CANDIDATES for the Orkney & Shetland general election constituency have clashed over the UK and Scottish governments’ role in the expansion of food banks in recent years.
Shetland News asked each of the five candidates to respond to new figures released by the Salvation Army this week.
They demonstrated a more than 40 per cent increase in the number of food parcels handed out in the isles between January and April this year compared to the corresponding period in 2014.
SNP candidate Danus Skene and Labour candidate Gerry McGarvey both pointed the finger at the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.
Skene said the coalition had made “those in need and lower earners” pay for “the follies and greed of the bankers” in the last five years, while McGarvey said the last UK government “actively persecuted the poor”. He also criticised the SNP-run Scottish government, claiming it has “sat on its hands and failed to address poverty”.
UKIP candidate Robert Smith, meanwhile, said the Climate Change Act was “by far and away the biggest contributor” to the need for food parcels, which he termed a “national disgrace”.
Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Carmichael said that, if there were easy answers to tackling inequality, the government “would have abolished [food banks] years ago”, and that the best way out of poverty was through work.
Tory candidate Donald Cameron said hunger caused by poverty was “unacceptable”, and the solution was getting people “off welfare and into work” by giving them “a hand up, not a handout”.
The five candidates’ responses in full:
DANUS SKENE: “The need for a food bank in Shetland is a disgrace. During this election, do not forget that it is those in need and lower earners who are the ones paying for the follies and greed of the bankers a few years ago. The rich have got richer, rocket-assisted by tax cuts. The poor have got poorer, with significant assistance pruned away.
“The cuts carried out by the coalition government have removed more than £1,500 of expenditure for each family in the country. This is not made up by the Lib Dems’ vaunted increase in tax allowances. Cuts, VAT, the bedroom tax and the rest of it have seen to that.
“A cabinet minster, Eric Pickles, has expressed satisfaction that job centres are encouraged to refer clients in real need to food banks. In other words, it is policy for those in need of food to go and collect charity. We have abandoned a collective national responsibility to care. We are all colluding in the loss of hope for so many.
“The SNP stands for an insistence on fairness. Through the tax system and in other ways we must close the mounting inequality gap, insist on equality of opportunity in education and employment, and return hope to all.
“I did not expect ever to see fellow citizens around me need a food bank to survive. Nor did I expect to have to call to account for that politicians who claim to act in the liberal tradition. They, like the food banks, are a disgrace.
“Join with the SNP and others who recognise the moral and practical bankruptcy of austerity, and let’s rekindle fairness and hope.”
ALISTAIR CARMICHAEL: “The problems of poverty and inequality are complex and deep rooted. There are no easy answers – if there were we would have abolished them years ago.
“The main route out of poverty is through work. This means getting more of our people into work, paying them more and designing the tax system so that they can keep more of the money that they earn.
“Over the last couple of years as the economic recovery has taken hold we have been able to raise the level of the minimum wage significantly ahead of inflation. Helping business to become more productive will allow us to continue with that and to pick up the pace.
“In this parliament the coalition government has raised the personal allowance for income tax from £6,500 to £10,600. Liberal Democrats would like to raise that further to £12,500.
“In the longer term helping children from poorer backgrounds to achieve more in education will offer them better job opportunities and a route out of poverty. South of the border the Liberal Democrats have put money into a ‘pupil premium’, a dedicated sum of money which goes directly to schools and which has to be spent specifically on children from poorer backgrounds.
“In addition we led the way in providing free hot school meals for every child in the first two years of primary education.
“Locally I have worked with Angela Nunn and the Salvation Army team to ensure that the local DWP office has done more to make sure that people in need are made aware of the help that is available for them.”
GERRY McGARVEY, LABOUR: “People, as a rule, generally don’t celebrate the fact that they are poor. I find the Conservatives’ complacent comment… just incredible and really shows us how out of touch with folk they really are.
“The rise in need for people to donate essential foodstuffs, and the need for more people depending on food parcels from the Salvation Army, even here on Shetland, is the most visible reminder of the failure of not one, but two governments.
“The coalition actively persecuted the poor. The SNP government sat on its hands and failed to address poverty in its midst, sitting on £444 million which could have gone towards supporting children and adults in need … because it suited their political posturing of blaming the UK parliament. I find that equally distasteful.
“It is simply unacceptable that in the twenty first century, in one of the most affluent and wealthy countries in the world, we have people dependent on the kindness of strangers.
“The fundamental purpose of any and every form of government, at whatever level (UK, Scottish, or locally in Lerwick), is to serve its people by a wise and accountable allocation of resources… to serve its people – not starve them.
“I am on record as calling this need an obscenity, and Labour and I are not prepared to accept any excuses or justifications, or turn a blind eye. I am proud to be able to stand with head held high saying we will redistribute the wealth of this nation.”
DONALD CAMERON, CONSERVATIVES: “I think we can all probably agree that hunger caused by poverty in twenty first century Britain is simply unacceptable.
“But the only way to really improve people’s quality of life is to get them off welfare and into work: as guardians of the improving UK economy, and with a record number of people in work, the Conservatives are well-placed to do that.
“We have always believed that the best route out of poverty is a hand up, not a handout.”
ROBERT SMITH, UKIP: “It’s a national disgrace that the fifth wealthiest country in the world has people needing to use this service. It is purely and simply down to the cost of living and by far and away the biggest contributor to this is the Climate Change Act.
“It is forcing up the price of energy and transportation, which forces up the price of everything. The second biggest cause is the over regulation making the cost of production go through the roof.
“UKIP is the only party that will sort this. I hope voters can see the banality of policy decisions by our opponents that increase the cost of living and then scrabbling around trying to give people more and more money to compensate out of the public purse… especially when it is so empty it is inside out!”
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