Devolution must not stop at Holyrood

This week I spoke in parliament on the findings of the Devolution committee’s inquiry into the UK’s Government’s proposed legislation on further powers.

Smith

Here’s what I had to say:

 

The committee was tasked with scrutinising the previous UK Government’s translation of the Smith commission’s recommendations into proposed law. As my committee colleagues have said, that scrutiny was undertaken in an atmosphere of mutual respect and with an agreed determination to ensure that, as the report said,

“both the letter and the spirit of the Smith Commission’s report”

would be

“fully translated into a legislative package”.

A key conclusion that the committee reached can be found in paragraph 493 of the report, which states:

“In some of the areas … the Committee believes that the current draft legislative proposals meet the challenge of fully translating the political agreement reached in the Smith Commission. In other areas, improvements in drafting and further clarification are required. In some critical areas, the then UK Government’s draft legislative clauses fall short.”

In the time that I have, I intend to outline where the Scottish Green Party is content that the clauses meet the letter and the spirit of the Smith commission’s proposals and where we believe that they do not. I will also stress the need to broaden public engagement as widely as possible as the process moves forward, which Jackie Baillie touched on.

It is fair to say that we are having this debate because, during the referendum campaign, the people of Scotland, regardless of what side they were on, became so involved in the debate about what kind of Scotland they wanted to live in. Some 18,000-plus emails were received during the Smith commission process. Given the tight timescale, it is fairly likely that those emails did not all receive the consideration that they perhaps deserved. We will never have all the time that we wish to have, but there is a little more time now for engagement. That level of engagement illustrates that, as the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations noted,

“If it is to be meaningful and effective, devolution must be driven by the people of Scotland”

and

“There must be opportunities for the public to influence the process and contribute their views.”

The committee report states as a key recommendation:

“The Committee believes that further public engagement, directly with the people of Scotland as well as representative bodies, charities, industry groups, voluntary bodies etc. is still a vital activity that needs to be carried out and is fully committed to the spirit of the recommendation made by the Smith Commission in this respect.”

It says:

“The Committee calls on the UK and Scottish Governments to consider how to commit to the spirit of the Smith Commission’s recommendation in this respect.”

The committee did what it could in that regard to go out and about. It had meetings and engaged where that was possible, but I would like the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament to consider properly how to broaden meaningful consultation. I urge the Government to look at things such as citizens juries and consensus conferences. As colleagues know, the charrettes method has been used with some success in the planning system in Scotland. Those techniques are used across the world to help to solve complex problems without top-down imposition by so-called experts.

As colleagues have stressed, welfare devolution is one of the complex problem areas. At First Minister’s question time last week, my colleague Patrick Harvie spoke of the

“tangible level of fear among so many people in the face of”

cuts

“to what remains of the welfare state.”—[Official Report, 14 May 2015; c 16.]

The Engender briefing for today’s debate sets out starkly how gendered the cuts have been. Since the coalition Government started cutting, 85 per cent of the money that has been saved from tax and benefit changes has come from women’s pockets. We want to fix those wrongs that are harming women, children and vulnerable people, but there are genuine concerns that we will not get the devolution of welfare right. Our job has not been made easy by the complex devolution agreement, which could potentially make things even more confusing for people.

The committee report has important recommendations to ensure that we are able to create a system that works. On top of that, women and those who are in receipt of benefits need to be much more involved in the design. Engender calls for the administration of universal credit to be devolved early with a section 30 order. Jim McCormick also pointed out that we need much-improved intergovernmental working if we are going to manage properly those really important areas of shared responsibility, such as welfare.

The Greens called for and welcomed agreement on the proposals for the devolution of unconventional gas licensing, fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes, and formal consultation on energy policy. I agree with much of what the First Minister said yesterday on energy policy. Scotland needs a stronger voice.

The Scottish Government has a moratorium on fracking, but there should be no delay in the public consultation. It is time for a complete ban with no delay in devolving the licensing regime.

As we have heard, the Crown Estate is another area in which the draft clauses do not deliver the Smith agreement. For some reason, the proposed method of devolution is convoluted—the land reform expert Andy Wightman described it as “opaque, complex and unnecessary”. I strongly support the devolution of the Crown Estate away from Holyrood, but there is no need for overly complex preconditions in an already complex settlement. In effect, the draft clauses allow two Crown estates in Scotland, with one managed by commissioners in London and one managed by whatever sort of local devolution scheme is established. That is entirely at odds with the spirit of the Smith commission and must be rectified.

