Ruth Davidson on poverty

Written by Staff reporter on 30 December 2016 in Inside Politics

The final chapter of our poverty-related Q&A with the party leaders is with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson

As a politician, how does it make you feel passing a person begging on the street?

I think it's always a case of 'there but for the grace of God'.

What’s more important - tackling poverty, tackling inequality or mitigating the impact of poverty?

None of these issues can be tackled in isolation and they each affect the other. At root, you need a strong economy with well-paid jobs and an ability for people to access those jobs without discrimination. 


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Can the Child Poverty Bill’s aims happen without taxing people more?

My worry about making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK, is that it damages our economy (which is already performing more sluggishly than the rest of the UK).

In the most recent employment figures, we see what the impact of that can be on people's lives - unemployment being cut elsewhere, but going up here. I don't think you help alleviate poverty in Scotland by having fewer Scots in work and bringing home a regular pay packet. While the bill itself has much in it we can agree on, the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge that the aims of the bill are far harder to achieve with an underperforming economy and fewer people in work.

Are targets really a useful way to tackle poverty?

It depends on what the targets are designed to measure and test. If it is inputs, they are meaningless; outputs, and they have a partial relevance; long-term outcomes, and they start to show how we are making a difference.

Do the proposed targets for levels of child poverty represent an acceptable number of children in poverty?

The only acceptable number of children in poverty in Scotland should be zero.

What is the best method for defining child poverty?

There is not a single easy measure for child poverty; however, we believe any measure should consider the root causes of poverty, such as deprivation, as well as an income-based measure. We look forward to engaging constructively with the Scottish Government on this.

How should Scotland’s new powers over social security be used?

I welcome the transfer of social security powers to Holyrood and, as part of both the Strathclyde Commission and Smith Commission process, championed numerous changes, including the ability for Holyrood to be able to 'top up' any reserved benefit. 

The SNP has been very critical of UK Government policy and delivery of benefits. It will be interesting to see how they seek to change both. However, the early signs suggest that they are only now beginning to understand how complex our welfare system is. Asking the UK Government to continue with delivery of benefits for several years after the powers are transferred to Scotland, as the Scottish Government has been unable to deliver the architecture for delivery on time, suggests a steep learning curve.

How can childcare expansion avoid pushing more women into low-paid jobs and having a negative impact on attachment and attainment?

The more women who are able to access better and, crucially, more flexible childcare, the more choice I believe they will have in re-entering the workforce. In terms of re-skilling, I think that one of the most grievous errors this government has made is to cut thousands of college places, particularly of part-time courses which offered greater flexibility to new mums to refresh their skills and achieve better paid jobs.

Despite best efforts, insecure and poorly paid jobs are commonplace. Is it time to get tougher with employers? 

Absolutely. People deserve fair wages for a fair day's work. Government can play its part - and I'm pleased to see the Conservative UK Government raise the national minimum wage beyond that which any other party offered at the last general election - but employers need to act ethically, too.

When you see reports of people camping in winter weather outside Amazon's super-depot in Dunfermline to make their low wages go further, not only do you have to look at whether this is a company deserving of thousands of pounds of Scottish Government subsidy, but also, whether its working practices are operating within the law. If not, then it is utterly appropriate to prosecute.

Given most people can’t afford a house at 80 per cent of market price, isn’t it time to redefine ‘affordable housing’?

Quite simply, young people are facing an almost impossible struggle to get on the housing ladder. We need more homes to be built across all sectors, not only to get people into their first home, but to be able to get up the ladder, too, freeing that property up for more new home-owners.

House building hasn't kept up with housing need and that has raised prices and made home owning ever more unaffordable. As well as direct investment from government, local government and housing associations, we also need to help private housebuilders and speed up the planning process.

Is Christmas becoming too expensive?

Christmas is what you make it. For me, it's a quiet time, for family and church. I choose to slightly spoil my nieces and nephews while they are still young, but don't exchange expensive gifts with my partner or wider family. It sounds clichéd, but when you spend so many hours at work, the real treat is getting a bit of down time and enjoying each other's company. 

Black Friday. What’s all that about?

It's a made-up way for retailers to boost their pre-Christmas profits. I don't get involved.

What film do you always watch at Christmas and why?

I love a Christmas movie - particularly old ones. My favourites are White Christmas with Bing Crosby and the Bishop's wife with Cary Grant and David Niven. More recently, Elf is very good too.

What’s your new year’s resolution?

It's been the same for about the last five years as I consistently fail at it - lose two stone and cook more home-cooked food. But this year, I really, really will. Honest.

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