I take a curious pleasure from combing through my finances each week. Maybe it’s the mathematician in me or maybe it’s the accountant, or maybe I just need to get out more, but knowing that there’s no surprises in there, that the monthly balance is slowly moving upwards and that bills are (largely) getting paid on time brings a certain calming joy.
It didn’t always be this way though.
I still shudder at the way I used to organise the admin in my life. It wasn’t just unpaid bills, it was unopened letters that were getting stuffed in drawers or even piled up in the hallway for weeks on end, and zero checking of what was going in or out of my account. This wasn’t even because of money issues, the money was there for the bills to be paid, that’s the absurdity of it all. But then the scarier looking letters would appear on the doormat and I’d be jolted into action, usually costing me an extra £30 for putting my fingers in my ears for so long and no doubt needlessly ruining my credit score. It was an utter, utter shambles, for years, never to be repeated.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that I honestly can’t imagine what it must feel like to have to choose between council tax, electricity bills, rent and/or food if your financial situation literally depends on your last penny each month. I self-induglently dipped my toe in those waters but have never had financial misery heaped upon me from on high and am mercifully a world away from that type of stress. We probably need financial planning included in the school curriculum as a matter of course (as per other European countries) and a reappraisal of numeracy classes that have been cut back in recent years but sadly even that is way down the country’s depressing priority list.
I am well aware, as my Green votes hopefully testify, that a rebalancing of rich and poor needs to occur, urgently. How you do that with the Tories in charge and when 70% of Scots live off less than the average wage is beyond my simple mind though. I intend to keep voting for the party promising the highest tax increases, in order to finance a proper welfare system, and just hope something will give at one of these elections I suppose.
The more I dip into it though, the more I realise the welfare changes that are on their way are going to be an utter disaster, potentially in every sense of that word. They don’t impact me of course, I couldn’t tell you what pain was meant to be coming my way to help pay down the UK debt as part of ‘we’re all in this together’, but I can tell you I haven’t felt it if it exists. Quite the opposite infact, I’m paying off my mortgage at a rate of knots and frankly, if I chose to be selfish about it, long may it continue. The irony is I’m thinking of finding somewhere with a second bedroom, just around the same time people that need theirs much more than I ever would are having it taken away from them.
From April, those at the rough end of the income scale are in for some serious changes:
- The housing allowance that will go direct to the tenant rather than the landlord will inevitably result in many instances where the rent doesn’t get paid and the tenants get evicted. Total madness.
- The bedroom tax is presumably meant to ensure that precious housing is allocated as efficiently as possible but anecdotal accounts just make the government sound plain old mean (disabled children sharing with siblings, fathers moved into one-bed homes). Totally heartless.
- Caps on the total amount of benefits for households (around £500 per week for lone parents and couples, £350 per week for single adults, including housing benefit).
- Concern that IT capacity to deal with all of this might fall through.
And I’m sure that’s just scratching the surface.
The SNP took a bit of a hammering in the Sunday Herald yesterday for writing out £600m of redundancy cheques in cutting employment rather than using that money to safeguard jobs. Money for firing not hiring as Labour put it and, well, why not, on the face of it? The SNP is getting similar grief on the BBC for not doing anything to offset the impact of the Bedroom Tax. There is, to be fair, little the SNP can do about not having control of the welfare system, little it can do about the fixed block grant it receives from Westminster and little it can do about a coalition government intent on wreaking this kind of economic havoc. That said, it hasn’t helped the situation by denying itself the option of increasing income tax, something that I personally would absolutely be happy to see happening if it meant jobs saved and extra support for those at the sharper end of Osborne’s stick. No pain no gain and all that.
Of course, we learned back in 2010 that the SNP Government chose to not maintain the option of the Scottish Variable Rate that, although deeply limiting, would have afforded Scotland the option of some sort of alternative plan given the dire situation many of us are in. The suggestion back then was that the SVR would not be available until 2013/14, so I do hope someone has asked the question as to whether it will be an option this year? And if not, why not? Patrick Harvie, I guess I’m looking hopefully at you.
That aside, the SNP really needs to show Scotland that it’s still governing, to show that it has answers to current everyday problems and isn’t infact obsessed with the independence referendum that is still in all likelihood over 18 months away. It needs to do something, and be seen to be doing something, even if solutions are merely tactical rather than strategic. This, right here, is where national Governments step in and step up.
This is probably where I’m meant to rhyme off what I would have them do, and I’ll give it a go, but it’s not unreasonable to hope for your Government to act without knowing specifically what needs to be done, or at least hope for a clear explanation as to why they are powerless. For me, whether it’s Government-sponsored credit unions to stamp out exorbitant payday loans, council-backed mortgages to take the pressure off social housing, encouraging job sharing in the private sector and arranging it in the public sector where possible, a McBig Society drive to boost charities or a smarter, smoother solution to housing association arrangements, more needs to be done. I want to see my Scottish Government sweating blood and tears to offset the pain being sent up from London, not getting giddy over Danish actresses who happen to be in town.
Just because it’s difficult, and it is bloody difficult out there, that doesn’t mean Holyrood shouldn’t rise to the challenge. What is the big plan? What makes Scotland different? The stage is yours Salmond & co, and you could lock up a Yes victory with this alone if you find a radical edge that will make a difference.
It’s alright for me of course, tossing these thoughts in my mind as I swirl a nice glass of Merlot around in a warm, cosy middle-class glow but, as the Sunday Herald highlighted in its paper today, Holyrood doesn’t really listen to anybody except the McChattering classes apparently, and April 2013 is closing in fast.