I welcome colleagues’ openness to the idea of building on the Smith commission. There is too much to cover, but I will make a final point. Devolution must not stop at Holyrood. I did not campaign for a mini-Westminster in Edinburgh. If the past couple of years have taught us anything at all, surely they have taught us that we need to trust our local authorities, our communities and our people with more power.

Alison

 

The University of Edinburgh’s fossil fuel investments

I have lodged a motion concerning the situation at Edinburgh University, where students are more than a week into their peaceful protest on campus, dismayed over the university’s decision not to withdraw investments from fossil fuel industries to pursue more ethical investments instead.

I had the pleasure of joining the occupation on Friday evening, where the positive and constructive way in which the students are making their case is clear for all to see.

The campaign is an inspiration to myself and many others who share the view that Edinburgh University should reconsider its position, and follow a more responsible path when it comes to investment.

You can read my motion online here.

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EDINBURGH DEVELOPMENT PLAN MISSED OPPORTUNITY

 

Today’s decision by Edinburgh city council to approve a new Local Development Plan, shows it is obsessed with suburban sprawl rather than building affordable homes.map-of-edinburgh-640x300

The long-awaited plan allocates land around the city for the next 10 years, and has been driven by controversial Scottish Government projections that more than 100,000 new homes are needed across South-east Scotland. It earmarks areas such as Brunstane, Cammo and Newmills for development.

It’s frustrating to see this plan being passed without addressing the real concerns of communities around Edinburgh where unnecessary developments are earmarked. Our city has thousands of empty homes, plenty of brownfield sites and land that has been banked by developers. That is where the focus should be.

The city urgently needs more affordable homes – homes which are built in compact communities with easy access to services and transport. Much of the LDP debate has sadly been about swapping suburban sprawl in one location for sprawl in another, without fundamentally addressing the need for a spreading the city at all.

It is a missed opportunity to develop a sustainable city region.

Alison

 

 

 

Health inequalities: why has there not been more progress?

The Scottish Parliament held a debate on health inequality last week, which I was unable to speak in but I wanted to share some thoughts on.

This is a significant issue in Scotland where people in the most deprived areas of the country are more likely to suffer from poor health and die earlier compared with people in affluent areas – the infographic below highlights this disparity in Edinburgh along the tram line route. However, government incentives so far have shown little tangible difference due to their emphasis on individual behavioural change.

Mind the Gap graphic

This debate has coincided with the Green MSPs publication of a new health inequality briefing which you can read here. The briefing, based on a Health Inequality research paper, outlines the importance of tackling the social determinants of health including income, access to health and social services, good quality jobs and the quality of our environment.

Given the wide range of factors influencing our health, we should be looking at how all major government decisions affect health inequality. And we should be supporting a community-led approach so that particular local health challenges can be tackled through projects designed and run by the community.

Greens are calling for:

  • Incomes to be raised through policies such as a £10 minimum wage
  • Legislation to bring in Health Inequality Impact Assessments (HIIA) for all significant government policies
  • The creation of a Healthy Challenge Fund to empower communities in the same way as the hugely successful Climate Challenge Fund

An extraordinary week for the future of Scottish football

This week I successfully moved a package of amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill to bring in a fans’ right to buy their football clubs at any time.

Fans First

The amendments were backed by all members of the Local Government and Community Committee.

My Fans First campaign has also been backed by Scotland’s leading anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth, by Supporters Direct, and by others in the supporter ownership movement.

In the Committee meeting the Minister pledged support for a legislative approach to the problems of Scottish football, and Stage 3 is now expected to see changes and refinements to these proposals before Parliament finally approves the Bill. This decision is overwhelmingly popular, according to the results of a Survation poll, where 72 per cent of those expressing a view supported a fans’ right to buy their local club for a market value at any point.

This has been an extraordinary week for the future of Scottish football. We know how badly the game has been struggling, from Gretna to Hearts and Rangers, and we know fan ownership works. It’s great that Parliament has united around the principle of a responsible fans’ right to buy their clubs. Once this bill passes at Stage 3, fans across the country will have nothing to fear from irresponsible owners like those who have undermined so many clubs. We know there are plenty of good private owners of clubs, and this will not require fans to buy them out, but when they move on, fans will be in the right place to take over if they wish.

