Interest Rates (Financial Hardship)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government plans to take to help families faced with financial hardship should interest rates rise. (S5F-01671)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

In November 2014, we launched Scotland’s financial health service. That is a one-stop web-based service that provides impartial information for anyone who has concern about debt, borrowing, managing money or general financial concerns. The service can signpost people to the most appropriate area of support, and they can find the help that they need in one place.

In addition, we are committed to establishing a financial health check guarantee that provides advice on how people can maximise their income and access the best deals on utility and financial products, and we also support families in need through the Scottish welfare fund.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Ten years of wage stagnation, low wages and the rising cost of living mean that more households could be tipped over the edge into serious financial difficulty, should there be even a small rise in interest rates today. I wonder whether the First Minister shares my concern.

A third of Scots are worried about the amount of money that they owe, and many are turning to credit to pay for essentials including gas, electricity and other basic things. The Office for Budget Responsibility—this is a very serious point, Presiding Officer—has said that household debt could in four years be as high as 47 per cent. I realise that it is difficult to respond to a question of that magnitude, but in view of the First Minister’s previous answer and the importance of affordable credit, is it time for the Government to invest more seriously in affordable credit and to promote credit unions more seriously? They have a crucial role to play in increasing financial inclusion.

One area that is worth looking at—[

Interruption

.]

The Presiding Officer:

Your question, Ms McNeill, please

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am genuinely surprised by the reaction to the question. [

Interruption

.]

The Presiding Officer:

Ask a question, please, Ms McNeill.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Will the First Minister consider not-for-profit lending schemes such as Conduit Scotland in Fife, because there is a significant and serious role that credit unions and such schemes can play—

The Presiding Officer:

A question, please, Ms McNeill.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Let us not forget the many Scots who will face financial hardship. Would the First Minister be prepared to take a personal interest in taking that forward?

The First Minister:

There is a big area of consensus here. I agree with the thrust of Pauline McNeill’s question. I am a massive supporter of the credit union movement; it does fantastic work and this Government has supported it and will continue to do so. We will look at what more we can do for it.

I understand that the Bank of England has just announced the first rise in interest rates since, I think, July 2007—a 0.25 per cent increase—which I know will be of concern to families across the country. We will continue to look at how we support people who are on the lowest incomes.

I go back to one of the central issues that we have been discussing at First Minister’s Questions today—it is one of the genuine points of disagreement between the SNP and Labour in our approach to income tax. We do not think that we should, for many of the reasons that Pauline McNeill has talked about, increase income tax for the lowest-income families. Such issues have to be at the heart of all the decisions that we take; they will continue to there, from the perspective of this Government.