Kezia Dugdale on poverty
The second of our Q&A on poverty is with Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale
As a politician, how does it make you feel passing a person begging on the street?
Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour: The reason I am in politics is to deliver a fairer Scotland. Councils across Scotland provide local services to tackle homelessness and poverty, but council funding is being cut to the bone by the SNP Government. The Nationalists have the power to stop the cuts, yet they are refusing to use that power.
What’s more important - tackling poverty, tackling inequality or mitigating the impact of poverty?
This isn’t an either/or. Tackling poverty and tackling inequality go hand-in-hand. We need to ensure that everyone has the same life chances, and that starts with ensuring that our public services are properly funded. I didn’t get into politics just to mitigate Tory decisions that are hurting local communities. I came into politics to make different decisions to the Tories, rather than just pass on Tory austerity, like Nicola Sturgeon has chosen to do.
Can the Child Poverty Bill’s aims happen without taxing people more?
We should be using the new tax powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in our public services - stopping the cuts to council services that the poorest rely on and investing in our schools.
Education is the single most important long-term investment our country can make to strengthen our economy and cut poverty levels. I’m willing to ask people to pay a bit more tax to that end.
We proposed amendments to the Scottish budget to that effect.
Are targets really a useful way to tackle poverty?
They can be if the resources and political will is there to hit the targets. But as we saw with the target to eliminate fuel poverty, that doesn’t always happen. The last Labour-led government set a bold target to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016. Instead, the SNP Government completely missed it, with a third of homes still in fuel poverty. Labour pressure in the Scottish Parliament means the SNP has been forced to agree to set a new target and we hope to see it early in the New Year.
Do the proposed targets for levels of child poverty represent an acceptable number of children in poverty?
There is never an acceptable level of child poverty.
What is the best method for defining child poverty?
What we need is not a change to the definition of poverty, but a plan to deal with poverty.
How should Scotland’s new powers over social security be used?
Labour wants to see a statutory duty on the new social security agency which raises awareness of what people are entitled to. Over 100,000 Scots aren’t claiming the tax credits they are entitled to, worth some £400 million. Making sure those payments actually go to the people who are entitled to them could have a transformative effect for our society.
How can childcare expansion avoid pushing more women into low-paid jobs and having a negative impact on attachment and attainment?
Childcare expansion should be one of the single most important economic policies for the Scottish Government. The problem is that, right now, childcare policies are written by the SNP to fit on election leaflets rather than around the lives of working families. It isn’t flexible enough or affordable enough. That’s why Labour wants to see a legal guarantee for flexible childcare provision starting with a breakfast club in every primary school.
Despite best efforts, insecure and poorly paid jobs are commonplace. Is it time to get tougher with employers?
The Scottish Government should be leading the way on this. Labour pushed for a living wage guarantee and a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts in taxpayer-funded contracts in the last parliament - but the SNP voted against our plans.
Fair work practices ultimately benefit employers in terms of performance, morale, turnover and absence rates, but the Scottish Government should be setting the example in the first place.
Given most people can’t afford a house at 80 per cent of market price, isn’t it time to redefine ‘affordable housing’?
For too many young people, getting a foot on the property ladder seems an unobtainable dream. They are stuck in a vicious circle of trying to save up for a deposit but being forced to pay a rent that is so high they can’t save.
Labour supports Shelter's target of 60,000 affordable homes, with 35,000 for social rent.
Our manifesto also looked at giving more support to first-time buyers, but we also need to see further reforms in the private rented sector, and large-scale housebuilding.
Is Christmas becoming too expensive?
There can definitely be pressures for families at this time of year, that’s why one of the first things I did as an MSP was to start campaigns against the pay-day lenders who charge extortionate interest rates.
Black Friday. What’s all that about?
Everyone loves a bargain, but I encourage everyone to show respect to shopworkers.
Usdaw found that the 2014 Black Friday sales resulted in a two-thirds increase in incidents of verbal abuse, threats and violence against retail staff. Fortunately, it appears that things were much calmer this year.
What film do you always watch at Christmas and why?
Home Alone. It’s a classic. The right mixture of humour and festive cheer. I also watched Home Alone 2 this year, but that’s less cheerful now because it features Donald Trump!
What’s your new year’s resolution?
To get better at sending thank-you letters. They’re always more personal than emails.
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