I am grateful to the members of the committee for seizing this opportunity to put fans first, and in particular to Ken Macintosh MSP, who co-signed these amendments and spoke powerfully in favour of them at Committee. We asked fans what they wanted, and they asked us for the tools to do the job and run their clubs responsibly for the long term.

Alison

 

In-work poverty: my speech

I was pleased to open a rare Green/Independent MSP debate on in-work poverty yesterday.

Alison Johnstone chamber pic

The Scottish Green Party is campaigning for a £10 minimum wage for all by 2020, because no one should be expected to work for a wage that keeps them in poverty. That is the point of the debate; that is why we are campaigning.

During the referendum, we had plans for a more equal, jobs-rich and locally based economy, where work paid well. That principle is not divisive. I know that all MSPs agree that poverty is a bad thing, but do their parties’ plans add up to putting an end to in-work poverty?

The Greens’ £10 minimum wage will ensure that no one works for a wage that keeps them in poverty. We have for too long subsidised employers that pay poverty wages. Many of those employers are large multinationals that earn millions for shareholders, while their staff are paid poverty wages and kept off the breadline by public money. That corporate welfare must stop.

While the majority of children and working-age adults in relative poverty live in working households, at the other end of the pay scale, there are people earning millions of pounds. Chief executive officers in the FTSE 100 earn 400 times the average wage. Are those executives 400 times more entitled than the average worker? I do not think so. That inequality is profoundly damaging for society and wellbeing.

Ending poverty is inextricably linked to ending the vast gulf of inequality. Political scientist Susan George tells us to “Study the rich … not the poor”.

The Greens’ plans will link CEOs’ pay to the wellbeing of their lowest-paid employees. A maximum wage ratio for companies would mean that any rise in CEO pay required a rise for people on the lowest pay. That is only fair.

The Greens will introduce a wealth tax on the wealthiest 1 per cent—in other words, people who are worth more than £2.5 million.

Wage ratios and progressive taxation will tackle pay inequality, but vast differences in wealth need to be tackled, too. Recent Office for National Statistics data tells us that the richest 1 per cent of British households have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 55 per cent of the population. The amount of wealth that is held by the top 0.1 per cent has risen by 57 per cent over four years, whereas total UK household wealth has risen by only 12 per cent. Our wealth tax will tackle that drastic inequality and pay for public services.

The Green Party’s plan for social security is based on the idea that, as a society, we should treat those who are in need with compassion, rather than sanction and punish the poor. The post-world war two generation who built the welfare state suffered together, fought fascism together and mourned together. Those people’s collective will was that they should enjoy the benefits of peace together, but the welfare cuts have put people deeper into poverty.

It is a gendered austerity, too. Treasury data shows us that women have been hit hardest. Women are much more likely to be lone parents, they are the biggest users of public services and they are more likely to be affected by public sector job losses, pension changes and wage freezes. It is clear that any party that continues to talk about cuts has not been listening to Scotland’s women.

We will make the case for rebuilding a universal system without a poverty trap for people in work. We want to have a welfare system that does not subsidise poverty wages, that removes the stigma of benefits and that promotes equality. Green plans for a citizens income are emblematic of that approach. The Scottish Government’s expert working group on welfare recognised that a citizens income is one of the two main options for the future of welfare; it is the one that takes a universal approach and abandons means testing and complexity.

The introduction of a citizens income is not a change to be made lightly. It will require a reform programme to replace almost all benefits apart from disability payments with a simple, regular payment to everyone—children, adults and pensioners. It will require consensus from a broad coalition of civic society, but it is a transformative idea, and the beginnings of such a system already exist with child benefit and state pensions.

This week, the Scottish Government published analysis of severe and extreme poverty that describes how people in the lowest income bands have been pushed deeper into poverty by coalition cuts. A little over an hour ago, George Osborne sat down after confirming the Tories’ ideological obsession with pursuing their programme of austerity. The UK budget has just been announced. I doubt that many of us will have digested the whole lot, but the austerity ideology is clear.

I am pleased that the issue of apprenticeship wages has been raised. Some young people up to the age of 25 are working 30 hours a week for a monthly wage packet of £327.60. The UK Government plans to raise that hourly wage by 57p, to £3.30. Any rise is welcome, but not all sectors feel that way—even that small rise has disappointed the Confederation of British Industry. I recall that, during the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s inquiry into Scotland’s financial future, the then boss of CBI Scotland said: “Inequality is an abstract term”.

It also suggests that we are on the right track if the free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs says that the Low Pay Commission is being used “as a vehicle to reduce inequality”.

