The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-01248, in the name of Shona Robison, on a land of opportunity—supporting a fairer and more equal society.
I invite members who want to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible or, if they are joining us remotely, to put an R in the chat function.
I am pleased to open the debate by outlining the action that the Government is taking to create a fairer, more equal society for all who live here. We are well aware of the challenges ahead. We know that Covid-19 has not gone away and that we must be vigilant while the virus remains part of our daily lives. Its impact has been far reaching, with disproportionate impacts being felt by certain communities and, in particular, by low-income households. We face the double whammy of Covid and Brexit, with rising prices, shortages and a particular toll being faced by many industries.
As we rebuild from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to ground our recovery in changes that will create a more equal and inclusive society that is green and fair. By building on our national mission to tackle child poverty, support thriving communities, provide people with a safe, warm place to call home and deliver fair jobs, we will create a land of opportunity for everyone.
Last week, the First Minister set out our plans to deliver that vision over this parliamentary session. We will work across party lines to do so. The recent agreement with our Scottish Green Party colleagues exemplifies our determination to come together to make Scotland a greener, fairer country, and I welcome having a new minister responsible for delivering a new deal for tenants.
Our goals are clear, and we are building on the work of previous Governments and the unprecedented action that has already been taken to achieve them. We have already done so much through our delivery of affordable homes, our action on isolation and loneliness, our funding to organisations that help women and girls who are victims of abuse and violence, and our action to tackle child poverty and the poverty-related attainment gap, to name but a few policies. We are working hard to ensure that opportunity is never limited by economic or social background.
Let me turn first to a policy area that creates jobs and boosts our economy: housing. We know that housing is pivotal to our recovery and our goal of a fairer, more equal society, and to reaching our net zero and child poverty targets. Through our long-term housing to 2040 strategy, we have an opportunity to ensure that our actions are guided by principles of social justice, equality and human rights.
A strong supply of affordable homes is crucial to that aim. Since 2007, the Scottish Government has delivered more than 103,000 affordable homes, and our housing to 2040 ambition is to deliver a further 110,000 energy-efficient affordable homes by 2032, which would support a total investment package of £18 billion and up to 15,000 jobs each year.
No—I totally reject that. Housing first has been a success, helping those with additional needs, particularly those with addiction, to remain in a stable tenancy with the wraparound support that they need. If the member paid any attention, he would know that housing first is a success and is going from strength to strength. [
.] I will come back later; I want to make some progress.
At least 70 per cent of the affordable homes will be for social rent and at least 10 per cent will be in our remote, rural and island communities. With more than 4,800 homes delivered in rural areas in the four years to 2019-20, we know that we are reaching across Scotland, but we want to go further. We are developing a remote, rural and islands housing action plan, which will be backed by at least £45 million over this parliamentary session, to ensure that we meet the needs of those communities.
This Government has already introduced sweeping changes to the private rented sector, protecting tenants and improving standards. Now we will go further. We will publish a new rented sector strategy to improve accessibility, affordability and standards across the sector and deliver a new deal for tenants, and we will introduce a new housing regulator for the private rented sector to improve standards and ensure fairness.
We will also build on success in preventing evictions during the pandemic, supporting our aim for everyone to have a safe, warm, affordable home that meets their needs. That includes introducing new restrictions on evictions in winter, when people are most vulnerable and support services are not as readily available. We will introduce a new homelessness prevention duty on relevant statutory bodies.
The right to a home is a human right, as is social security, and we are creating a social security system that enshrines that principle. In July, we successfully introduced the pilot of our first major disability benefit, the child disability payment, the national roll-out of which is due to start on 22 November. We will shortly begin transferring Scottish clients who are currently in receipt of disability living allowance for children on to our new Scottish benefit, which will be the first time that we will undertake the complex transfer of cases from one Government to another.
There are not cost overruns. We have already introduced 11 benefits and, when fully operational, Social Security Scotland will administer 17 benefits in total. It is a growing organisation that is delivering more benefits, and, when that process is complete, the administration costs will be no higher than those of the Department for Work and Pensions. The member should recognise that Social Security Scotland is an important employer in my city of Dundee and in Glasgow, employing people who quite often are the furthest from labour market.
