Comment: social justice is for all of us

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When used occasionally by some parliamentary colleagues, the term “the leafy suburbs of East Renfrewshire” is not so much an affectionate description of our autumnally-coloured parks and gardens as a gentle political rebuke to me for raising issues of fairness and social justice.

I believe the jibe is based on the misconception that the relative affluence of our community protects all who live here from any difficulty or worse still, that such principles should only apply selectively and to the poorest in the community.

The best response to any such prejudice has just been published by Oxfam in the shape of its report Even it up: time to end extreme inequality.

Oxfam found that seven out of ten people live in countries, including our own, where economic inequality is worse than it was 30 years ago, and highlight, for example, that the gender pay gap has been widening in Scotland each year since 2010.

In fact, November 4 marked Equal Pay Day in the UK, the day in the year when women stop earning relative to men.

With the best schools in the country and a life expectancy above the national average, it would be all too easy to think that economic inequality doesn’t affect people in East Renfrewshire but it does and it hurts everyone.

Economic inequality is bad for growth and drives further inequalities in health, education and life chances.

It is five years since the book, The Spirit Level, propelled this issue up the political agenda with its conclusion that problems from violence, obesity and mental illness to drug addiction and levels of imprisonment are more common in more unequal societies.

The argument is now being carried forward not just by esteemed and caring individuals such as Pope Francis but by less likely organisations such as the International Monetary Fund.

Poverty and inequality are not inevitable but the result of policy choices and they damage the very fabric of our society.

That is why I took the opportunity to speak in this week’s Scottish Parliament debate on the living wage.

Oxfam reported that in 2014, the top 100 executives took home 131 times as much as their average employee, yet only 15 of these top companies have committed to pay their employees a living wage.

It is not enough to wring our hands and complain about what we can’t do, the Scottish Government needs to look at our health policies, at education, at our social services, at housing and yes, at our wages and pay policies too.

That’s how we tackle inequality.

That’s how we build a better Scotland.