In this blog Carla McCormack, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the Poverty Alliance, gives a whistle stop tour of the five main political party’s election manifesto anti-poverty commitments…
The party manifestos are out, and we have brought together the key commitments related to tackling poverty so you can see how they compare to the Poverty Alliance’s manifesto demands. Remember, this is designed only as a guide, and is not an extensive account of each party’s manifesto. We recommend that you read the original manifestos too!
In their manifesto, the SNP have committed to creating a new Scottish social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart. With new powers, they have also pledged to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and maintain disability benefit levels while also making the assessment process fairer.
To help tackle child poverty, the SNP have promised the introduction of Finnish style ‘baby boxes’ and the establishment of maternity and early year’s grants. Alongside this they will provide free school meals to all two, three and four year olds who benefit from increased nursery entitlement. Furthermore, the SNP have committed to investing £750m in a Scottish Attainment Fund, and increasing the child allowance within the Council Tax Reduction Scheme by 25 per cent. They have also said that they will implement the recommendations of the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality. They will also re-appoint an Independent Advisor and establish an Inequality Commission to advise the government and monitor progress.
On welfare reform, the SNP have committed to opposing welfare reform at its source. They have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and restore entitlement to housing support for 18 – 21 year olds.
The SNP have said they will build 50,000 new affordable homes over the lifetime of the next parliament, and will introduce a Warm Homes Bill.
Moving towards work and employment, the SNP have promised that all social care workers will be paid the Living Wage by October 2016, and the number of Living Wage employers in Scotland will have doubled to 1000 by November 2017. They will increase the number of Modern Apprentices to 30,000 per year by 2020 and will create new jobs grants for young people. Companies which practice tax evasion or blacklisting will be excluded from bidding for public contracts under a future SNP government.
The SNP have also committed to extending participatory budgeting and encouraging communities to take advantage of the Community Empowerment Act.
The Scottish Labour Party has promised that if in government that they will fund a breakfast club in every school, and extra funds for poorer pupils. They will increase the top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 per year to create a Fair Start Fund. Scottish Labour has said they would ensure childcare was affordable, flexible and affordable, and would double the maternity grant for new mums.
They have committed to a new employment service, Skills Scotland, which would offer training for workers and unemployed people. The have also said they would set up a Living Wage Commission tasked with making Scotland a Living Wage nation and to end the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts. Labour has also pledged to ban those who avoid tax from bidding for public contracts.
On local authority funding, Scottish Labour have pledged to scrap the council tax, and to devolving tax raising powers such as a tourism tax, a land value tax and a surplus from the crown estate.
Labour has promised to build 60,000 affordable new homes across the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament including 45,000 for social rent. They have committed to stopping cuts to public services.
On welfare reform issues, they have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and protect the right to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. Scottish Labour has also promised to build choice into the Scottish Welfare Fund – offering people the choice of cash or goods.
Scottish Labour has pledged to scrap the 84 day rule for carers allowance and disability benefits. They have also said they will use new powers to support pensioners using off grid energy to bring forward the payment of their Winter Fuel Payment.
The Scottish Conservatives have promised to extend childcare hours to one and two year olds from deprived communities. They have also committed to closing the attainment gap via standardised testing and greater freedom for schools.
They have said they will halve the disability employment gap, and will increase funding for the work choices programme. On disability benefits, the Scottish Tories have committed to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and they will fast track applications for those with terminal illness. They have promised choice in Universal Credit over frequency, split payments and housing benefit.
The Scottish Conservatives have said they will build 100,000 new homes in the next five years, and will work to reduce fuel poverty.
On local authority funding, the Scottish Conservatives have promised an independent review of funding mechanisms.
Scottish Green Party
The Scottish Green Party’s manifesto contains a commitment to giving public money only to those organisations which pay the living wage, avoid zero hours contracts, support trade unions, reduce the pay gap between the highest and lowest, practice gender pay equality and are environmentally responsible.
On social security, the Greens have said they will use new powers to top up child benefit. They have committed to split payments being the default for Universal Credit, and expanding the sure start maternity grant to include second children as well as extending the eligibility criteria. The Greens have promised to improve maternity and paternity grants, and provide high quality child care.
On disability benefits, the Scottish Green Party has said it will increase Carers Allowance to £93.15 and introduce a young carers grant, as well as reducing the number of hours threshold to qualify. They have also said that there would be immediate support available for those claiming disability benefits, and they would abolish repeat assessments for those with chronic or degenerative illness. Paper, online and telephone procedures will be used to replace face to face assessments.
The Greens have said they will build 12,000 new social homes; they will also use empty homes and vacant land. On local authority funding, they will replace the council tax with a land value tax. They have said they will introduce rent controls, and work to end fuel poverty.
The Scottish Green Party has said they will continue to push for the devolution of Access to Work and will guarantee the work programme is not delivered for profit. They will campaign for the new work programme to include a clause which prevents it from sharing information with the DWP which would lead to people being sanctioned. The Greens are supportive of calls for a gender quality in business scheme and will ensure that all care staff receive a ‘living wage plus’ of more than £9 an hour.
They have also committed to closing the attainment gap, and have said there will be a jobs guarantee for school leavers.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrat manifesto commits to investing in education, money for which will be found by increasing income tax by 1p. They have said they will invest in a pupil premium and expand early years education. There will also be greater flexibility within free school meals so that parents can choose whether this is breakfast or lunch.
The Lib Dems have said they will use the power to create a new benefit to help people who are at risk of losing their job, or entitlement to other benefits because of mental health issues.
On childcare, the Lib Dems have promised to implement the findings of the commission for childcare reform.
They have said they will create a fair social security system, which is accessible and based on the principles of dignity and respect. Like the other parties they have also committed to abolishing the bedroom tax, and have pledged to raise Carers Allowance in line with Job Seekers Allowance. The Liberal Democrats have also said they will introduce Finnish style baby boxes, and retain the housing benefit entitlement for 18-21 year olds.
They have said they will pilot of carers leave for Scottish Government staff and support the development and provision of special health checks for carers by GPs. The medial assessments for disability benefits will be made to take into account fluctuating medical conditions, and the Work Programme and Work Choices, will be replaced with new employability programmes.
On housing, the Lib Dems have promised more social housing, and to revise the empty homes strategy. They have said that they will give councils power over local domestic and business taxation. They have also said that they will allow housing benefit to be paid directly to landlords.
There are real choices to be made on May 5th, and we hope that the electorate will use their vote to help tackle poverty. Our analysis of the manifesto’s highlights that all of the political parties are committed to actions that should help address poverty and inequality. These commitments are to be welcomed, but of course they should be read in the context of the other proposals that each party has made in their wider election manifesto.
It’s also clear that in some areas there are shared priorities for tackling poverty. We hope that the shared goal of tackling poverty and addressing inequality will mean that the parties can work together after the election to bring about real change. Too many people in Scotland struggle by on inadequate incomes, too many face uncertainty in their employment, and too many cannot access the services that will help them and their families out of poverty.
Over the next five years we will have real opportunities to begin to change this, to use new and existing powers to transform lives. We hope the next Parliament will act as one to make this transformation, and put the fine words into action. The Poverty Alliance and our members are ready to support, and hold to account, whoever is prioritising action to address poverty. As always, we believe that with real political commitment, we can begin to turn the tide on poverty in Scotland.