The cabinet secretary mentioned the transfer of disability benefits and carers benefits. We are consistently told that if we were to address eligibility and advocacy issues for those benefits any sooner than 2025, the capacity in the system would be exceeded. Can the cabinet secretary say whether we need to look now at resources and capacity in Social Security Scotland? Can she outline why, if the system is going to be so much better in the way that it delivers in Scotland, we expect it to be delivered at the same cost as the DWP?
The system will be delivered better. It will be far more personal. At the moment, local teams are supporting families to apply for the child disability payment. It is very much a system that encourages and supports people to apply for the benefit.
Pam Duncan-Glancy will be well aware of the need for a safe and secure transfer of adult disability benefits, but we are also committed to a review a year down the line once the benefit is in place. As she will understand, there are potential complexities and knock-on effects for passported benefits. I am sure that we will discuss that in more detail when I appear in front of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, because it is a really important issue.
The adult disability payment will follow, replacing the DWP’s personal independence payment, with a pilot in the spring of 2022 and full roll-out by the summer.
We are aware of the impact that the pandemic has had on unpaid carers in Scotland and we are grateful for their vital contribution. We will make a further payment of the coronavirus carers allowance supplement in December, should the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill be passed. We will also introduce our new Scottish carers assistance in the current session. We are continuing to work with carers on ways in which support can be improved and we will consult on proposals this winter.
We will introduce our new low-income winter heating assistance to replace the current cold weather payment. That will provide around 400,000 low-income households with a stable annual £50 to help with their winter fuel bills. We will take responsibility for the annual winter fuel payment to those of pension age, which is currently provided to more than 1 million Scottish recipients each year. We will deliver it on the same basis in order to provide continuity for clients.
My portfolio covers many areas that change lives. One of those is human rights, and I am delighted that Scotland remains a global leader in that area. This year will see us consult on a human rights bill for Scotland to incorporate four United Nations human rights treaties into Scots law as far as is possible within devolved competence.
Over the next year, we will take forward two other consultations: one on an ambitious strategy to improve how we centre equality, inclusion and human rights in all Government policies, decisions and spending and support the wider public sector and others to do likewise, and the other on the operation of the public sector equality duty and potential regulatory changes to improve inclusive communications and data on ethnicity and disability pay gaps. [
I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention now as I must make some progress.
In the Government’s first 100 days, we allocated an additional £5 million to support front-line organisations that tackle domestic abuse and sexual violence. We will invest over £100 million to support front-line services and ensure dedicated resources to prevent violence against women and girls and advance gender equality. Our gender-based violence in schools working group will identify good practice and review and develop new resources. Following the conclusion of that work, alongside looking at harmful sexual behaviour, we will commission an independent review to establish positive practice and further areas for improvement during the current session of Parliament.
I turn to the important area of our national mission on child poverty. In 2020-21, we invested around £2.5 billion to support low-income households, including nearly £1 billion to directly support children, and we will see that level of support continue. Our actions in the programme for government are wide ranging, reflecting the fact that it contains a package of measures that can tackle poverty, not just one. Those actions include supporting more parents into work, expanding free early learning and childcare to one and two-year-olds and building a system of wraparound school-age childcare to increase households’ incomes and reduce their costs.
Education is the right of every child and we are taking action to reduce the costs of the school day and ensure that children can access the subjects and opportunities that they want, regardless of family income. We are also committed to a £1 billion investment to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap and support education recovery. From next August, we will deliver free school meals and milk for all primary pupils, having already introduced the Scottish milk and healthy snack scheme for children in pre-school. We met our commitment to increase the value of best start foods in our first 100 days and we will expand eligibility during the current session of Parliament, benefiting 60,000 more children.
We will publish our second tackling child poverty delivery plan next March, setting out ambitious actions to deliver at the pace and scale that are required to reach our child poverty targets. The plan will be backed by a further £50 million tackling child poverty fund.
Does the cabinet secretary have any concerns about the quality of the meals that are being served to children in schools? I have had many representations from parents and teachers who are concerned about how appealing, attractive and even digestible some of those meals are because of the way that they are pre-prepared, frozen, delivered and heated up. The food is sometimes not very appetising.
There are standards and it is important that all local authorities meet them. If the member has concerns about a particular authority, he should write to the cabinet secretary, giving more detail.