In October, the national minimum wage will be increased by 20p, to £6.70. That, too, is welcome, but is it enough? That increase has already been criticised for not tackling in-work poverty. The minimum income standard aims to define what households need in order to have a “minimum socially acceptable standard of living”.

The reference rate that it suggests for the lowest socially acceptable standard of living is £9.20. The Scottish Government analysis that I mentioned earlier is unequivocal. It says that, although employment remains a protection, it is “no longer a guarantee against poverty”.

Our plans for a £10 minimum wage by 2020 are designed to really make poverty wages history. Small businesses will need support, and all businesses deserve time to plan. The change will be introduced in steps, but the days of big business paying poverty wages with the taxpayer making up the difference must stop.

Another aspect to consider is the picture across Scotland. My city of Edinburgh is at the top for paying at least the living wage but, in rural areas such as Angus and Dumfries and Galloway and in post-industrial areas such as Ayrshire, between a quarter and a third of people earn less than the living wage. We need to spread the creation of jobs throughout Scotland as well as improve public transport and childcare to ensure that people can get to work, education and training.

Of course, low wages are not the whole story, but successive Governments’ actions have allowed—even promoted—the slide into a low-skill, low-wage economy. For example, the Scottish Government gave Amazon a £4.3 million grant, with a further offer of £6.3 million. Last year, Amazon paid just £4.2 million in United Kingdom taxes, despite selling goods worth £4.3 billion. The excuse that ministers have given is that Amazon creates jobs, but let us examine that claim carefully. How many jobs were promised, compared with what has been delivered? Are those jobs well paid, satisfying and secure? Moreover, what jobs have been lost as a result of such a big company being helped to dominate the marketplace, and how comfortable are we that its profits are not recirculating in the local economy? We need investment in sustainable industries that pay decent wages, such as great-quality food producers, clean chemical sciences, the digital and creative industries, medical and life sciences, construction, engineering and the low-carbon energy industry.

We have food banks in a country with no shortage of food and fuel poverty in one of the planet’s most energy-rich countries. Let us take the steps that we need to take to redress the balance, pay all a fair wage and become the kind of Scotland that we aspire to be.

Addressing inequality

This is a copy of a piece I wrote for the Poverty Alliance review. You can see the full document here.

Throughout the independence campaign, Greens spoke to a wider audience than ever about how our policies seek to tackle poverty, build sustainable industry and end inequality. Now the focus is on agreeing the powers we need as a priority to achieve this.

Priorities
We have to reduce living costs through better quality, efficient and affordable housing, and we must also create high quality, highly skilled and well-paying jobs. Social security needs to be valued as the safety net that any of us could require at any time, not seen as a soft target for cuts with a campaign of division pitting people against the most vulnerable in society. Other priorities include levelling the playing field in terms of educational opportunities across social demographics and securing better funded childcare. By regarding all of these as vital components of a coherent policy framework we can make strides towards creating the society we spent the referendum campaign calling for powers to begin building.

Further devolution of powers to Scotland
All ruling parties in the UK have failed to confront poverty, while the rich have never had it so good. Scotland can reject the Westminster consensus of pursuing an austerity agenda and instead work urgently to tackle our crippling levels of inequality. Much of this means devolving more powers around tax and social security. Greens want economic powers including borrowing and taxation devolved, with the Scottish Parliament and Local Authorities empowered to design and raise the majority of their own taxes.

This makes politicians more accountable, lets us shift the balance of taxation, and provides for taxes better fitting local circumstances.Greens do not support SNP proposals to cut corporation tax in competition with the rest of the UK, however it must be acknowledged that the UK has also made regular cuts here, with corporations paying little or nothing to the common good. This would be best addressed through EU-wide moves towards tax cooperation.

Scotland should have the ability to fund and design social security based on fairness, compassion and universal concern for the dignity of people. As with economic powers, we don’t accept a position whereby the Scottish Government delivers a system of social security designed elsewhere. It is vital that new powers don’t simply bring a responsibility to enforce UK Government policy, but that we have genuine control over matters empowering us to improve lives.

The Scottish Greens advocate devolution of responsibility for employment law and employment rights, including industrial relations, plus health and safety. We face a situation where the majority of those in poverty are in work, so we must stop subsidising employers who pay poverty wages, make the Living Wage a minimum wage without delay, strengthen the position of trades unions, and use new powers for sustainable job creation. We can pursue more radical equal pay legislation with control of equalities law, while full responsibility over human rights will also allow us to protect Scotland from the threatened scrapping of the Human Rights Act.

