Independence debate must not shackle policy development

In light of new research showing the persistence of poverty and health inequalities  we need to ensure the independence debate doesn’t shackle policy development, says Lindsay Scott.

MSPS-report

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) on poverty and social exclusion in Scotland has brought into stark relief growing health inequalities and a substantial increase in unemployment.

Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Scotland 2013 is JRF’s sixth assessment of poverty in Scotland. It uses the latest Government data and assesses a wide range of factors including unemployment, education, and health.

The research reveals genuine and growing problems that need serious action, including:

  • A boy born in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas has a life expectancy of 68 – 8 years below the national average and 14 years below boys born in the least deprived areas
  • Since 2008, the number of under-25s who are unemployed has almost doubled, to 90,000
  • The number of people working part-time, who want a full-time job, has risen from 70,000 in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012
  • Rates of mortality for heart disease (100 per 100,000 people aged under 75) are twice as high in deprived areas as the Scottish average
  • Cancer mortality rates in the poorest areas (200 per 100,000) are 50% higher than average, and have not fallen in the last decade, while the average has fallen by one-sixth

On a brighter note, between 2001 and 2011, pensioner poverty saw a huge fall, from 230,000 to 120,000. This fall is also reflected elsewhere in the UK.

From now until the Independence Referendum in late 2014, the issue of independence will no doubt dominate the Scottish political landscape. At the moment, poverty is far from central to the independence debate, but it is important that it becomes so.

This discussion is, after all, about the kind of country Scotland wants to be, It must therefore cover areas that are central to tackling poverty – health, schools, childcare, benefits, taxes, work and pay, pensions, services, housing and more.

Although the Scottish Government already has powers over many of these areas, pensions and benefits are outside its remit.

The inevitably growing debate around independence must not obscure the need for on-going policy development in all of the devolved areas, to tackle problems that will exist whatever decision the Scottish people take in 2014.

Lindsay Scott is Age Scotland’s Communication and Campaigns Manager.

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