In the teeth of the pandemic, we still delivered our groundbreaking Scottish child payment. It is the most ambitious child poverty reduction measure anywhere in the United Kingdom and now supports 105,000 children under the age of six. It is part of a significant overall package of financial support that sees low-income families receive more than £5,300 in the early years of a child’s life. There is more to come. If the DWP provides the data that we need and in line with our timescales, we will deliver the payment to under-16s by the end of 2022. That is a game-changing payment that, even at its current value, could reach up to 392,000 children and reduce child poverty by an estimated two percentage points in 2023-24.
To provide immediate support to families, we are delivering bridging payments for children in receipt of free school meals, providing £520 a year for around 148,000 children. Of that, £200 has already been paid, with £160 to be paid in October and December.
My party’s manifesto committed us to doubling the Scottish child payment to £20 during this session of Parliament. That is four times the amount that was originally called for to tackle child poverty. We want to, and will, do that as soon as possible. As the First Minister said last week, it is a significant investment and will be part of our budget process later this year. Our plans will be set out shortly in the budget bill, ahead of our next tackling child poverty plan.
That is a clear action to tackle child poverty. It is designed to lift people out of poverty but is taken in the face of the actions of another Government, one that holds the levers of around 85 per cent of welfare spending and has taken no action to tackle child poverty since its election 11 years ago. While we take the positive action that I have set out today, we look at the UK Government and its fixation with austerity and the many changes to welfare policies that have contributed to poverty.
There is another of those around the corner. The Tories often talk about Scotland having two Governments. One of those aims to double the Scottish child payment; the other is about to take £20 a week out of the pockets of low-income households. That will happen soon, unless there is a complete change, and it will be a scandal the likes of which we have not seen in more than 70 years. More than 6 million UK households will lose more than £1,000 a year. Many of those people are unable to work due to ill health, disability or caring responsibilities; many others are in work but have to rely on universal credit to make ends meet.
Those issues have been raised by campaigners and by every devolved government. The UK Government has ignored the social security committees of the four UK nations, which joined together to stand up for the people that they represent. That Government has ignored its own back benchers—although none from Scottish constituencies, who were posted missing—and former DWP secretaries of state. It has also ignored its own officials, one of whom has said:
“The internal modelling of ending the universal credit uplift is catastrophic. Homelessness and poverty are likely to rise, and food bank usage will soar. It could be the real disaster of the autumn”
Today provides an opportunity for all of us to lay out what we are going to do to tackle child poverty and to make Scotland a fairer nation. I look forward to working with members from across the chamber to do so.
That the Parliament welcomes the ambitious programme of work laid out in the Programme for Government to create a fairer society; agrees that tackling child poverty is a national mission and recognises Scottish Government actions, including doubling the Scottish Child Payment as early as possible within the current parliamentary session, new bridging payments until the Payment is rolled out to under-16s, increasing access to advice services to maximise incomes, expansion of free school meals provision, new statutory guidance to reduce the costs of school uniforms, supporting working parents with a system of wraparound childcare for school-age children and an investment of £1 billion over the session to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to expand early learning and childcare to one- and two-year-olds, starting with those from low-income households; further welcomes the continuation of the ambitious social security programme, including the doubling of Carer’s Allowance Supplement this year and the introduction of new disability benefits; recognises the ambitious programme of work to ensure that everyone has the right to a safe warm affordable home; welcomes the new deal for tenants; acknowledges the work needed to be done to embed and advance equality, inclusion and human rights across society, and commits to working together during Scotland’s recovery from COVID-19 in order to build a fairer and more equal society.
As the cabinet secretary did at the start of her speech, I begin by saying that I hope that we can, where possible, find agreement and consensus on a number of issues during this session of Parliament, so that we can address poverty and inequality.
At the election, there was genuine cross-party commitment to working to tackle child poverty and, as the motion suggests, to make that a national mission. Indeed, all the parties that have been elected to Parliament agreed to double the child payment and to work to meet the target to reduce child poverty.
Scottish Conservatives supported the introduction of the Scottish child payment and have continued to support and press for reforms. That is why my amendment calls on Parliament to support doubling of the Scottish child payment within the next financial year—something that all the charities and stakeholders that have provided useful briefings for the debate have called on MSPs to support.
