Our Response to the Programme for Government

By Ryan Mcquigg, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Oxfam Scotland

It’s been another busy week in Scottish politics. With a new First Minister we have a new programme of government. Here’s Oxfam Scotland’s take on some of the announcements made on Wednesday.

It was great to hear First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon state it is her ‘personal mission to tackle inequality’. For us, tackling extreme inequality is vital to ending poverty at home and abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon told the Parliament she would create an independent advisor on poverty and inequality.

This is very welcome news, and is a response to calls Oxfam have been making for the creation of a Poverty Commissioner. 

We have been campaigning for a Poverty Commissioner as we believe people in poverty need to be able to influence decisions that affect them. This means engaging with groups and individuals who are seldom-heard in mainstream policy-making circles. Our analysis, and experience from our work around the world, stresses the importance of participation – the involvement of those directly experiencing poverty in formulating, implementing and enforcing policy commitments.

We hope that the new advisor will ensure participation is a key element in tackling poverty in Scotland. So far, we know that the advisor will hold at least three public events with the First Minister during 2015, to gather insights into people’s experiences, raise the public awareness of the scale and realities of living in poverty, and seek views on further actions to reduce poverty and inequality.

Supported by a small team, the independent advisor will be tasked with making recommendations to the Government on how collectively we should respond to these challenges and will hold the Government to account on its performance.

We are delighted the government have listened to Oxfam’s calls for this role, and look forward to hearing more detail of how this role will ensure the voices of those living in poverty are heard and listened to by Government.

The First Minister also announced that there will be a Scottish business pledge. This pledge, although voluntary, would see businesses commit to ‘the Scottish approach’ in return for support from the Scottish Government and its agencies. This approach would include:

• Paying the Living Wage

• Not using zero hours contracts

• Making progress on gender balance.

This pledge can act as the starting gun in a race to the top in terms of how to do business fairly. We will work alongside our partners in civil society, including the Scottish Living Wage Campaign, to ensure that the changes this leads to can bring about meaningful improvements in delivering decent work in Scotland.

Finally, it is also worth remembering that one of the most deeply entrenched forms of inequality is gender inequality. Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s first female First Minister and leads a cabinet team that has a 50:50 gender split. This was welcomed by the UN when Begona Lasagabaster, Head of the UN Women’s Policy Division, who stated Scotland has ‘formed a role-model Cabinet for others to emulate’. We very much hope this is indicative of progress to come in fighting gender inequality throughout society.

We’ll be working with the First Minister and all political parties to ensure that this Government and indeed Parliament rises to these aims of tackling inequality and poverty. We’ll be supporting and challenging when necessary to ensure these goals are put into practice. The time for action in tackling extreme inequality is now.