The United Kingdom social security system, which has responsibility for income-related benefits, provides the majority of support to households. That is why we have continually urged much-needed changes to it so that it meets the needs of the people of Scotland.
Here in Scotland, I am pleased that our new Scottish child payment for low-income families with a child under 6 will open for applications from Monday next week, and will provide £10 per week, with the first payments being made from the end of February.
Alongside our best start grant and best start foods, that means that we will provide more than £5,200 of financial support for families by the time their first child turns six. For second and subsequent children, the amount will be more than £4,900.
Although one might think that free school meals would command the support of all parties in the Scottish Parliament, over the past few weeks we have seen the farce of Scottish Tory MPs voting against it at Westminster, while Tory MSPs claim to support it—a move that the Tory education spokesperson has admitted makes his party and his party’s leader hypocrites. Does the cabinet secretary agree with that assessment?
Yes. While the Scottish Government has, through an initial £350 million funding package, been at the forefront of supporting people and communities since the outbreak of the pandemic, it often seems that the UK Government has to be dragged into doing the right thing. That is exemplified by its stance on free school meals, and now by the delay in clarifying the furlough scheme that will be available to Scottish businesses in a future Scottish lockdown, if that is required.
I urge UK ministers to take further action on a raft of measures that are still outstanding—for example, by giving people reassurance that the £20 uplift to universal credit will, right now, be made permanent and be extended to legacy benefits. The UK Government needs to show, as the Scottish Government has shown, that it will do everything that it can do to protect households with low incomes.