One of the best things about Scotland has always been our international outlook. For centuries, Scots have travelled and shaped the world. Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow are places in Hong Kong, South Africa and Jamaica as well as Scotland.Recently, we seem to have turned in on ourselves and come to see everything as being about Scotland vs. Westminster.
The reality is that most Scottish services which affect our lives are controlled by Holyrood. Many other things are beyond the control of any government.
Take food banks, for example. It is a tragedy that some Scots have to rely on food banks. However, we should also remember that France, which is generally considered to have a generous welfare system, has about twice the number of food banks as the whole of the UK. In fact, food bank usage is increasing across the developed world: one in seven Americans now relies on food banks. That is not to say that food poverty is acceptable anywhere, but it does show that the issue is a bit more complicated than some people would have us believe.
The reality is that this is a global issue caused by a rise in global food prices. The UK government has tried to alleviate the situation by taking 3 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether and introducing Universal Credit to ensure that it always pays to work, making 3 million families better off by an average of £174 per month. As a result, since 2010, 600,000 fewer people and 300,000 fewer children live are living in poverty, and 300,000 fewer people are living in in-work poverty.
I appreciate there is concern around benefit delay. However, 93 per cent of benefits are processed on time, with the vast majority of delays being pre-decisions awaiting additional evidence. This is an improvement on 2009-10, where only 86 per cent received benefits on time. Hardship payments are available for those in genuine need affected by benefit sanctions and there are no targets for benefit sanctions.
The UK Government has dealt with malnourishment in children in particular by funding free school meals for 1.5 million pupils. Healthy Start also provides food to pregnant mothers and young families.
As a result, of these policies according to the OECD, the UK has seen a decrease in the number of people who have “difficulty to afford food”. There is of course more to be done, but we should remember that this is an issue that is affecting the whole developed world.
At any time, if the SNP Scottish Government believed that the UK Government was not spending enough money on alleviating food poverty, the Scottish Government could have raised income tax to pay for more public spending (as it has had the power to do since the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999).
However, the SNP chose not to do so.
Perhaps this is because there is no simple Scottish solution to this global problem.