We must stand up for the right to social security in Scotland

By Rhiannon Sims, Policy and Research Adviser at Oxfam Scotland.

In a decent society, we should all have enough to get by. Yet across the UK, too many of us are struggling to keep our heads above water.

‘Social security’ should refer to a system that keeps people’s wellbeing secure. It’s a human right, meaning it’s something we are all entitled to.

Yet, years of austerity have helped to create a situation where even as a safety net our social security system is failing to catch too many individuals.

In Scotland, the devastating reality of this clear: poverty is rising and now impacts the lives of more than one million people.

The benefits system should keep people afloat, yet folk are still being pulled under by the forces of poverty.

Last week research from A Menu for Change showed how the five-week wait for Universal Credit is pushing people to food banks.

Even those in work are finding that irregular wages from zero-hours contracts and low pay mean they are worried about running out of food or have actually done so.

Rules, tests and delays have created hurdles which have turned this right to social security into a challenge.

There is an urgent need to defend the basics of a social security system which is meant to keep people afloat against the strong currents of poverty.

In Scotland, the devolution of new powers is rightly being used to introduce an income top-up.

But any new policies must now be delivered in a way that makes sure all those who most need it get the support they are entitled to.

At the same time, the UK Government must urgently reform Universal Credit so that people are genuinely protected from poverty.

We must all stand up for the right to social security if we are to make Scotland a fairer place.

Challenge Poverty Week runs from 7 to 13 October.