It’s not often I agree with a British Tory Prime Minister, but Boris Johnson was right to highlight that “there really is such a thing as society”.
It was Johnson’s predecessor Margaret Thatcher who famously said that there was “no such thing as society”. Boris’s words were chosen carefully and, whilst I wish the PM well in his recovery, it’s clear though that after years of Tory-imposed austerity Covid-19 is not the great social leveller it is made out to be.
Whilst this deadly virus doesn’t discriminate between those it infects, it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society who are being hit hardest by the global pandemic. From Clydebank to Kirkwall this crisis is bringing out the best in our communities as people step up to help those in need. However, it is also exposing in the starkest of terms the inadequacies of the UK’s broken social security system.
Since the start of the lockdown more than 1.4 million people have been forced to apply to the UK’s much-maligned Universal Credit system, highlighting the huge scale of the economic impact of this crisis.
In West Dunbartonshire, my constituency team and I have been working hard to support many people locally who are finding themselves facing hardship through no fault of their own. I have been pressing the Westminster government in regular calls to Cabinet Ministers for them to do more to strengthen social security protections and take further steps to ensure a comprehensive financial support package so no one is left behind.
The UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a number of measures in an effort to protect jobs and limit the economic impact of the pandemic. Whilst some of these announcements such as the Job Retention Scheme have been welcome, it’s clear that there are far too many people falling through the gaps which is why we in the SNP have been calling for a guaranteed Universal Basic Income for all.
These are unprecedented times. Many people are worried about their bills, worried about their rent and mortgages. It’s not too late for the Chancellor to listen.
For too long it is mostly disadvantaged households – the poor, the sick and those with disabilities – who have had to bear the brunt of Tory hardship and austerity. Now, more people than ever are seeing first-hand the failures of a social security system that doesn’t treat people with the fairness, dignity, equality and respect we all deserve.
If the true measure of society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, then the UK government must act now and do more to ensure everyone in our communities has the support they need.
This article for written for publication in the Clydebank Post.