Monday, 31 December 2012
Scotland must resolve to confront great evils of new century
After the merriment of Christmas, New Year is a time to look forward. A time to set new goals and ambitions. A time to confront those things that we have put off in previous years.
For most, this will mean eating less and exercising more but as a nation we are confronted with far greater challenges than losing a few pounds.
The welfare state was constructed and sustained with the goal of eradicating what Beveridge called “the five giant evils of society” - squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.
These were the challenges facing a country emerging from war and confronted with a society eager to move on but shackled to issues holding it back.
The challenges faced by Scotland today are of a different time, but are no less great than the trials faced by our parents and grandparents.
Scotland must resolve to confront the three great evils that face us in a new century – a demographic time bomb, the advance of climate change and the stubborn pervasiveness of poverty.
In the next 25 years, the number of households in Scotland headed by someone over the age of 65 is projected to increase by 60%. If the actuarial tables are right, my hill running days will be over and I will be one of over 1.5 million Scots collecting a pension, using care services and nursing my worn out knees!
The challenge that this presents us as a country is not one that can wait another year. The start that has been made to shifting our budget priorities away from reactive to preventative spending is welcome and the Scottish Government deserves praise of the Change Fund it has set up to address some of these long-term issues.
There is still time to defuse the demographic time bomb, but this year we must go further and faster with measures that spend money to save money.
The next great evil of the modern world is climate change. Much has been made of Scotland’s world leading climate change legislation but 2012 was the year we missed our first target.
In 2013, we must do better. Tackling climate change cannot be left to next year, it cannot wait another year.
We need investment in insulation for homes, schools and hospitals, we need to accelerate the development of market-ready renewable energy and we need to continue to develop the culture of recycling.
Finally, the enduring challenge of poverty. In his 1942 report, Beveridge called it squalor and although that label has become less frequent in the last 70 years, the shame that we feel for its presence in our country has not.
Inequalities in health and educational attainment are on the up, but short term political advantage is often put in the way of longer term gain for the country as a whole. 2012 has been a year when every issue, large or small, has been seen through the prism of the independence referendum. We can’t afford to let this go on.
The three evils facing us in the modern world must be confronted in their own right. The population is not going to get any younger, the ice stop melting or deprivation evaporate overnight no matter what the result in 2014.
It’s time to get serious with these issues. I resolve to play my part. I hope you do to.