Irvine Times column, 27 November 2018

This week I attended the premiere of “Food Bank As It Is” in the Scottish Parliament.  This powerful play, based on the lives of Scots food bank users draws on the testimonies of food bank clients in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

It is undoubtedly powerful, but the most shocking thing to me was that the play wasn’t shocking. 

The terrible realisation that the shocking experiences that were being reflected by the actors were not news hit me harder than the testimonies themselves.

Since 2012, food bank use has risen by almost 400 per cent, with the Trussell Trust attributing much of this to Universal Credit, noting that in areas where it has been rolled out, use has risen by 52%.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has also noted that the rent arrears of people on Universal Credit are two and a half times those of people on housing benefit.

There cannot be many folk left who do not accept that what we have seen with austerity is an ideological assault on the weakest and neediest in society. Other equally horrific assaults have included its inhumane approach to disability benefits assessments, the bedroom tax, and its two-child policy on child benefit, with its abhorrent rape clause. Such assaults have brought international shame to government of the United Kingdom.

This month, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, spent two weeks in Scotland and the UK on a fact-finding visit into the consequences of austerity. In his report he expressed shock at “the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention”.

Professor Alston described how the UK Government has inflicted “great misery” on those in most need of help with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies, adding that “Poverty is a political choice”. It is hard to disagree.

The UK Government say that work is the best way out of poverty. If it’s steady, decently paid work I agree,  and they could show they are committed to this by picking up the pace and delivering the promised commitment to supporting the Ayrshire Growth Deal, which aims to transform the economic potential of the area through various infrastructure initiatives.

The Scottish Government and Ayrshire’s three local authorities remain committed to the deal, and this week I met with Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, to discuss my amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

These have now been accepted, and I hope will help to free up the development potential of the Ardeer Peninsula in Stevenston, which is currently subject to a prohibitive Special Development Order granted in 1953.

Finally, I would like to thank all who attended my Christmas Scam Awareness Surgery at Towerlands Community Centre on Black Friday, and to those who offered advice.

A key message from this was that if a purchase seems too good to be true, it invariably is. If you do fall foul of a scam, Better Off North Ayrshire (https://northayrshire.betteroff.org.uk/#/home) and Citizens Advice Scotland (https://www.cas.org.uk) can help.

For key tips on how to scam aware, visit https://ruthmaguire.scot/2018/11/23/how-to-be-scam-aware-this-christmas/.