Child Poverty Income Supplement

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

6. To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will consider bringing forward the introduction of an income supplement, in light of two recent reports predicting an increase in child poverty. (S5F-03223)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, we will. Those reports, which we have reflected on previously today, show the devastating impact of the United Kingdom Government’s welfare cuts. It has taken avoidable and conscious decisions to drive families in Scotland and across the UK into poverty.

We have committed to setting out options for the income supplement prior to the summer recess, and that is what we will do. We look forward to working with members across the chamber to design and implement an income supplement that helps the maximum number of children and families who need it most.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I am glad that the First Minister agrees that those are shocking reports. We need to push for urgency because, to date, on the Scottish National Party’s watch and fuelled by Tory austerity, child poverty in Scotland continues to rise. The Resolution Foundation report predicts a rise to 29 per cent by 2023. That should be a cause of shame for every elected member in the chamber.

If I heard correctly—I hope that I did—I think that the First Minister has finally listened to Labour’s call for the income supplement to be brought forward. We cannot wait until 2022 at the earliest, because, as Dr Mary Anne MacLeod said,

“promises to help people in three years’ time are of little comfort to parents whose cupboards are empty right now.”

Given that tackling poverty cannot wait, will the First Minister also listen to Scottish Labour, children’s charities, faith groups and academics and immediately implement a £5 supplement to child benefit? That would lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty right now. Or will the First Minister just continue to talk about it while families are struggling below the breadline? Jam tomorrow is no use—

The Presiding Officer:

That is enough, Ms Smith, thank you.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

—when families do not even have bread today.

The First Minister:

This is a serious issue. I am on record, not just today but on many occasions, as saying that I think that poverty rates generally and child poverty rates in particular are too high in Scotland. In Scotland, the child poverty rate is 22 per cent—which is far too high—but it is worth noting that the rate in the UK as a whole is 26 per cent, and it is 26 per cent in Wales, too. The member’s assertion that this is somehow down to the SNP simply does not bear scrutiny.

I have to say that what marks out the SNP Government is our determination to take action to tackle child poverty. Scotland is the only part of the UK with statutory targets. We are doing mitigation to protect against Tory welfare cuts and work to look at how we have an income supplement that raises the maximum number of children out of poverty. Whether or not Labour members want to accept it, the reality is that we need a delivery mechanism and the budgeting for that. We cannot simply promise something if we do not know how it can be delivered or paid for, and we are doing the hard work to make this possible, not just in rhetoric but in reality.

We will bring forward the update before June and Parliament as a whole can debate the best way forward. That is the right way to go, and it is the way that is in the best interests, in the longer term, of children across Scotland.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

I agree with the First Minister that we must ensure that any money is targeted at those in need, not given as a universal benefit to many people who do not need it. However, the introduction of an income supplement would experience economic shock factors and the volatility of the economy. Does the First Minister believe that that factor needs to be very much considered in the introduction of an income supplement? How would the Scottish Government manage that?

The First Minister:

Forgive me—I am genuinely not sure that I entirely understand the question, but I am happy to reflect on it and to reply later. Of course, all of these issues can be properly discussed and debated when we bring forward the update with suggested ways forward in June.

I say in all sincerity to Michelle Ballantyne that we would not be having this discussion right now if it were not for the policies of her party at Westminster, imposing welfare cuts and austerity on children and families across Scotland. Perhaps if she reflected on that before she next stood up in this chamber to talk about child poverty, we would all be a lot better off.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s questions. Before we move to members’ business, we will have a short suspension while members, ministers and those in the gallery change their seats.

12:43 Meeting suspended.

12:45 On resuming—