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.
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?
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.
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.