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Public Services (Universalism)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on calls to revisit its position on the principle of universalism in public service provision. (S4O-05257)

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

We believe in a fair and equal Scotland and our commitment to universal public services, which we reaffirmed in the recent draft budget, is vital to create the right social and economic conditions for everyone to flourish.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

Can I take it from his response that, like me, the cabinet secretary is proud to be part of a Government that opposes unnecessary means testing for the provision of public benefits and does not want to return to the previous situation, as promoted by the better together parties?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Absolutely. Universal services in Scotland are wide ranging and consequently apply to different groups on a range of bases. It would be extremely difficult to apply any form of means testing for existing universal services on an equitable basis. Such universal benefits have the advantage of being transparent, equitable and non-stigmatising. Take-up is often a matter of individual choice, rather than relating to demonstration of experience of need, and that reduces unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy.

Unlike Johann Lamont, who at the weekend questioned whether people need free higher education, free bus passes, free school meals and free prescriptions, we believe that people do need those things. We all contribute to society, and we all benefit. These are the choices on investment in our society that we make to reduce poverty, and they support the Government’s commitment to a fairer, healthier and more prosperous country.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

Does the cabinet secretary not think that it is time to embrace progressive universalism, rather than crude universalism? For example, within the universal provision of healthcare, more resources should be targeted to general practitioners in deprived areas, and within the universal service of education, more resources should be targeted at schools and nurseries where there are significant numbers pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, as proposed by Kezia Dugdale.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

We already have progressive universalism. For example, in the health service—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

—we have more than 100 deep-end practices, in and around Glasgow in particular. They get additional resources for link workers and the like. My point about Johann Lamont’s contribution was that it was neither universal nor progressive.