New powers can allow us to make progress in areas where control already exists. Housing policy, for example, is devolved but housing benefit is not. This led to the situation where the disgraceful bedroom tax, a policy designed (badly) for more crowded parts of England, was implemented here also. Education and health systems can be improved with new powers concerning immigration allowing us to break with the UK’s hostility to migrants, while asylum seekers facing destitution in Scotland also need the Scottish Government to have the requisite new powers to remedy this.

Now is the time that Scotland must achieve the radical devolution settlement we were assured of having. Restricted tax powers that force Holyrood to follow an austerity agenda would be unacceptable to all who voted Yes, and the majority of those who voted No, but we do have the opportunity to gain the powers we need to affect genuine and meaningful change for the people of Scotland.

What drives us forwards is a determination to see that we all can work together to seize that opportunity – for this generation, but even more so for the generations to follow, who may never have such a chance themselves to design a more modern and equal society.

Women 5050 campaign gains ground

It’s excellent news that Nicola Sturgeon has added her support for the Women 50:50 campaign, which I launched back in September with Kezia Dugdale and others from across the political spectrum. Since then, many hundreds of people have signed up to the campaign as well as Councillors, MSPs, charities and trade unions.

Alison Johnstone backs the 50:50 campaignI think the campaign has already helped to focus minds on the representation of women as parties have been selecting their candidates for the Westminster election, as they know that a seriously skewed list of potential MPs will no longer go unchallenged by the public or the media. My own party is putting forward over 40% women candidates, but we’re certainly not complacent and there’s a lot we still need to do to truly represent the makeup of Scottish society.

It won’t be long before attention turns to next year’s Holyrood election, and if we’re going to meet the Women 50:50 target by 2020, this will be an absolutely critical election. All parties will need to take a fresh look at how they can maximise the number of women they put forward. If the usual flawed arguments about merit can be confronted and the right mechanisms put in place, this could be a really transformative election.

The Scottish Parliament itself must also consider what action it might take to make the next session a more equal parliament, and we shall see what new powers that result from the Smith Commission process might be available.

What’s clear to me is that this campaign is part of a much wider change that has been taking place over the last year. On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at a truly brilliant Women for Indy event in Leith. The venue was packed to the rafters and it was amazing to see and hear from so many women who, having got a real taste for political campaigning during the referendum, now want to stay engaged and active on a variety of topics which aren’t directly about the question of independence. It was one of the best events I have ever been to.

The sands are shifting and politics better keep up!

Community companies democratising the energy market

Last week I was invited to speak at the Community Energy Scotland conference, and I highlighted the opportunity for Scotland to lead the way on international Energy Justice.

Read on to see what I had to say.

Alison

community energy project
The top line in Green energy policy is that “All people should have fair access to the energy they need”. This could be summarised as Energy Justice.

The World Development Movement highlights Nigeria as a great illustration of so much that is wrong with the energy system. In this oil-rich country, over half the population (and up to 90 per cent of the rural population) lacks basic access to electricity. At the same time fossil fuel giants like Shell and Exxon-Mobil pump out enough oil and gas to power the country many times over. These fossil fuels are destined largely for the rich North.

The problem is not that there is not enough energy, but that there are immense energy injustices. Without fair access to energy schools, hospitals and basic improvement to living standards are jeopardised.

Energy justice is about power. Who controls the energy. That is why the work of Community Energy Scotland and the other community energy bodies is so important.

We know people in Scotland support renewable energy, despite media hyperbole the vast majority of people are content to see renewable energy developments happen in their local areas – that is an important social consensus we have to maintain. The greatest threat is not too many developments, but the perception that large corporations are in control and making money for themselves with limited benefits and control in the hands of local people.

I want to live in a world where community control is at the centre of a secure and sustainable energy system. People in countries like Malawi deserve to be in control of their own development, and this is exactly the model Community Energy Malawi appears to be using.

From Holyrood I’m pleased to report that I managed to gather support for a Parliamentary motion I lodged in June from MSPs of every hue. Greens, Lib Dem, Labour, SNP, and even, with a special ask, from the Conservative energy spokesperson. It’s important we are consensual and cross party where we can be.

