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Guest blog: The injustice of poverty in wealthy Scotland has no place in a Wellbeing Economy

Ruth Boyle, Policy and Campaigns Manager from The Poverty Alliance shares how a Wellbeing Economy can tackle the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

a graphic with a woman standing in front of a board organising different elements

The Poverty Alliance are proud members of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland (WEAll Scotland). We support WEAll Scotland's vision of an economy built to make sure everyone has enough to live a dignified life.

Wellbeing is often defined as 'health' - and there's no doubt that poverty and health inequalities are closely linked. People on low incomes are vastly more likely to suffer poor mental health, chronic illness, and early death. They are also less likely to get the same health treatment as wealthier people.

But wellbeing is about much more than health. It's about having the freedom and stability that we all need to prosper and survive. It's having the resources we need to nurture the connections that are most important to them - in work, and with friends, family, and community.

It's about renewing our economic model to tackle the structural causes of our unequal society, for example, through addressing systemic gender inequality by appropriately valuing unpaid care and 'women's work'.

It's about being able to rely on a strong society that supports us to do what we choose in life. It's about being properly listened to and having a real say in the decisions that affect us.

And it's about protecting, respecting and restoring the natural environment that is a foundation for all human life.

There are some welcome signs that the Scottish Government is beginning to share this vision - we now have a Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work & Energy.

But there are concerning signs that our political leaders are still wedded to outdated economic views - where decisions around business, enterprise and social investment are made without proper consideration of how they will affect people and the foundations of our shared society.

The recent Scottish Government Budget made some welcome moves towards raising the social investment that supports people's freedoms, but these were undermined by policies like the freezing of the unjust and regressive council tax. It's not right that our government can decide to subsidise wealthier households, while promoting cuts to public services which will be felt by all of us - and especially by those on the lowest incomes.

Worryingly, it seems that many of our political leaders are simply refusing to take responsibility for the huge gaps in social investment that are undermining our individual and collective wellbeing. During consideration of the Budget, when it was pointed out that cuts in social support risked putting our targets on child poverty and the climate at risk, some MSPs seemed to throw up their hands saying there was nothing they could do.

That's simply not the case. Organisations like the STUC, Oxfam, the IPPR and others, have repeatedly shown how the Scottish Parliament can use its powers over tax to invest in a strong public foundation to promote the Wellbeing Economy we need for the future. The answers are there. We need political leaders who are prepared to listen and fulfil their responsibility towards sustainable finances and a better future.

We need the Scottish Government to turn their welcome rhetoric about the Wellbeing Economy into tangible action to change our economy so that it works for everyone.

At The Poverty Alliance, our Living Wage Scotland team does amazing work supporting and accrediting employers who choose to do the right thing by their staff - paying the real Living Wage and signing up to security of work through Living Hours. Again, the Scottish Government has made welcome moves to tie public support for business with commitments to the Living Wage, but they could do much more.

Fair Work must be a condition of all public funding available to employers as a means of improving and embedding higher standards of fair work policy and practice. That includes promoting membership of trade unions, who give people greater voice and control in their working lives, and who can work with government and business to drive the move towards a sustainable economy.

We can do this. Scotland can rightly claim to be the birthplace of the global Wellbeing Economy movement. We can set an example to the world. We can transform an unjust, unsustainable, outdated economy with endemic poverty and inequality, into an economy with wellbeing at its heart. We'll all be better off as a result.


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