joanne mcfaddenJoanne McFadden is standing for the North East Scotland regional list. She says you can’t be angry at the scale of poverty today but unwilling to be part of the solution.

 

During campaigning, and when talking amongst friends and acquaintances of varying political opinions, it becomes quickly clear that nobody is happy or proud that poverty exists to the extent it does in the UK today.

How to tackle it, on the other hand, is a different matter. On that we don’t all agree.

There is no ‘quick fix’ or hefty one-off lump sum of money will ever eradicate poverty. But personally, I think the solution is relatively straightforward. If everyone who is fortunate enough to ‘have’ is willing to share even a little with those who ‘have not’, then everyone across society gains choices and chances to make a good life for themselves and contribute to society and the economy.

Is that not a better place for us all to live? The contribution I’m referring to is called ‘paying taxes’. But here’s where the stark disagreements begin.

Neither the SNP at Holyrood nor the Conservatives in Westminster want to raise taxes. Neither care a jot about wealth distribution, and both see tax rises as a big vote loser. But why should it be a big vote loser, when we all agree that the level of poverty that exists in the 21st century is shameful?

You can’t be outraged and angry at the existence of poverty today, but in the next breath not be willing to be part of the solution. You either want to live in a fairer, more equal and more productive society, or you don’t. Which is it?

For everyone to feel that taxation is fair, then tax avoidance schemes for the very wealthy and for large multi-national organisations have to be curbed. It simply is not acceptable that these high wealth-generating groups avoid paying their dues to our economy and our society.

When we look to other countries for examples of this fairer, more equal society, the one place that springs to mind is Denmark, a country whose residents have polled to be amongst the happiest and most content in the world. They work on average a 32-hour week and yet attain amongst the highest productivity levels in the world. Happy people seem to be productive people.

Denmark, a country where worker’s rights are paramount, people are paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, where parental leave for both men and women is generous, child care provision is excellent, education is first class, they have an efficient top notch health and social care system, they take care of their elderly, and people have a good standard of living, feel valued, included, and have the opportunity to play their part and contribute to society.

Denmark, a country where the highest earners pay up to 60% tax, and most Danes see this more as a duty than a burden.

It is obvious that our low tax, high spend society does not work. Something has to give, and that something is our vital public services, our NHS, our education, our elderly care, our infrastructure, our society. And the people who lose out in this low tax high spend system are those who are amongst the least wealthy in our society. Do we really want to become like America, where the rich are getting richer and the poor can’t afford the basics of human need? Please, no.

This leaves me with a question. What has changed in Britain to result in a society where greed and selfishness have not just become acceptable, but are to be rewarded and admired? In the post war years of the 1940s, everyone found themselves in the same predicament. Everyone had lost out in some way during the war, and it was everyone’s job and responsibility to help rebuild the country.

This common goal to rebuild created a solidarity between all people, and everyone had their part to play. Jobs were created, so much so that we welcomed immigrants to help us to grow our economy. People worked, paid their taxes, played their part.

I was born in 1966, and up until the age of 19 I would say that our society felt much fairer and more equal. I believe one of the key reasons for this was the first class education afforded to all regardless of upbringing.

But since the 1980s ‘yuppie’ years, slowly and almost unnoticed ‘The Me Factor’ has crept up on us, taken hold of our society and changed our values. It is the ‘every man for himself’ attitude that is killing our society, where even those who have enjoyed enviable levels of social mobility don’t even realise they are removing the social mobility ladder for generations coming behind them.

It will take a brave and bold government to make the necessary changes to our current tax systems, but without the backing of the citizens of this country embracing progressive taxation and voting for such a government, the change will never happen, and we will all have to live the consequences.