The negative impact that the pandemic has had on Scotland’s children and young people is only just starting to be fully being understood, but for the most vulnerable children and young people in our society, we know that the impact has been significant. We all agree that realising the potential of every child and young person in Scotland must be a key focus of Parliament and the SNP-Green coalition Scottish Government. We must all be prepared to work hard to meet the ambitious targets that are set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act. 2017.
It is with complete humility that I ask this question. How on earth can you stand there with any credibility or dignity and say that you are concerned about vulnerable children—
—when the member is going to rob those vulnerable families of £20 a week? The most impoverished families, who are already on the breadline, are resorting to food banks. How can you look anyone in the eye and say that you are helping those vulnerable children? That is an absolute disgrace.
Bob Doris will be aware that I am on the record supporting an extension of that payment. I note that the Scottish Government’s motion does not include any mention of the issue. What is on the table, though, is my amendment calling for doubling of the Scottish child payment within this financial year. Will the member support my amendment this evening? He seems to have lost his voice on the issue. I respectfully suggest to SNP and Green members that they, too, get their houses in order when they come to the chamber to ask questions of Opposition members.
One of the areas in which I believe urgent action is needed is the long-term impact that lockdown has had on children’s learning, which we heard about during education questions. Long-term system-wide support is required if every child is to catch up and recover from the educational disruption that we have seen during the pandemic, which has had an impact on child development across Scotland. We know that prior to the pandemic SNP ministers were failing to close the educational attainment gap; indeed, the Audit Scotland report that was published in March this year exposed the lack of progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap.
That is why Scottish Conservatives want the Scottish Government to focus more on prioritising young people’s education with delivery of additional support for catch-up schemes for disadvantaged children and young people.
It is also important to consider the skills and training opportunities that are available for young people to find work in key growth sectors. The loss of more than 100,000 college training places under the SNP Government has clearly impacted on the number of opportunities that are available for young people. Making sure that young people in Scotland who are not in training or education have opportunities to access schemes and apprenticeships, for example, is critical and is something that we all need to work to make happen.
I want to take this opportunity, as I did in Tuesday’s debate on health and social care, to specifically thank and highlight the contribution that is being made by unpaid carers, especially young carers, during the pandemic. The pandemic has significantly increased the number of unpaid carers across our country. Research in June 2020 showed that 392,000 more people had become unpaid carers, taking the total to more than 1.1 million of our fellow Scots now taking on caring for a family member.
It is estimated that 45,000 young people across Scotland are now carers. Undertaking a caring role is a key factor that contributes to poverty. Whether someone is a paid carer or an unpaid carer, they are more likely to live in poverty as a result. Given the importance of care to people and our society, and the invaluable contribution that unpaid carers make, that cannot be right.
The pandemic has exposed the extent to which our NHS and social care services rely on unpaid carers. Scottish Conservatives welcome the doubling of the carers allowance supplement, and we want more progress in support for Scotland’s carers, especially our young carers.
Scottish Conservatives support early action to extend payments for carers after a bereavement and we support a new support package for carers, who often have to give up work to care for a loved one. We also want there to be help to access training, and more mental health support.
I hope that ministers will work with the Scottish Conservatives to seriously consider as soon as possible reforms to the young carers grant and reforms to entitlement, in order to allow younger carers to qualify for the carers allowance supplement.
For care-experienced young Scots, we need to ensure that the Government retains a real focus on improving access to services, transition and care. The recommendations of the independent care review were widely supported across Parliament, but we have seen little progress from ministers on implementing that promise, or a national minimum allowance for foster carers, as was previously committed to and as is in place in other parts of the UK. My colleague Meghan Gallacher will outline more on that important issue later. Care-experienced young people expect the promises that have been made by ministers to be kept and action to be taken to implement the recommendations of the review.
I turn to the critical issue of housing and homelessness. The number of children in temporary accommodation reached the highest level on record before the pandemic. At the end of March 2020, there were 7,280 children living in temporary accommodation due to homelessness. That is the highest number since records began in 2002 and represents a 7 per cent increase on the previous year. In the year leading up to the pandemic, someone was made homeless in Scotland every 17 minutes. We know that the number of people and families in temporary accommodation has increased over the course of the pandemic.
