Austerity economics don’t add up and Scotland’s public services are living through a lost decade

The political energy released during the referendum campaign is focused on inequality during Scotland’s Challenge Poverty Week.

The political energy released during the referendum campaign is focused on inequality during Scotland’s Challenge Poverty Week

Trade unions and the wider civil society have come together this week in a series of events culminating in a march and rally in Glasgow on Saturday. The aim is to highlight the damage inequality does to everyone in Scotland and provide a space where new ideas can be debated and developed.

UNISON Scotland’s contribution includes a report on the impact of austerity on Scotland’s public services and the staff who deliver them. Creating decent work and providing dignity for those who cannot work is at the heart of the battle against austerity and tackling inequality. It makes economic sense and this report demonstrates why.

The rich are laughing their way to the bank, as 71,428 people in Scotland queue for very different banks. The demand for Trussel Trust food banks has risen 400 per cent in just three years. 480,000 adults in Scotland live in poverty and nearly one in five children live in a home with at least one adult working.

These are Cameron’s ‘strivers’, hit by the big shift from wages to profits. You have to go back to the 1860’s for a pay squeeze as long as this one. If the wage bill had just kept up with inflation there would be £5bn more spending power in the Scottish economy. Even among those suffering, the pain is not evenly spread. Women in low pay have a pay gap of 34.2 per cent and young workers classed as low paid have more than tripled over the past four decades.

Cameron’s real pals aren’t suffering from austerity. The wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has doubled since 2009. FTSE 100 Directors awarded themselves a 21 per cent pay rise last year and now earn 120 times the average full time worker. Britain’s highest paid director earned in 49 minutes as much as a worker on the living wage earns in a year!

However, this isn’t just about London – it’s here in egalitarian Scotland. An Edinburgh fund manager reported recently that seven directors earned an average of £2.5m each and settled a post retirement benefit on a former director of £31m. Three families in Scotland own more wealth than the poorest 20 per cent put together.

Today’s UNISON report argues that we need to start seeing money spent on public sector workers as an investment not a cost. A one per cent increase in public sector pay would generate up to £820 million in increased income tax, National Insurance contributions and expenditure tax receipts, as well as reduced benefit and tax credit expenditure. It would also inject £460 to £880 million of extra value into the economy and create jobs.

A workforce that cares, cures and educates should be celebrated as an achievement, not constantly under attack as a drain on resources. The cleaners, classroom assistants, chefs, care workers and many others, do vital jobs that support and protect us all. They are worth and deserve decent pay and conditions.

The constitutional debate in Scotland may divide over independence or further devolution. But what unites Scotland is a desire to challenge poverty and create a more equal society. Its not about the ‘45 per cent’ or the ‘55 per cent’ – its about the 99 per cent who understand that a more equal society benefits us all.

The message from Scotland this week is that we all deserve to live in a society that puts people first, where the economy is run for everyone, not just the well off.

Dave Watson is the head of Bargaining and Campaigns at UNISON Scotland

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