Health Inequalities

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th February 2021.

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Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce health inequalities. (S5O-05057)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Reducing health inequalities is a clear priority for the Scottish Government and among the biggest challenges that we face. Our programme for government in 2020 set out our commitment to promote lifelong health and wellbeing, and that included a renewed focus on tackling health inequalities.

We are taking decisive action to address inequalities by making progress against our public health priorities and associated healthy living strategies, and against our action plans on smoking, obesity, physical activity, and alcohol and drug misuse, which were published in 2018. We are also working closely with Public Health Scotland and other key partners to support and empower our communities to make the changes that are important to them.

Ultimately, right across Government, we are focusing our efforts on addressing the underlying causes of health inequalities—for example, on ending poverty, promoting fair wages, and improving our physical and social environments. Those are complex issues, which is why our public health efforts are complemented by wide-ranging, cross-Government action. Reducing poverty and inequality sits at the heart of our investment across all portfolios.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I should have reminded members that, if they wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are remote, put R in the chat box during the question. I am sorry to have held up Mr Arthur.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

The pandemic has exacerbated existing health inequalities, but it has also created new health inequalities, with variations among regions that depend on their success in reducing the prevalence of the virus. As we move towards a levels system, can the minister assure members that the Scottish Government will provide resources to areas that need extra support in reducing the prevalence of the virus?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I share Tom Arthur’s concern about that—especially the concern that there are groups of people who have been adversely and disproportionately affected by Covid-19. The economic consequences of the pandemic are likely to have a negative long-term impact on health and to exacerbate the inequalities that already existed.

As I stated in my first response, we take those issues extremely seriously. That is why, since the start of the pandemic, we have committed over £0.5 billion of additional funding to support people and communities that have been impacted. That includes over £140 million specifically to tackle issues such as food security. It also includes the £15 million that the First Minister announced in November for local authorities to support people who had been impacted by level 4 restrictions and guidance. In addition, we have committed £479 million of Covid consequential funding to local authorities to try to meet local needs and build resilience.

Last week, we announced a package of measures worth £37.2 million to tackle poverty and inequality. That includes a further £100 Covid hardship payment for qualifying low-income families and additional funding of £20 million for councils to tackle financial insecurity at a local level. That means that almost £47 million has been made available for that priority.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind everyone that I will not be able to take supplementaries if questions and answers are very long.