We are committed to tackling poverty and disadvantage in Scotland, including among the working poor, and we are working with the UK Government to do so. Our investment in child care and training is helping more and more Scots into work, and wages are now rising more quickly in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.
Everyone wants to tackle poverty and eradicate low wages. Is the First Minister aware of the "Voices of people experiencing poverty in Scotland: Everyone matters?" report, which has been published this week, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and supported by 20 Scottish charities? There are a number of statistics in that report that relate to real people—they are not just figures, as the First Minister obviously accepts. Two of the most frightening statistics are that 900,000 people in Scotland—18 per cent of the population—live on a low income and that 0.25 million children in Scotland live in poverty, even though someone in their family is working. If the First Minister is re-elected, what new policies will his Executive introduce to eradicate poverty among the working poor?
I am aware of the report and of the important issues it raises. One of the most important ways for us to tackle the issue is to work in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, the Treasury and the other UK Government departments on our responsibilities for education, skills, child care, the regeneration of our communities, the creation of employment and in areas such as the provision of school meals.
I hope that coalition partners will allow me to say that I believe that we should target an extension of free school meals on those families who had free school meals taken away from them by the Conservative Government in the late 1980s, when it hypocritically and deceitfully changed the benefits system and, by a sleight of hand, reduced the opportunity for a free school meal for a range of people who were in work but still in poverty. It is important that we target an extension of free school meals on those families, rather than adopt the universal approach that would allow free school meals for those who can afford them.
Does the First Minister accept that the main cause of poverty among the working poor is low wages and that we need to raise them to eradicate such poverty? I should apologise, because I said something earlier that is not true—I said that we all want to tackle poverty and eradicate low wages, but, unfortunately, that is not true. Does the First Minister support the Labour councillors in North Ayrshire Council who have an inward investment policy to try to attract business to North Ayrshire?
I am coming to Frank McAveety. Under the heading, "Wage Levels", the policy says:
"Average Gross Hourly pay in North Ayrshire is £8.75 compared to £10.17 in Scotland and £11.19 for Great Britain. It is 12% below the UK level of £9.60 per hour."
Does the First Minister support the Labour councillors in North Ayshire, who advertise the area as a low-wage economy and who, in essence, say to employers, "Our workers are exploited. Why don't you come and join in?" Does he support them, or will he condemn them and support the people who want wages to be raised so that people are taken out of poverty?
I accept that Campbell Martin is committed to tackling poverty and I answered his first question positively for that reason, but I do not accept his attempt to misrepresent and demean the hard work of people in North Ayrshire to try to create jobs there.
I grew up in North Ayrshire and I know the economic challenges that it has suffered over the past 30 years. It has a number of communities that need support, proper infrastructure, inward investment and the development of new businesses that will create jobs there in the future that will retain the population and help grow it to ensure that those communities are sustainable. Our investment, not just in the M77 to the south but in the new bypass at the three towns, in improved ferry services, in regeneration in Irvine and elsewhere and in the urban regeneration company, will make a difference in North Ayrshire. If Campbell Martin really wanted to tackle poverty, he would support that investment, not run it down.