Tele column – 27th October 2017

Growing up in Greenock in the 1960s my political influences were subliminally derived from day to day life. For me, as a kid, life was like television, black and white. There were good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, rich and poor. Back then the area still bore the scars from the Second World War. Gap sites still existed side by side with crumbling tenements. Housing conditions, in some parts, were Dickensian. And while the poor were dirt poor everybody had hope in the welfare system and the NHS. Social housing building was progressing at pace and a new world was just around the corner. But social housing was destroyed during the Thatcher years and is only now, under an SNP administration at Holyrood, moving in the right direction. And the NHS, despite its detractors, is still cherished and protected in Scotland. Through the decades the welfare system has been adjusted and tweaked to cater for social conscience and working practices but somewhere on the journey it has become so cumbersome, so complicated, that it often fails the people who need it most. The latest example being Universal Credit. The evidence is that it causes unnecessary hardship, with families falling behind in rent payments and increasingly relying on food banks. The Conservative Government at Westminster is making promises to improve the system but Universal Credit has been rolled out in Inverclyde since November last year. We are already suffering because of UK government incompetence and callous disregard. Meanwhile the Scottish government are being criticised for being forward thinking and considering a Basic Income. To design a Scotland fit for the 21st century we need to be brave and welcome big ideas rather than retreat into political silos. Some will fly, others will fail but the solutions aren’t all black and white like my old television. The complexities of modern life require well thought out evidence based policies and we shouldn’t wait until the welfare system is crumbling around us before we make moves to rebuild it.