End of austerity doesn’t add up

Irvine Times column, 6 November 2018

Delivering his budget last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that ‘austerity is coming to an end’, a statement which sadly did not bear up to scrutiny.

The disastrous Universal Credit continues, the concerns of the WASPI women have been ignored, there was no progress on the Ayrshire Growth Deal, and yet more tax cuts for the richest at the expense of the poor. A ministerial colleague of the Chancellor’s even resigned over a broken promise to introduce a cut in stakes for fixed-odds betting terminals.

In the Scottish Parliament I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance about the announcement made four months ago by the UK Government that our NHS would receive £600 million additional funding. He confirmed that the Chancellor has back-tracked on this by £50 million a year, a cut over four years of a quarter of a billion pounds.

Scotland’s block grant is almost £2 billion lower in real terms next year than it was less than a decade ago. Tax cuts for the rich and cuts for everyone else is not something to be welcomed, the Chancellor must do more about ending austerity.

Another area where the UK Government needs to do better is in the treatment of asylum seekers. In a Scottish Parliament debate on the subject I pointed out many of the failings of Westminster’s current asylum system, but also how proud I am that Scotland plays its part in welcoming those fleeing persecution.

Here, North Ayrshire Council have welcomed folk as part of the Syrian resettlement programme, providing them with access to health, education and other essential services to help them integrate into our society. As new Scots, their arrival strengthens our diversity and helps us to collectively redefine and build on our identity as a nation. Unlike Westminster, we do not want or need an inhumane hostile environment programme on immigration.

This week I also spoke in a debate about the transportation of live animals for slaughter or fattening. I have long been sympathetic to calls from many agencies and constituents to end all long-distance live transport of animals for slaughter.

I appreciate the importance of the industry to our economy, however, if exporting livestock there must be guarantees that this will be done in compliance with the excellent welfare standards that apply in Scotland. Animals are sentient beings that feel pain and stress in the same way as we do. It is my hope that in finding a solution to this sensitive issue that our Government will continue to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to animal welfare.

Finally this week, I was privileged to lead a debate commemorating Outdoor Classroom Day, a campaign intended to inspire more time outdoors every day, to play, learn, explore and have fun, at school and at home. Amongst its aims it seeks to achieve at least 60 minutes of outdoors playtime at school every day, and for schools to advocate for more time outdoors. Daily outdoor play has been proven to improve their physical and mental health, and improve academic progress, and I wholeheartedly endorse the campaign’s aims.

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