Images: From imagefully.com and BBC Scotland’s ‘INEQUALITY SPECIAL’
Oh joy, BBC Reporting Scotland has just announced a ‘Special Week’ on inequality in Scotland based on new research from Heriot Watt University. You can put away those HBOS and Netflix box sets for another day. I should wait till it’s all over before offering my criticism but, instead, in a fun way, I’m going to suggest a game where you watch the reports (stop sobbing) and check to see if they mention that:
- a House of Commons report from December 2015 and its findings show Scotland in a more favourable light than the rest of the UK;
- inequality in Scotland has long roots in the past failures of the Labour Party;
- inequality in Scotland has short and long roots in the actions of the Tories.
If they do report some or all of these things, that might encourage people to feel empowered, to vote ‘Yes’ in the next referendum or even just to vote SNP in the next local elections. Do you think they will? The December 2015 report is: ‘State of the Nation’: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, presented to House of Commons December 2015. Here are some of its key findings:
‘Scotland, for example, has the smallest number of children living in poverty among the constituent nations of the UK, the lowest prevalence of low pay and far more young people from deprived areas going on to higher education.’ (iv)
The December 2015 report from the UK Government-funded and sponsored, Social Mobility and Child- Poverty Commission, was chaired by Blairite Labour Party grandee, Alan Milburn. When I saw his name I feared the worst but could not have been more wrong in my expectations. The above quote is taken from ‘State of the Nation: Social Mobility and Child Poverty’. Note the correct use of the term ‘higher-education’ rather than the common distortion in recent mainstream Scottish media reporting, suggesting the opposite, by ignoring the role of colleges in providing HE programmes articulated with the universities. The report commends the Scottish government for its efforts and compares these more than favourably with the neglect and the heartless actions of the UK government. However, that we should not gloat or that we must maintain, indeed increase, our efforts, does not mean that we should not be able to note the progress achieved so far. How else can we gauge what remains to be done? How else can we gather the strength to push on? How else can we build the strong sense of collective identity required to confidently grasp the levers of full political independence required to do so?
‘Once housing costs are taken into account, relative poverty ranges from one in five children in Scotland (21 per cent) to nearly twice this (37 per cent) in London’. (113)
That twenty-one percent of Scotland’s children live in poverty is a monstrous blemish on the face of a democracy aspiring to much better. That it is higher everywhere else in the UK and nearly twice as high in our globalised golden capital does not excuse it, I know that. The current Scottish government makes nothing of such a comparison. It simply accepts that it is unacceptable and is doing what it can to remedy the situation.
‘The trends in one of the key drivers of child poverty – employment – are also encouraging:
- The proportion of children in Scotland who live in workless households has decreased rapidly in recent years and is slightly lower than the UK average – only 10.9 per cent of children in Scotland live in workless households compared to 15.8 per cent in 2012 and 11.8 per cent in the UK as a whole;
- More than six out of 10 (62.5 per cent) children in Scotland live in households where all adults are in work, making Scotland the region with the most ‘fully working’ households in the UK – for example, only 54.6 per cent of children in England live in households where all adults are in work;
- Scotland has the second highest parental employment rate of any region of the UK: 83.2 per cent of people with dependent children are in work. This is driven by very high employment of mothers in couples; 79.6 per cent of whom are in work compared to 71.9 per cent in England. However, lone parents in Scotland have a relatively low employment rate – only 62.2 per cent are in work (compared to, for example, 69.8 per cent in the East of England and 69.2 per cent in Wales).’ (169)
Once more, some good news we don’t hear and, usefully, some bad news about single-mothers which should inform future actions, based on evidence? Returning to higher education, this rigorously evidenced report contradicts the MSM distortions:
‘Young people in Scotland – including those from the most disadvantaged areas – are significantly more likely to participate in higher education than people in the rest of the UK. For example, as Table 7.1 shows, far fewer young people in Scotland live in areas with low rates of participation in higher education than elsewhere in the UK.’ (175)
Finally, the report has much to say that is positive about the plans and the actions of the current SNP government. Though chaired by a Labour Party grandee, Milburn, there is a generous and accurate recognition of the achievements of the SNP in Scotland which contrasts markedly with the bitter, twisted or at best, grudging, statements from Labour in Scotland or from our Tory Governor General, which we see faithfully reported on BBC Scotland and in most of our newspapers. Here are a few highlights from the section on education:
‘The Scottish Government has introduced a number of policy initiatives aiming to make a reality of this commitment to improve social mobility in Scotland, including:
- Plans to increase entitlements to free, high-quality early learning and childcare provision to 30 hours per week during term-time for all three- and four-year-olds and disadvantaged two-year-olds, by 2020;
- Placing a new statutory duty on local authorities and Scottish Government ministers to take action to narrow the socio-economic educational attainment gap and publish reports on progress through the Education (Scotland) Bill 2015. (179)
- Developing a new National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education with a key goal of closing the attainment gap, which will introduce national standardised assessment of literacy and numeracy in P1, P4, P7 and S3 – to be implemented nationally from 2017, allowing the performance of the school system for the most disadvantaged children to be tracked and reported on annually;
- Providing £100 million funding for the Scottish Attainment Challenge over four years, targeted at primary schools in deprived areas of Scotland and aiming to improve children’s literacy, numeracy, health and well-being;
- Expanding entitlement to the Education Maintenance Allowance, increasing income thresholds by 20 per cent (to £24,421 for those in families with only one child and £26,884 for those with two or more children), extending eligibility to cover part-time study – meaning that 57,000 young people in Scotland (63 per cent more than in 2013–14) will be eligible for support of £30 per week to stay in education post-16 from January 2016;
- Setting a long-term ambition to equalise the chances of university access between children in the most and least deprived areas in Scotland, and establishing the independent Commission on Widening Access to look at the evidence on widening participation, identify best practice and propose new targets, due to report in Spring 2016. (180)
If you see BBC Reporting Scotland mention any of this, I’ll eat something.
Finally, a very important factor in reducing poverty and inequality is the willingness of the rest of the population to support political moves to do so. Here’s some evidence that we are willing and more so than the English are:
‘An independent Scotland would be able to use a wider set of fiscal levers – taxes and benefits – to address inequality concerns. But would the Scottish electorate support greater progressivity? The 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey provides limited evidence that it might. Scots are more likely than English voters to think the gap between high and low incomes is too large (78% v. 74%); are more likely to support government efforts at redistribution (43% v. 34%); are more likely to say that social benefits are not high enough (6.2% v. 3.6%); and more likely to say that unemployment benefits are too low and cause hardship (22% v. 18%). Page 23
You’ll see the authors grudgingly suggest that the evidence for our greater willingness to support greater ‘progressivity’ is ‘limited’. Is ‘are more likely to support government efforts at redistribution (43% v. 34%) or 9% limited? I don’t agree at all.
‘State of the Nation’: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, presented to House of Commons December 2015 at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485926/State_of_the_nation_2015__social_mobility_and_child_poverty_in_Great_Britain.pdf
‘Inequality in Scotland: trends, drivers, and implications for the independence debate’ by David Bell and David Eiser, Division of Economics Stirling Management School University of Stirling at: http://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/sites/default/files/papers/inequality-paper-15-nov-final.pdf