Miles Briggs raises an important point. We are working with local authorities to tackle the issue of temporary accommodation as a matter of urgency, and we are providing £37.5 million to do so. Can the member genuinely answer the question whether he thinks that the £20 cut to universal credit will help or hinder the number of people in temporary accommodation? Does he think that it will put more or fewer people into temporary accommodation?
The support that has been provided and the reforms that we have seen have been to try to prevent that very issue. I welcome the steps that local authorities have taken to provide emergency accommodation during the pandemic. However, we now need a long-term plan to end homelessness—something that SNP ministers have failed to do for 14 years. Rough sleeping and homelessness need a system-wide shift towards a preventative model. I agree with the cabinet secretary: I hope that there is genuinely an opportunity for us to look at that.
SNP ministers pledged to tackle homelessness by scaling up the housing first approach, as my colleague Stephen Kerr mentioned, but we have missed previous targets of supporting 800 people into housing first tenancies. The 2021-22 programme for government states that ministers will
“invest ... in a new Ending Homelessness Together Fund” and that
“Funding for rapid rehousing will also support the scaling up of Housing First”.
However, we know the pathfinder total number of people moving into their own home through the housing first project. Only 381 people, not 800, had actually entered secure tenancies by the end of November 2020. We know that there has to be improvement from the Government.
There is a huge amount of work to do and, as Crisis Scotland stated in its useful briefing ahead of today’s debate:
“Ending homelessness does not mean that nobody will ever lose their home again. It means that, through prevention, homelessness only happens very rarely.”
At present, around 8 per cent of the Scottish population, or one in 12 people, have experienced homelessness. I very much support the calls to bring forward the preventative model, so where we can we will work with ministers to achieve that. Action to prevent homelessness should start six months before a person faces losing their home. Public bodies including health services should ask about people’s housing situations in order to try to identify issues earlier.
I hope that the recommendations that were set out to ministers through the homelessness prevention review group will now be taken forward. Those recommendations were supported by every party in Parliament, and I hope that the discussions that I have already had with the cabinet secretary can help to ensure that we make the issue a national priority.
It is clear that we need proper cross-portfolio efforts to make progress in addressing poverty, in achieving specific reductions across the board and in meeting the targets that we all supported.
There are also longer-term issues that the Parliament must consider, if we are to bring about real change. For example, we must take action to address intergenerational unemployment and we must provide opportunities to genuinely improve social mobility.
As I said at the start of my speech, I hope that Parliament can, where possible, find agreement and consensus on many issues and areas of work, so that in five years’ time we can all be proud of the effort that we have put into tackling poverty and inequality in Scotland.
I move amendment S6M-01248.1, to leave out from first “welcomes” to “across society” and insert:
“agrees that tackling child poverty is a national mission; calls on the Scottish Government to double the Scottish Child Payment within the next financial year; notes with concern the recent figures that show that 5,000 families have been living in temporary accommodation for at least a year; further notes that an Audit Scotland report released in March 2021 exposed the lack of progress that has been made in closing the poverty-related attainment gap and calls on the Scottish Government to do more to prioritise young people’s education; notes the recommendations of the Independent Care Review and calls on the Scottish Government to set out in more detail how it plans to implement The Promise Scotland; calls on the Scottish Government to implement a national minimum allowance for foster carers, as has been previously committed to; welcomes the doubling of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement this year, but regrets that the Scottish Government will not take control of all devolved benefit powers until 2025”.
People who are living in poverty right now and who are watching the debate and looking at what is happening across both Parliaments and Governments seriously need us all to get our act together. The £20 uplift that was introduced during the pandemic, in recognition of the fact that social security was at its worst in decades, cannot be taken away because that will leave people in destitution. However, the Scottish Government cannot sit on its hands and point fingers. The Scottish Government is using the same arguments to not roll out payments to under 16-year-olds that the DWP used to not give the £20 uplift to those on legacy benefits— it is claiming that it is logistically difficult and that the information technology system is not in place. People out there really need us all to get our act together before poverty becomes part of more people’s lives.
We are not dragging our feet. We are delivering bridging payments while those issues are resolved in order to get the money into people’s hands. Surely the member recognises that important aspect of the Scottish Government’s delivery?
I recognise that. However, 125,000 children who should get the under-16 payments are not getting those bridging payments because they are paid only to people who get free school meals. There are 125,00 children out there who should be getting the money but are not getting it.
