A demand for an urgent reform of the tax system in response to the number of Scots suffering benefit sanctions, low wages and increasing dependence on food banks has been made at the General Assembly.
In a strongly worded delivery from the Church and Society Council, convener Rev Sally Foster-Fulton challenged the stigma of poverty,describing the UK Government’s characterisation of those on benefits as ‘rubbish’. She said families, young people and those with mental health problems are being disproportionally penalised by welfare changes. She called on the UK Government to stop using hunger as a punishment and immediately suspend sanctions for people with children or suffering from mental ill health while it conducts a full independent review.
“We are challenging the stigma of poverty, confronting the dangerous rhetoric that blames the poor for their poverty dismissing them as strivers and skivers, enjoying a benefits lifestyle. Rubbish! These unfair definitions divide and diminish us all and pit us one against the other. We become suspicious rather than supportive. We need justice, not judgment.”
Recognising Scotland’s rapidly changing political climate,the convener said the Church is one of the very few organisations which can afford to take a long-term approach to issues which require long-term action.The Church and Society Council is consulting in communities across Scotland over the next year, and will bring its conclusions to the Assembly next May with the aim of achieving real long-term to reduce inequality.
Ms Foster-Fulton told the Assembly “It is vital that we all recognise over the last year Scotland has begun to grow into a different sort of democracy, one that is no longer content simply to vote every few years and leave the decisions to others. These are exciting and uncertain times.”
The Council’s report outlined the wide range of activities it has been engaged in over the last year. These have ranged from a widely praised role promoting debate during the referendum campaign, to looking beyondfoodbanks with a campaign for food justice in Scotland which would enable people to feed themselves.
The Council has been at the forefront of raising concerns about the continued detention of asylum seekers at Dungavel, and is calling on people to support a planned protest at the centre on May 30th. Ms Foster-Fulton said “We continue to press the Home Office to allow a visit to see conditions for ourselves. Our decency as a society is predicated on how we treat the imprisoned and the stranger. The on-going crisis in the Mediterranean requires us in the United Kingdom and indeed all of the European Union to do our part to offer safety to refugees fleeing in their thousands.”