The motion welcomed the formation of Community Energy Malawi and its first Community Energy Conference in June which brought together representatives from Scotland and 12 Malawian community organisations. It also welcomed the continued funding of the project by the Scottish Government as part of the Malawian Renewable Energy Acceleration Programme.

This support from the Scottish Government is extremely important. The Scottish Government does not have power over foreign affairs, “international development assistance and co-operation” are specifically reserved to Westminster but even still the Scottish Government has made the right choice to commit to helping internationally through the international development fund and also the climate justice fund.

I know CES are keen to expand on their international work. CES have stressed to me that their work with groups in Malawi has been a true skills share. They have gained expertise, enthusiasm and experience and hope to have provided some too.

The projects in Malawi and elsewhere are hopefully demonstrating how community control works in the Global South. One example from Europe I have used in Parliament is Germany.

In the small town of Schönau in the Black Forest, a feisty primary school teacher called Ursula Sladek and others decided that they wanted to buy non-nuclear energy, and consume less at that. An approach to the local energy company failed but, after a five-year battle, the community took ownership of the local grid and could supply their own energy.

That idea took hold and there are now 600 community energy companies democratising Germany’s energy market. Several years ago, Germany too was dominated by its own big four energy companies but now, more than half of the 60GW of renewable energy that has been installed in less than a decade is citizen or community-owned. That is delivering cheaper, cleaner energy, but importantly, it is an energy market that is not dominated by a few players but is owned and controlled by citizens.

That is a vision that we should aspire to, and I hope Community Energy International can play its part in that for every country.

We need to create a fair and sustainable society for all our children.

Last week I made it a priority to take part in a debate in parliament brought by John Wilson, a colleague in the Green-Independent group of MSPs.

The important subject for debate was the Child Poverty Map of the UK.

I share John’s view that tackling child poverty should include finding effective ways of offsetting the recent changes to the welfare system as well as rising energy and food prices that have pushed families further into financial decline.

Read on for my full speech.

Alison

Too much of a child’s life is set by the happenstance of where they are born, yet we know that children who are born into low-income families do not start without high aspirations. Some 97 per cent of mothers in low-income families want their children to attend university, but there is a continuing and persistent attainment gap and immense barriers to what we call social mobility.

Of course, the vast majority of people who are born into poverty make a brilliant success of their lives. They become dedicated partners, loving parents or great friends and they have successful careers. No one should be stigmatised because of the economic situation into which they are born, but it is important to look at the barriers that children face.

Looked-after children provide a stark example. Care leavers have poorer educational qualifications than their peers and poorer health outcomes and are notably more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system. That is not the case in Finland, where the attainment gap for looked-after children is far less stark. That achievement is likely down to a complex mix of reasons, but one that is highlighted is the education system’s focus on support for teacher attainment and qualifications. We have to learn from good practice in other countries.

The child poverty map of the United Kingdom is a useful way to see how child poverty plays out across the country. For a decade we saw a notable drop in child poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others, but as we know, that improvement is being reversed rapidly: we are going backwards. Child poverty is predicted to rise and an estimated 600,000 more children will live in poverty by 2015-16.

The motion refers to

“finding effective ways of offsetting the recent changes to the welfare system”.

I agree that we need to do that. The economics of austerity and welfare cuts are having a particular impact on women and on children as a result. The Fawcett Society tells us that a fifth of British women’s income comes from benefits, whereas for men the figure is a tenth, so the loss of benefits and services hits women hardest. Women are more likely to be employed in public sector jobs that are at risk of austerity cuts. As state services are withdrawn, women tend to fill the gap as, for example, unpaid carers.

A fair social security system is vital and social security should be devolved, but welfare is not the core solution to poverty. We have to think about poverty in terms of equality and the redistribution of power and money to close the gap between rich and poor. We need political will to tackle zero-hours contracts and we must address fuel poverty. Affordable heating and affordable rents are essential.

We know that for the first time more than half of people in poverty live in a working family. People are working, often in demanding jobs, but are being paid wages that keep them in poverty. Governments subsidise that situation and the companies that pay poverty wages with corporate welfare.

The fair solution is a living wage. The national minimum wage needs to be raised to living wage levels immediately. The living wage commission estimated that that would benefit 5.2 million people across the UK, or 17 per cent of the working population. Our election manifesto will include a new minimum wage of £10 an hour for everyone by 2020, a wealth tax on the top 1 per cent and company-wide pay ratios. That is a package of measures to truly tackle the UK’s persistent inequality and poverty. We need to create a fair and sustainable society for all our children.