Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Make Work pay

We Scots have a reputation for being canny with our cash but some folk have more reason to do so than others. There’s lots of talk about how we need to “make work pay” from politicians and others but the truth is, for many folk on the lowest wages, what they are paid isn’t enough to live on. Even with the minimum wage ( £6.08 an hour – if you are over 21!) there are folk in full time employment who can only make ends meet with overtime (sometime with lots of it) and in these tough times there’s not much of that about. Either way, long hours on little money means these folks quality of life is serious damaged.

There is a debate tomorrow in the Scottish Parliament about what’s called Living Wage. That is a campaign to get employers to pay a rate (calculated to be at least £7.20 an hour in Scotland) that will mean folk can do more than survive with what’s in their wage packet. You can read the details of how it is worked out at  It is a campaign the Church backs wholeheartedly.

Much of Scottish politics these days is focused on the upcoming referendum. Long before that is decided, I’d like to see our politicians doing what it takes to make sure that no Scottish worker earns less than the living wage. That’s the kind of Scotland I want to live in, independent country or otherwise, one where we care not just about our own cash, but that others have enough cash to live and not just survive.

More details on how to follow tomorrows debate at :

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Money Money Money

I found myself at the Scottish Parliament again last night – and yet again, the discussion was about money – but this time I wasn’t asking for money, we were talking about how we use money. The event was a reception hosted by John Wilson MSP as part of the Moderator’s annual visit to Parliament where folk were given a final chance to comment on the work of the Kirk’s Special Commission on the Purposes of Economics.

This is a two year piece of work by a group from business, trade unions, the church, voluntary sector, aid agencies, places of poverty and more. They argue that the purpose of our economics should be about reducing inequality, ending poverty, ensuring sustainability, and promoting mutuality. These are all moral issues. Economic relationships do not sit apart from human relationships. Wealth creation at the expenses of others well-being is destructive and inhuman

There’s no doubt that the credit crunch has been a wake-up call but are we hearing it. Too often I still hear cries to go back to business as usual. It can’t be right that some in our society are making huge financial gains, while for too many this winter the stark choice is whether to heat or to eat.

The Commission has covered many issues but the biggest cheer last night was a challenge to pay day loans. These legal loan sharks are charging 4000% interest in some cases and that could be capped. As Charles Munn who chaired the commission put it; “if Governments can find the political will to set minimum prices for alcohol, why can’t they set maximum prices for credit.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Neorscientist can watch us making decisions

Recently it was reported that neuroscience researchers have begun to be able to watch the decision making process at work in our brain.

Led by Professor Irene Tracey, an Oxford University team believe that within 10 years they will be able to do brain scans that test individual pain experience and this could be used to spot benefit cheats or fraudulent person’s injury claims.

This raised many questions in my mind, (or even in my neurons!). Is this right to use a tool which was built for the medical purpose of detecting something abnormal within the brain for a completely different purpose?  Can we really reduce our decisions to chemical reactions? Where does free will, or even choice fit into all this. Just because my brain pattern says that I am inclined to do a certain thing does not necessarily mean that I will chose to act upon it. I was glad to read that the Royal Society said that any question of using brain test results as evidence in court should be approached with "great caution”.

There are extraordinary consequences to a conclusion based on science that humans are merely made up of chemicals and our life decisions are determined by how those chemicals react in certain circumstances. This gives no room for the upbringing and morals instilled in us from our family, from our teachings and from our surroundings. Where too does the idea of sacrificial love or the challenge of forgiveness fit into this world view.

Professor Tracey is trying to help others heal. She should be applauded for that work in the service of others. But I do not thing her work should be used at the same time to undermine our very understanding of what it is to be fully human, with no room for our freedom of choice or the inner journey that is the bedrock of a contented life with or without faith.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What do I think of the Scottish Budget announcements?

Extra money for affordable housing can only be positive as this is on top of the additional 6,000 homes per year that has already been promised. However it is in the context of an overall cut to the housing budget, so it does beg the question – what else is being cut?

The proposed cut of £11.4m to student support which was in the draft budget will not now go ahead which is a welcome change of direction at a time when we need to encourage more students to take their education further. There was also an indication of more funding for further education colleges. It will not be enough but it is a start. This coupled with the increase in the modern apprenticeships and the guarantee of training or learning opportunities for the 16 – 19 year olds is at least a small step towards addressing the issue of growing unemployment in Scotland. I particularly welcome the investment of £3m to tackle Sectarianism an area of work that has been and will continue to be high on the agenda for the Church of Scotland.

Any steps that assist the Scottish people to cope during a period of financial austerity are welcome. However is the freeze in Council Tax a case “what is given with one hand is taken with the other” Cutbacks to local government funding from whatever source will surely threaten many local services?

Many other opportunities were missed. The promised levy on large stores selling tobacco and alcohol has been reduced. This will result in an estimated £15m - £95m reduction in the amount that the government had hoped to raise. What happened to the additional money this would bring in for the health service? I am also disappointed that not enough was done to support meeting Scotland’s plans for climate change. Yes, there was additional cash – but not nearly enough.

Then there is the protection of the NHS Budget but the cut in nursing costs and the apparent lack of additional support for kinship carers. So is this my last word on the topic of the Scottish Budget? You bet it’s not.