THE Westminster government makes much of its “levelling up” agenda. Excuse my default cynicism, but they must be having us on. Leopards and spots and all that. The Tory default setting is to target the most vulnerable. In 2022, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported targeted reductions in social security support had left households at the mercy of inflation and rising bills.

Levelling up is no Damascene-type conversion. It’s another populist and cynical diversion, prolonging the 2019 confidence trick on Labour’s former Red Wall voters. The smokescreen camouflages a lack of genuine concern for those “left behind.” Plutocrats’ economic priorities ensure they, and those like them, retain and increase their wealth. Trickle-down economics is a fallacy.

According to The Resolution Foundation, the cost-of-living gap between the richest and poorest UK households is at its widest since records began in 2006. Big Issue magazine reports inequality in the UK is among the worst in the developed world. The gap was turbo charged during the pandemic. Despite Covid and the recession, the wealthy still increased their overall worth. As a bonus, the value of their houses soared.

Office for National Statistics data reveals the richest 10% of households have an average worth of £1.4million and hold 43% of the UK’s wealth. In contrast, the poorest 50% of households hold 9% of the national wealth. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports a nation in deep crisis with a quarter of those surveyed feeling financially insecure and believing things are going to get worse.

It's no better north of the border. The Scottish Government recently published reports on Poverty and Income Inequality and Persistent Poverty in Scotland. Neither make happy reading. At best, levels of child, working-age and pensioner poverty is “stable.”

Evidence provided by independent body, The Poverty and Inequality Commission, confirms the dire situation described in those two reports. The benchmark for poverty is household income of less than 60% of the average for “households of that type.” The Commission reports around a quarter of Scotland’s children live in poverty, as do 14% of pensioners. Nearly one in five children live in persistent poverty. It’s proving increasingly hard to make ends meet even in households where someone is in employment. Most distressing of all, just under 40% of single women with children live in poverty.

The growing gap between the haves and have-nots goes beyond income. Budgets recently set by Scottish councils represent a further assault on the quality of living endured by the poorest. In Aberdeen, the SNP/LibDem coalition took the axe to libraries and swimming pools, mostly in less affluent areas. Sure, better-heeled Aberdonians can afford family membership at private facilities. Closure of community pools, however, prevents children from poorer homes even learning to swim. That, and easy access to books, should be the right of every child, not a privilege of birth and postcode.

Scotland’s most deep-seated problems, including health, drugs and education, stem from inequality and poverty. True, the Scottish Government has identified addressing poverty, particularly among children, as a top priority. The increase in the Scottish child payment is certainly welcome. Leadership contender Kate Forbes stated eradicating poverty to be her “overriding mission.” Then again, eradicating the education attainment gap was Ms Sturgeon’s overriding mission. Fine words are not enough. Innovative and radical action is required.

Narrowing the inter-generational financial gap would be as good a place to start as any. My generation is good at wringing our hands about poverty, but less keen on putting those hands in pockets. How about tapping into the capital gains arising from huge increases in property values? Home ownership represents the largest proportion of wealth in the UK, perpetuating generational unfairness and poverty.

The Tories are a lost cause, clinging to their core belief that poverty is the result of economic fecklessness. The question is, come the next Holyrood and Westminster elections, will any party come out for wealth redistribution? Equally importantly, will the rest of us accept that wringing our hands about the unfairness of it all isn’t enough to close the poverty gap?