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Mortality Rates

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to a new study, which suggests that young people in the poorest parts of the country are three times more likely to die before their 25th birthday than those in the most affluent areas. (S5F-03581)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Findings such as that are shocking and a major cause of concern. Perhaps most of all, they underline the importance of the concrete actions that the Scottish Government is taking to tackle deep-seated poverty and inequality, including health inequalities. For example, our alcohol and drug strategy is backed by new investment and sets out the actions that we are taking to reduce alcohol and drug use. We are investing more than £3 million up to 2021 to support suicide prevention. Our tackling child poverty delivery plan outlines the actions that we are taking to eradicate child poverty, including the introduction by the end of 2022 of the new Scottish child payment for all eligible families, with early introduction by Christmas next year for families with children under six.

In 2018-19, we spent more than £1.4 billion in direct support to low-income households, £100 million of which was to mitigate the worst impact of Tory Government welfare cuts. Tory Government actions continue to push people into poverty and we must unite to fight against those actions

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

Aberlour Child Care Trust, which sponsored the research, argues that

“A bad start shouldn’t mean a bad end.”

Professor Morag Treanor, who carried out the research, emphasises the impact of poverty across a child’s whole life, with links to housing, health inequalities and education, which are all areas in which the Scottish Government has the power to take radical action. Does the First Minister share my view that a young person’s life expectancy should not be dependent on a postcode lottery, and that the solution is a major shift in policy to fight with vigour and fortitude the massive inequality between the rich and the poor in society?

The First Minister:

Yes, I agree with that. I point to the radical actions that the Scottish Government is taking with the doubling of the provision of early years education in childcare, using the getting it right for every child approach to ensure that we protect children in their earliest years; our commitment to record numbers of new, affordable housing, outstripping anything that we see elsewhere in the United Kingdom; and the new Scottish child payment, which, in the words of anti-poverty campaigners, is “game-changing” in the fight against child poverty.

I have said this before to Richard Leonard and I say it again now: before we took the decision about the Scottish child payment, we rightly heard a lot from Labour demanding that we introduce it and talking about how transformational it would be. However, since we announced the decision to introduce it, I have not heard a single member on the Labour benches talk about it.

That is the kind of radical action that we are taking, which—interestingly—Labour colleagues in Wales are not taking. We will continue to take action to fight poverty, rather than just talk about it.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister have any analysis of how Tory welfare cuts—from the benefit freeze to the two-child cap and changes to the work allowance—are impacting on the poorest in our society? How much is being cut a year from social security spend in Scotland by the UK Government?

The First Minister:

The Scottish Government’s 2019 welfare reform report set out some analysis. It estimated that UK Government cuts could reduce social security spending in Scotland by £500 million a year. Those cuts have already pushed thousands of families in Scotland into poverty, with post-2015 UK Government welfare changes set to reduce spending on social security by that estimated £500 million a year. Due to the two-child limit, 8,500 Scottish families have had their income cut, but that figure will reach 40,000 by the time of full roll-out and 20,000 children will be brought into poverty.

The benefit cap is affecting more than 3,000 households, and 91 per cent of those households contain children. They are losing an average of £3,000 a year.

Right now, we have to spend more than £100 million a year in mitigation, and the United Nations special rapporteur described that requirement to mitigate as outrageous. That is the price that we pay to allow welfare powers to lie in the hands of a Tory Government at Westminster. I know that the Greens are already on board, so I call on Labour and the Liberal Democrats—I even call on some of the Tories—to think about this deeply and make a united call for all welfare powers to come to this Parliament so that we can start to treat people with dignity and respect.

12:45 Meeting suspended.

12:50 On resuming—