Using our powers to protect disability benefits
Mark Griffin MSP, Scottish Labour’s social security spokesperson, says while it may have passed without notice, an important principle was endorsed in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, and we should be proud of it.
If the sine qua non of political media relations is to “feed the beast”, then yesterday served up an all-you-can-eat buffet that could only fail to satisfy Holyrood’s most gluttonous of hacks. On the menu? University access figures, Forth Road Bridge delays, hospital shortages and a pugnacious First Minister’s Questions – all of which were simply the appetiser before settling down to their sumptuous main course of Nicola versus Boris.
It will not come as a shock to learn then, that very few were tuned in to the afternoon’s proceedings in the Scottish Parliament chamber to snack on the minutiae of the Scottish Government’s approach to our most vulnerable citizens.
This parliament will break new ground simply by setting the levels of support for our carers. It will be unprecedented when we begin to take charge of the help provided to our disabled. It will be a historic moment when a social security bill is debated and, bar a sink hole opening up and swallowing the chamber whole, passed by MSPs later in the year.
‘Ground breaking’, ‘unprecedented’ and ‘historic’, words that will be at the forefront of the message to the public for the changes in the coming months and years.
On such occasions though, politicians must tread carefully with our language and be humbled by the challenge ahead of us. At the end of five years it will be outcomes that matter and substance on which we are judged. And with a minority SNP government there is an opportunity for the Labour movement to have a significant impact on those outcomes. At 5pm yesterday Labour sought to make a small but hugely significant change to a government amendment.
We proposed an amendment asking Parliament to endorse the principle that the financial assistance we provide our disabled citizens keeps pace with the cost of living. The amendment was successful by 88 votes to 29 – with backing from the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, all of whom deserve credit for uniting behind us on this issue.
We have a proud history in the Labour movement of creating and building social security across the UK. So secure were the intellectual underpinnings of the welfare revolution, so self-evident were cultural values of the movement which delivered it and so enduring the settlement has been for half a century, that I am proud they still represent the Labour party today.
But in light of the challenges still faced by disabled people, challenges which campaigners are fighting against every day, and the powers we will have at our disposal, quoting the deeds of the giants of Labour’s past and railing against the injustices of ATOS will not suffice. We must articulate a vision of the social security system we want to see in Scotland, adhering to the twin tenets of intellectual coherence and the values of our movement.
I believe it should be one which ensures that our disabled people and carers will not be stifled by bureaucracy, which preserves people’s independence and which provides not just a safety net to allow them to survive, but a springboard to playing a full part in society. A system which moves us beyond the idea of social protection into a new dawn of social enhancement. A system which ensures full social engagement for our carers and our disabled, one which will see them participating in education, employment, being able to volunteer, to care for their kids and to simply enjoy and live their lives.
In short an approach which represents the Labour view that when barriers block the path of one, that path is blocked for of all of us, and that when one person is left behind then we cannot advance together.
If this government decides to bring about meaningful change and looks to build a system that shares our vision, then they will have our support. The future of social security in this country requires us to work together, not with our eyes clouded with political grievance but with our focus, firmly fixed, on the expectation of a nation.
Because there are times in this country when we are individuals going about our own business, enjoying the opportunities we’ve been blessed with. There are times when, as political parties and activists, we campaign tirelessly on the issues we hold close to our hearts. And then there are times when we must come together, inspired by the dignity of the individual and united by a collective impulse, to build and shape a shared future.
Thankfully, while not at the top of the political digest, yesterday at 5pm was one of those times.