Jean spoke in the debate on Oxfam‘s Lift Lives for Good campaign on Tuesday 21st January, brought by her fellow Highlands and Islands independent MSP, John Finnie. You can watch the debate on the BBC site (Jean’s speech starts at just over 16 minutes in), read the transcript in the Parliament’s Official Report. Read Oxfam’s full Lift Lives For Good report on tackling inequality and climate change, and please donate to the campaign if you can.
I, too, thank John Finnie for securing the debate. Oxfam’s record in fighting poverty is quite exceptional. As an organisation it has, more than any other, highlighted the work that has yet to be done.
We should celebrate Oxfam’s work in showing that deprivation is not just about money. It is also about mental and physical health, feeling safe and secure, and connectedness to family and community. Oxfam’s work on the Humankind Index, which released its second annual results for Scotland in June last year, gives us a vital way of understanding this complexity. Gross domestic product growth is no good if all the growth goes to the rich, or if wealth is being created only by breaking the backs and spirits of working people.
This week, Oxfam revealed that the 85 richest people in the world own as much as the poorest half of the human race, which is 3.5 billion people put together. The Scottish Government’s stated priority is sustainable economic growth; I hope that, one day, we will see that being extended to include sustainable human wellbeing.
One idea that was raised in a meeting in Parliament last week is worth serious consideration: a universal basic income, or citizen’s income. The amount would be enough to cover basic needs and it would be paid to every citizen without means testing. It would recognise unpaid work such as raising children and looking after relatives, and it would support lifelong learning, reduce inequality and give us a real chance to abolish poverty altogether — a mission that less radical ideas have repeatedly failed to achieve.
Oxfam’s Lift Lives for Good campaign recognises the importance of building skills and community links as well as providing aid. Here in Scotland, two of Oxfam’s partners recognise the importance of wellbeing beyond money. Tea in the Pot, in Govan, helps women who have mental health problems to share their experiences and ideas. Not only does that element of the project help people to fight loneliness and improve wellbeing, but the project also means that people who are normally excluded from decision-making and ignored by officials can work together to make their voices heard and challenge the policies and conditions that damage their wellbeing.
Let us celebrate Oxfam often, but let us work harder on our National Performance Framework and on introducing some of the key elements that people have declared are a priority for them, which are not about getting more money but involve other areas and issues around wellbeing that Oxfam has highlighted.