I have a very privileged job; as well as sometimes achieving a better deal for someone in East Kilbride, or contributing to some change nationally, I get to meet interesting people and attend excellent events.
Last Monday saw me at Duncanrig School, along with Aileen Campbell MSP, Minister for Public Health and Sport, to check out theY-Dance programme there. It was brilliant!
Active Girls is a Scottish Government funded programme to increase girls and young women’s participation in physical activity through projects like YDance. Older pupils help with the younger pupils, and I could see that teamwork and leadership skills were being honed, as well as self-confidence and indeed dancing skills. I use the term ‘dancing skills’ loosely – the girls were all super, but I’m afraid Head Teacher George Wynne and I were not so nimble or quick when we were induced into the line-up for the Bollywood set!
Schools are very different places to when I was growing up – I know I sound like my granny used to, but I did have a special birthday recently so I feel entitled! I am inspired in East Kilbride when I visit our schools and see the varied curriculum, the confidence of so many pupils, and the dedication of so many teachers and support staff. Of course we have challenges – narrowing the attainment gap, childhood obesity, some aspects of inclusion and support for all – though I feel confident that in EK we are well placed, with excellent Head Teachers who can best take decisions on the use of the additional funds from the Scottish Government.
Of course, it’s no surprise that low educational performance and prospects are often linked to poverty. At the beginning of this month the Scottish Government introduced a Child Poverty Bill to our Parliament. A crucial step forward in tackling the problem of poverty, it will set statutory targets to reduce child poverty and establish a framework for measuring and monitoring. The UK Government’s austerity agenda, along with the ongoing welfare cuts and the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit, are all key challenges to eradicating child poverty.
It is clear that the UK Tory Government has no intention or ambition to tackle child poverty, despite their having the key economic powers to do so. Having consistently stepped in where possible to mitigate the effects of Westminster actions on those most vulnerable, again the Scottish Government is taking action.
Scotland will be the only place in the UK with statutory income targets on child poverty. Long term delivery plans to tackle deep-rooted causes of poverty will be drawn up and Ministers will have to report every year on progress. The Child Poverty Bill will require the Scottish Government to set out a three-year plan to tackle child poverty by April 2018, to be updated every five years, with the publication of annual progress reports.
It saddens me that in the 21st century we are still trying to combat child poverty in our own country; that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening instead of narrowing; that instead of truly tackling this, successive UK governments have sought to find others to blame. This results in mistrust, spinning of untruths about particular groups in society, and I would say has led to the uncertain situation that Scotland finds itself in – voting to remain in partnership with our European neighbours, yet being told we have to leave.
Over the last couple of years there have been centenary commemorations of the horrors of WW1. Our schoolchildren amongst many have taken part in services, projects and learning – lest we forget. Last Sunday I attended a commemoration and presentation to mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore during WW2. Thank you to the East Kilbride members of the Far East Prisoners of War Family (FEPOW) for inviting me. I felt honoured, I learned a lot, and was touched by the reverence with which families remember their loved ones who served.
Like I said at the beginning of this column, I have a privileged job.