Martin Sime: As universal credit rolls out, in-work poverty rolls in

Plus: The crisis in social care, FRS102, religion in schools, and a trip to France for our man north of the border

Martin Sime
Martin Sime

It's too easy to overlook the continuing nightmare that is the roll-out of universal credit. Those entitled to social security in East Lothian are the latest in a long line of victims, made worse by alignment with the annual review of tax credits. In-work poverty is rising fast. Voluntary sector staff at the front line have to deal with some harrowing stories and they deserve our total support.

I hear much about the crisis in social care on both sides of the border, with unrealistic demands for more money to employ more staff. I suspect that no amount of industrial-scale interventions will sort this problem. Smaller, self-directed and community-based supports have a more realistic chance of making a difference. Integrating health and care authorities is no panacea. In Scotland we have wasted two years (and an unknown amount of money) on this structural reform without any impact on the front line.

It was always the central irony of European funding that reforms designed to reduce bureaucracy ended up doing the opposite. I'm rapidly coming to the view that charity accounting is another example of this. I can't be alone in thinking that FRS102, the new accounting standard, is a nightmare that does nothing to help the lay reader understand what is going on.

Religion and schools is a delicate subject, especially in parts of Scotland where the Catholic Church are involved, so congratulations to one of our fastest-growing voluntary organisations, the Humanist Society Scotland, for raising the issue of the right of pupils to decline to participate in religious observance. With only 8 per cent of the population going to church, US-style secular education can't be too far away.

Going to France to give a paper at the rather grandly titled European Civic Academy, I'm struck by how much will be lost by Brexit. I'm not talking about markets, borders or agricultural subsidies. Too much of that is about the interests of big business or aptly named slipper farmers. Nor can I get too worked up about the politics because the European Union was built on the shaky foundation of what sovereign nation states were prepared to cede and share. It's the connections, learning and solidarity across our civil societies that is the most precious thing at risk.

Martin Sime is chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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