Q&A with Professor John H McKendrick of Glasgow Caledonian University on welfare and social justice
Holyrood asks Professor John H McKendrick of Glasgow Caledonian University how the next Scottish government should use its welfare powers
Q&A with Professor John H McKendrick, Glasgow School for Business and Society, Glasgow Caledonian University
How should parties use the new powers of the Scotland Act to improve social justice?
John McKendrick: Although there will never be total consensus on what constitutes social justice in Scotland, we need to establish a stronger overarching articulation of our social justice goals in our National Performance Framework. I want to live in a Scotland that reduces poverty within a generation and dismantles the barriers that prevent people experiencing poverty from realising their potential in the meantime.
The new powers of the Scotland Act should be used accordingly. With a stronger sense of purpose, decision-makers should then be held to account for each decision to reduce or extend social investment and social protection and each ‘decision’ to maintain the status quo. By way of example, it would be difficult to argue against a more progressive redistribution of income through taxation.
Is the UK welfare system out of date and what should it be replaced with?
JM: No. However, the direction of travel in the UK as a whole is toward disinvestment in welfare, grounded in the belief that there is largesse in a system riddled with abuse by an undeserving poor. Serious analysis of the data clearly demonstrates that this is nonsense, with minority experiences being used to undermine the system as a whole. Therefore, we need to strengthen support for welfare (social investment and social protection) and have a much more frank debate on what we need from welfare if we are to further social justice in Scotland.
What should the next government’s welfare, social justice and housing priorities be?
JM: The priority should be to recapture a sense of using welfare resources and housing as social investment to create a better Scotland in the here-and-now. In the 1970s, the East Kilbride Development Corporation could commit to housing key workers within six weeks. What gives this generation of decision-makers the right to deny these opportunities to today’s young adults? We need to better understand the role of housing in creating homes and communities, and commit resources to extend our social housing stock, taking cognisance of the changing nature of households and family life.
If Scotland was to have a bill of rights, what would you put in it?
JM: The right for every child in Scotland to be afforded opportunities to realise their full potential.
How can we reform public services so that community participation and inclusion are at their heart?
JM: Public services should always have been delivered with and for users, rather than merely provided to them. It is also a little too easy to be critical of those public service professionals in Scotland who have worked tirelessly for years to support their communities and to improve the lot of those within. At the current time, there is a danger that the promotion of community ownership of public services is undertaken in a manner that merely shifts social risk from the state (national and local government) to vulnerable communities.
Will today’s children be better or worse off than today’s adults when they grow up?
JM: Tomorrow’s world need not mark the end of progress. We must also remember that we remain an affluent nation. However, many more of today’s children will be worse off in adulthood than today’s adults, unless we take steps to address the cost of living crisis that results from low wages, insecure work and high housing costs.
What more needs to be done to bring about equality in Scotland?
JM: I return to where I started – we need to establish a stronger overarching articulation of our social justice goals in our National Performance Framework. We need to believe in the equal worth of Scotland’s citizens and, as a nation and as individuals, do more to tackle the pernicious impact of inequalities in all its guises for the betterment of the disadvantaged and Scotland as a whole.
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