Child Poverty

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 29 March 2007.

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 12:00, 29 March 2007

To ask the First Minister whether any of the additional £1.8 billion to be made available to the Scottish Executive, as announced in last week's budget, will be earmarked for tackling child poverty. (S2F-2806)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I welcome Alex Neil's support for the union dividend. The resources are available for the period 2008 to 2011. The Scottish ministers will decide their use when they set budgets later this year.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The union dividend is 4 per cent of the oil revenues; the independence dividend would be 100 per cent of the oil revenues.

Does the First Minister realise that the level of child poverty in devolved Scotland is 10 times what it is in independent Denmark? Does he realise that the level of child poverty under Blair, Brown and McConnell is two and a half times what it was under Harold Wilson? After 300 years of the union, 10 years of a Labour Government and eight years of a Labour-led Executive, when will he actually try to do something about child poverty in Scotland?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Not only has pensioner poverty been reduced dramatically since 1997, child poverty has been reduced considerably—both absolute poverty as measured by a straight cash comparison with 1997 and relative poverty as measured by comparison with the rest of the population.

I believe that there are further measures that we can take. I outlined one recently: prioritising the provision of free school meals to the youngsters who need it most—who had their free school meals taken away by the Tories. That is in direct contradiction to the Scottish National Party policy, which is to provide free school meals to those who can afford it rather than those who cannot.

Alex Neil made a telling point in his question. His whole strategy for the economy would be based around the volatile oil price. The reality is that the parties who would gamble the future of the children in Scotland who are living in poverty on a volatile oil price that has dropped by $20 a barrel since last summer would not be able to tackle poverty in Scotland. It is those of us who want a strong and stable economy who will tackle poverty, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Given the First Minister's personal commitment to the abolition of child poverty by 2020, how does he believe the Labour Party's commitment to extending free school meals fits into that ambition?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I have just said, I believe strongly that free school meals should be targeted at those who need them most, not provided on an ad hoc, universal basis that includes those who can afford them. That is a wrong policy from the SNP. A policy of proper targeting is the correct one for the future in Scotland.

I also believe strongly that we are more likely to lift children in Scotland out of poverty if we are part of the fifth largest economy in the world than if that economy is our nearest competitor. With that approach, we can deliver even more children in Scotland out of poverty in the years to come.