From Social Security to Social Justice
Peter Kelly (Director, The Poverty Alliance).
What does social justice mean to you?
It may be about living in a country where you know that thousands of people do not have to rely on food banks to make sure they have enough to eat. Or where people have access to paid employment that not only pays enough, but where you are treated with dignity and have a chance to progress.
Equally, a socially just Scotland may mean that your contribution to society is valued whether you are in paid employment or not, where caring work is valued and supported. A socially just Scotland would, for the vast majority of people, be a place where discrimination and prejudice did not blight their lives of many.
Not surprisingly, social justice means all of these things and more. The results of social and economic injustice are all around us, from the vast number of Scots living in poverty, or the continuing gap in life expectancy between our poorest and richest communities. The unequal distribution of wealth and income are at the heart of social injustice in Scotland. This economic injustice drives the isolation and atomisation that lies at the heart of the dissatisfaction that many feel in our society.
It is some of these issues that we hope individuals and communities across the country will debate when they take part in the discussions as part of the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland consultation. For many people the shape and nature of our social security system will be one of the drivers in creating a fairer Scotland. However, as it is currently operates our social security system is no longer the quite the engine of social justice that it once was.
This should come as little surprise. For instance, we know that the value of social security benefits has been falling for some time. The Poverty Alliance has long argued that adequate social security benefits should be at the heart of a system that actually promotes social justice and tackles poverty.
Even after the current round of devolution of welfare powers to Scotland, the majority of the social security benefits will remain under the control of the Westminster Parliament, so there will be few options to address the inadequacy of these benefits directly. However, the devolution of important benefits such as Personal Independence Payments and Carers Allowance are opportunities to reshape these parts of the social security system.
It is not only the monetary value of social security benefits that will help create a more socially just Scotland. Over the last week the Poverty Alliance has held two discussions with people who have had direct experience of using the benefits system. At both of these meetings issues of respect and dignity have been at the heart of the discussions.
Very often people using our social security system are made to feel that they are unworthy of support, that they have to repeatedly prove themselves, that they have little control or input into decisions that affect their lives. If we are to create a fairer Scotland, then changing the way that our system treats people, ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect will be essential.
Engaging everyone, particularly those who have been affected by poverty, will be essential if we are to ensure that we use the new social security powers in Scotland to create a new system that actually promotes social justice rather than undermining it.
The Poverty Alliance will be encouraging our members and others to engage in the discussion over the coming months and we hope you can be part of that
Our next event is in Dundee on 26th of August.
There are opportunities to create real change in Scotland now and for the future, it is vital that we do not miss that opportunity.
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