2. The Prime Minister’s answer to Commons gridlock and Brexit meltdown is to offer to resign—again. While MPs cannot make a decision, too many people in the real world have no choice, day in and day out, but to make heart-breaking decisions as a result of a decade of Tory austerity—decisions such as paying the bills or feeding their children. The result is that more than half a million food parcels were handed out in Scotland over the past 18 months.
The First Minister and I may differ on some things, but we share some frustrations about the Brexit process, not least in how it is detracting from all the other issues that really matter to people: issues such as jobs, schools and hospitals, and child poverty.
In October last year, the First Minister told me that she would not support Labour’s plan to increase child benefit by £5 a week, because her Government estimated that it would lift only 20,000 children out of poverty. New figures for child poverty were published by the Scottish Government this morning. Will the First Minister tell members how many more children in Scotland are now living in poverty?
If we look at this morning’s figures, child poverty has increased and that is deeply regrettable. We know why it is increasing: because of the welfare cuts and the austerity that are being imposed by the Tory Government.
Child poverty, and poverty generally, in Scotland is too high, although it is important to note that it is lower in Scotland than it is in England or Labour-run Wales. Nevertheless, it is because child poverty is too high that we are taking steps to mitigate the impact of Tory welfare cuts and to invest in reducing child poverty and, of course, we are committed to the introduction of an income supplement, which will lift more children out of poverty, by making sure that we target that resource to those who most need it.
When we publish the way forward on that by June this year, I hope that we will get Scottish Labour’s support for it.
This morning’s figures show that 10,000 more children in Scotland are living in poverty. That means that almost a quarter of a million children in Scotland are living in poverty today. No wonder Dr Mary Anne MacLeod from the anti-poverty project, a menu for change, says that the Scottish Government must
“give people living on cups of tea and thin air more to sustain them. And they must do it now.”
No wonder that the Child Poverty Action Group says:
“The Scottish Government’s timetable for a new income supplement fails to reflect the extraordinary increase in child poverty that the country faces. Children in poverty really can’t wait until 2022”.
Why is the First Minister making those children wait?
We are doing the work to ensure that we have a policy that can be delivered and paid for, and which lifts the maximum number of children out of poverty. This week, Labour’s most recent policy announcement—on bus travel—was exposed as completely unworked through. It is not fair to promise people things that cannot be delivered. We will not do that. We will make plans that can be delivered.
“Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and ... limits on their ability to raise revenue. ... But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable.”
We will continue to take real action. We will continue to demand that the powers that the Tories are using to impose those policies on Scotland are brought to the Scottish Parliament. The sooner that Richard Leonard supports us in that, the better.