Food Bank Use (Household Incomes)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st November 2019.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to reports that one in 20 households that use food banks has an unstable income due to self-employment or being on a zero-hours contract. (S5F-03736)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

No one should go hungry or have to rely on food banks in Scotland. The Scottish Government is taking action to tackle insecure work as part of our fair work agenda. Through fair work first, we are extending fair work criteria to as many funding streams as we can by the end of this parliamentary session. Those criteria include no inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts and payment of the real living wage. Of course, legislation related to zero-hours contracts is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament, and we have made very clear our opposition to the inappropriate use of those and other types of employment that offer workers no job security. In the three years to June 2019, the proportion of people in employment on a zero-hours contract in Scotland fell from 3 per cent to 2.6 per cent, but we want to see further progress in the months and years to come.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

We have seen a 10 per cent rise in the number of people employed on zero-hours contracts, and that is now 70,000 people. It is simply not enough to promote fair work; the Government must act on it. Public procurement is one of the opportunities that the Government has to end insecure work in Scotland. Will the First Minister act now and outlaw zero-hours contracts when she is procuring services from the public sector?

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

If the First Minister is really serious about tackling poverty, that is something that she can do right now.

The First Minister:

First, let me point out, as I did in my original answer, that the proportion of people in employment on a zero-hours contract has fallen. I want to see it fall further. The fair work first approach is important and we will take that forward in relation to procurement and Government funding streams more generally. Rhoda Grant says that that is not enough and, on a point of consensus, I agree with her. I would much prefer to be in a position in which we can legislate to do what she said and ban inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts. There is one slight problem with that: legislation on employment matters is reserved to Westminster and, time and time again, Labour has opposed the devolution of employment law to this Parliament. If Rhoda Grant is signalling a change of heart on that, I am delighted. I have made this kind of offer to Richard Leonard before in the chamber: I will sign a letter to the UK Government with him this afternoon, demanding the immediate devolution of employment law and then we can get on with doing exactly what Rhoda Grant is asking us to. The offer is open.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Before we move on to the next item of business, we will have a short suspension to allow some visitors to come into the gallery and members to change seats.

12:44 Meeting suspended.

12:46 On resuming—