Obviously, I am concerned about the overall impact of Covid. However, I am also concerned about the disproportionate effect that it has on certain groups in the population.
Many experts and researchers are working to get a deeper understanding of the impact of Covid. We already know that the issues behind higher levels of infection in particular ethnic communities and areas of poverty and deprivation include—among other things, no doubt—housing conditions and more people living in smaller accommodation.
We have tried to put equality and social justice at the heart of our response to Covid. We have provided significant financial support, including a communities package to help those who are most in need. We have since increased the funding considerably—in particular by giving additional funding to local authorities in tier 4 areas. We have also taken decisions including the decision to extend provision of free school meals through to the Easter holidays next year.
We will continue to try to understand the reasons for the disproportionate impacts of Covid, and to do everything that we can to address the needs of those who are impacted.
Daily Record devoted substantial coverage to the scandal of poverty in Scotland. In particular, it highlighted that a quarter of kids will grow up hungry.
In addition, a recent survey found that nearly half of people run out of money before they get to their next pay day. That is a really desperate situation for many people in the country to live in. Glasgow city, where there is a high proportion of Covid hotspots, contains 24.8 per cent of the areas of greatest deprivation in the country. Therefore, there is a clear link between poverty and Covid infection rates.
Will the Government commit to ensuring that in any Covid recovery plan specific packages will be targeted at those areas of poverty and deprivation in order to ensure that those communities are not left behind?
We have sought to do that since the start of the pandemic and we have—as I said in my initial answer—made available significant additional funding to help specifically with the community impact. In doing so, we are recognising that areas of pre-existing poverty and deprivation will be particularly hard hit.
We have also made additional money available to local authorities to help with financial insecurity over the winter. We are now considering plans, which we will make known in the weeks to come, on how we can provide particular help over the winter and beyond, as we start to recover from Covid.
On poverty more generally, this Government is determined to eradicate child poverty in particular. We are taking significant steps to do that. We are the only part of the United Kingdom that is introducing the new child payment. The first phase of applications is now open and the first payments will be made early next year. Many poverty campaigners have described it as a “game changer”. It is a signal of our determination to do everything that we can, within the powers that we have, to tackle poverty—child poverty, in particular. We will have more to say about that in the weeks to come.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer missed an opportunity yesterday. He could have chosen to make permanent the uplift to universal credit, which was rightly introduced because of Covid. He did not do that. I hope that this Parliament will unite in calling on him to rethink that decision and to right that wrong.