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This morning, it was reported that the number of emergency food parcels that have been handed out by food banks in Scotland over the past year has risen again. The shocking fact is that more and more children in Scotland are growing up in poverty. The Scottish Government has said that it plans not to introduce an income supplement to help the poorest families in Scotland until 2022, but wants another independence referendum before 2021. What does that say about the First Minister’s priorities?
I ask everybody, please, to keep the noise down. Just a few minutes ago, we were talking about the lessons that young people might learn. Please set an example to those young people.
We will bring forward in June our plans on the income supplement. I am sure that Parliament will scrutinise them carefully. However, let us look at the Trussell Trust report that was published this morning. The rise in food bank use is utterly unacceptable: let us hear what the Trussell Trust’s operations manager in Scotland has said about it. She said:
“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty.
Universal credit should be part of the solution but, currently, the five-week wait is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.
As a priority, we are urging the Government to end the wait for universal credit.”
Universal credit is the responsibility of the UK Government. The question for Richard Leonard is this: will he join the Labour Party in Wales, which said this morning in response to the Trussell Trust report that the rise in food bank use is not the fault of the Labour Government in Wales, but that the problem is universal credit, and that that is what must change. Will Richard Leonard agree with that?
Of course, a lot of the blame lies at the door of the Tory Government. However, the Scottish Government has powers. Can we clarify what the First Minister has just said? She said that she will bring forward proposals in June, but the Government plans not to implement them for another three years. If the First Minister tells us today that she will fast-track the plans, she will have the support of the Scottish Labour Party. In the end, it is all about priorities—[
This is a matter of priorities. For example, Labour thinks that the Government should spend the 0.1 per cent of the Scottish budget that is needed to protect families from the impact of the two-child cap. However, over the recess, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People said:
“It’s not our policy to alleviate the two-child cap.”
Can the First Minister explain why that is the choice that she is making?
Last year, the United Nations sent Philip Alston, who is an expert on poverty, here to write a report. He acknowledged the work of the Welsh Government on mitigating the worst impacts of austerity, but he said that
“It is outrageous that devolved administrations need to spend resources to shield people from Government policies.”
“He’s right”—and those are the words of Jeremy Corbyn.
This Government has mitigated the impact of Tory welfare cuts wherever we could. Is Richard Leonard really saying that the answer to the cuts is for a devolved Government to take money out of devolved services to plug the gaps in reserved services, while a Westminster Government holds on to the money? Surely, that is not the proposition of Scottish Labour.
I have given him this opportunity before now: if, as I do, he really wants to tackle the issues, will Richard Leonard join me this afternoon in signing a letter to the UK Government asking that full powers over welfare be devolved to this Parliament? Yes or no?
Given its track record, the Scottish Government would probably hand those powers back.
The First Minister has the powers to protect families from the two-child cap and she has the powers to fast-track an income supplement, but she chooses not to use them. She chooses instead to talk about the constitution: she chooses to play to her party base and she chooses to argue for a referendum that Scotland does not want. In fact, since she became First Minister, she has pledged twice to call another independence referendum. In that time, at least three quarters of a million food parcels have been handed out to families in Scotland.
Is not it the case that, when it comes to a choice between protecting the poor and protecting her party, the First Minister always puts her party first?
If Richard Leonard cannot see the relationship between the constitution—the powers that we have in this Parliament—and Tory welfare cuts that are pushing children into poverty, then he does not deserve, ever, to be in Government in Scotland.
We will continue to do everything that we can to mitigate the impact of those policies. We will bring forward policies of our own to lift children out of poverty. However, unlike Richard Leonard and the Labour Party, we will argue for those powers to lie in this Parliament, and not in the hands of the Tories. As long as Richard Leonard continues to back the Tories on the constitution, the people of Scotland will see him for exactly what he is.