminster will tell you there is no funding to address these problems, but there is money. Shamefully, £560,000 of public money was spent from emergency Covid funds to undertake political research on the Union and hundreds of millions of taxpayer pounds were spent on VIP lane PPE contracts.

Many people might think that Labour, a party which claims to champion social justice and equality, would solve the many challenges facing the UK if they were to win the General Election. However, the stark reality is so much more different.

In Glasgow, to nobody’s surprise, Labour cut additional funding for the holiday food and activity programme in this year’s budget. In stark contrast, the SNP administration protected feeding our most vulnerable children by investing an additional £1.5m into the programme.

In the Pollokshields ward, which I am privileged to represent, this programme was pivotal in ensuring that children did not go to bed hungry as during the summer and autumn sessions in 2023. More than 1000 children in my ward used this programme.

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As for the inhumane two-child benefits cap – a policy which academics described as “poverty producing”– the Labour Party has vowed to keep it in place. Sir Keir Starmer recently defended his stance, citing the need to make “tough decisions”. Is choosing to take 250,000 children across the UK out of poverty truly a tough decision?

Even his own MPs are shocked at this, with the Labour MP for Eltham, Clive Efford stating: “It is inconceivable that a Labour government would not want to address something that is such a roadblock to tackling child poverty.”

Sir Keir’s stance is a harsh slap in the face for millions of people who are struggling to make ends meet.

Consider this for a moment. Can the Labour Party, which so callously wants to take food away from the mouths of children and maintain a policy which is a key driver of family hardship, really be trusted to tackle poverty and the cost of living crisis, or to stand up for Scotland’s voices and values? I cannot picture them ever doing either of those.

The only way Scotland can truly provide the funding needed to tackle problems such as poverty and the cost of living crisis, and ensure that our values as a diverse and vibrant nation are protected, is with independence.

As Westminster continues to disregard the voices of the people of Scotland, the harsh realities of Brexit Britain – which 62% of Scotland did not vote for – exacerbate the impacts of the cost of living crisis. A report by the Scottish Government discloses that food costs are at a 45-year high, with Brexit responsible for an estimated one-third of the rise, thus further plunging families into poverty.

With the limited powers and funding we have in Scotland, the SNP have still managed to make progress on tackling poverty. Nationally, the Scottish Child Payment has been pivotal in ensuring that families are supported during the cost of living crisis, with an estimated 100,000 children being lifted out of poverty.

In Glasgow, since we became the administration in 2017, tackling poverty in the city has been a core theme in all our work. Within our current strategic plan, one of our four grand challenges is focused on reducing poverty and inequalities across the city.

As well as investing in poverty-reducing measures, we are also investing directly into our community’s ability to grow and distribute food locally. With the Glasgow Food System Development Fund, we have invested more than £475,000 to support local food-growing projects.

In my own ward, which has some of the highest levels of in-work poverty in the city – 16% in Pollokshields East and 15% in Pollokshields West – local groups such as the Nan McKay Community Hall and The Hidden Gardens have received funding. These organisations are at the heart of the community and the money will go a long way in supporting struggling individuals across the ward.

The Labour Party simply does not understand. It is either out of touch with the struggles that millions of families are going through, or it just doesn’t care about you.

Tackling poverty and inequality in this country is a political choice. As families struggle with severe challenges daily, it’s important that Scotland has the chance to address these issues more effectively.

It is clear, decisions regarding Scotland should be determined by the Scottish people, not by a Westminster government they didn’t vote for. This would ensure that Scotland’s values and voices are truly represented.

Zen Ghani has been an SNP councillor for Pollokshields since 2022. He is the youngest councillor in the city, having been elected at the age of 20. He previously worked for his local MSP, Nicola Sturgeon, and is a graduate of the University of Glasgow.