The Chancellor’s “Autumn Statement” (we’re not supposed to call it a budget) was trumpeted in the Tory press as good news for hard pressed workers. In fact it was the opposite. He gave people a mini tax break by taking 2p off National Insurance contributions but added about four times as much back on to most people’s Income Tax bills. The overall tax burden in the UK is heading for its highest ever levels and we’re also seeing the biggest fall in living standards for seventy years. Add that to predicted increases in unemployment and the UK Government planning yet another brutal assault on our benefits system and it’s obvious where their priorities lie.
In 2014 we were promised that the “broad shoulders of the Union” would protect us in hard times. Instead Britain has become a busted flush where ordinary folk are paying the price of failure while the Tories’ billionaire pals are still raking it in.
I met representatives of Age UK to discuss their most recent findings about how the cost of living crisis is affecting pensioners. Later I had a very constructive meeting with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), a trade body whose membership includes such weel kent names as Kingdom and Ore Valley Housing Associations. At both meetings it was appallingly clear how many people are just being abandoned by the UK Government. SFHA are talking about more and more of their tenants not just in poverty but in destitution, genuinely unable to afford the basic essentials of life. Fife Council and the Scottish Government are doing what they can to support people but decisions about living wage, state pensions, tax credits and energy prices are all controlled by Westminster and at best Holyrood and Fife Council can only limit the damage.
This is happening in one of the richest countries in the world. There’s plenty of wealth to give everyone a decent standard of living. The problem is that Scotland’s wealth is being syphoned off to make wealthy people even richer. And looking at Sir Keir Starmer’s recent admiration for Margaret Thatcher it doesn’t look like any future Labour Government will be in any hurry to change that.
Last week we marked Small Business Saturday when we’re encouraged to support local independent businesses rather than the big international chains. Among the independent businesses I’ve enjoyed visiting in the lead up to Small Business Saturday have been businesses as diverse as Parker’s Auction House in Methil, Jessop Jewellers and KCC Vinyl in Glenrothes, Dessert Tray in Leslie and Fife Carpet Mill in Bowhill. All these businesses have been started from scratch by local people. At least two of them regularly have people travelling from as far away as Aberdeen to shop with them so they must he good!