Our commitment to tackling inequality and poverty across Scotland is made clear in the 2015 programme for government, and we have instigated a number of policies to achieve a greater degree of equality across the country during our time in office, including a commitment to support people in Scotland who are affected by the United Kingdom Government’s welfare cuts. The First Minister appointed an independent adviser on poverty and inequality, who has published a series of recommendations in her report “Shifting the Curve”. We also launched a nationwide discussion last year in which we asked people across the country what a fairer Scotland means to them, and a report on the findings was published recently.
I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for his response and I welcome many of the initiatives that he highlights, particularly in relation to welfare. I must congratulate him on getting through that answer without once using the word “redistribution”.
I recently heard it said that Scotland is becoming the best place in the world to be middle class. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, when the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities this week produced a manifesto claiming that Scotland’s inequalities are in danger of overtaking countries with which we would not want to be compared—the First Minister’s poverty adviser has said something similar—the real challenge for the next parliamentary session will be for Parliament to turn the rhetoric on inequality into action?
The Government is taking action on a range of fronts. First, we have the highest level of employment in any part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, we are extending the living wage as much as we can. Thirdly, we have improved the social wage. Fourthly, we will use our new powers on social security to maximise equality and reduce poverty in Scotland.
I wish the member, who is not returning to Parliament, all the best. I look forward to working with him in some new capacity in the near future.
Will the cabinet secretary assure us that, rather than concentrating exclusively on the redistribution of wealth through taxation, he will do something to improve labour mobility in Scotland so that the country’s unemployed can move to the areas where the new jobs are created and take up the opportunities that George Osborne has generated through economic growth?
Over the next six weeks, I think that what the Scottish electorate will be saying to the Scottish Tories is, “Get on your bike.”
The Government is doing everything that it possibly can, which is why we have the highest level of employment of any part of the United Kingdom. If we were not burdened by the UK Government’s rather hideous policies, we could do much more for the people of Scotland.