It is a great privilege to lead the debate for Scottish Labour. The debate is entitled “A Land of Opportunity”, which is what all of us in the Scottish Parliament want Scotland to be—a place where, no matter who you are, who you love, or where you were born, you can live up to your full potential. Sadly, for too many people, we are not there yet. As we sit here today, 1 million of our fellow citizens are living in poverty, and 260,000 of them are children. We are set to miss the child poverty targets that we as a Parliament set without caveat.
Half of the families living in poverty have a disabled person in them. Disabled people in Scotland are twice as likely not to be in education or employment when they leave school. The disability pay gap remains at 8.3 per cent. Tens of thousands of disabled people live in homes that they cannot get in and out of. Disabled people do not have the care that they need and are underrepresented everywhere from the high street to the boardroom. The fact that six in 10 people who died from Covid-19 were disabled shows the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had, as well as the chasms that existed in society before it.
Things are not equal for women, either. Women are more likely to be in poverty, more likely to experience in-work poverty and find it harder to escape poverty than men. Women’s work in sectors such as care, cleaning, hospitality and retail has long been undervalued, underpaid and underprotected. The pandemic has meant that women are doing more unpaid labour and are being forced to carry out more unpaid caring responsibilities, childcare and housework than ever before. It is estimated that a collective £15 million of income has been lost each day in Scotland as a result of the work that many women have had no choice but to take on.
LGBT+ equality is nowhere near where it needs to be in Scotland. Stonewall research found that almost a quarter of LGBT people have witnessed discrimination and negative remarks against them by healthcare staff, and a startling 37 per cent of trans people avoid healthcare as result. It also found that 6 per cent of trans employees have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues, and that only half of LGBT staff agree that equalities policies in their workplace protect trans people.
I think I am explaining clearly why people in the groups that I have highlighted so far cannot see Scotland as a land of opportunity right now.
The number of homeless deaths in Scotland rose by nearly a third over two years. Would the member support my calls for the Government to hold a full review of access to healthcare for homeless people and rough sleepers, especially given the drug deaths that we have seen recently?
The drug deaths and homelessness show that we need to take homelessness and healthcare for homeless people very seriously. This morning, we heard that a homeless person is more likely to die in their late 30s— that is their life expectancy. Therefore, there is absolutely an urgent need to look at healthcare for people who are homeless.
People from ethnic minority backgrounds in Scotland are 20 per cent more likely to be out of work, and 19 per cent of all the people who reported that they had experienced harassment were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. That figure is the highest for any group. People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds also still face disproportionately higher rates of poverty.
Scotland is not a land of opportunity for those people. Thousands are held back by poverty and inequality and are denied their rights and their potential. The past year has been tough for every one of us—I believe that it is the hardest year that most of us have had. The pandemic has meant that people have been unable to leave their homes, to travel to see friends or family, to go to shops, and to do the things that they enjoy. None of us has enjoyed living in that way. However, women, people in poverty, disabled people, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and LGBT+ people have faced such restrictions on their human rights and freedoms for years. They have tried their best, knocked their pan in and still struggled to make ends meet, and they still face barriers at every turn. They have been overlooked and undervalued. They have needed more affordable homes, a crackdown on unscrupulous landlords and a pay rise for years.
Although this year has been dreadful for many people, things were hard before Covid. Poverty was rife, insecure and precarious work was too common, social care was creaking at the seams, and inequality was holding us back then. Things were bad before, but the pandemic has made things worse. All is not equal, and all never was equal.
However, the past year has shone some light in dark corners. One such corner was the inadequacy of the social security system. That led to the £20 uplift in universal credit. Cutting that now is abhorrent, and it will be devastating. The United Kingdom Government must do the right thing and keep the uplift.
The Scottish Government must act, too. It must find a way to ensure that the 4,000 families that are set to lose eligibility for the Scottish child payment as a result of the cut to universal credit retain that eligibility.
We—all of us—must see now that the opportunities that we want for our family, friends and country are not there, and we all have to act.
However, we have a reason to be hopeful. The past months have been difficult for everyone, and they have forced us to work together in new ways and to think about doing things differently. As we go forward and begin our journey to recovery, we have an opportunity to take the lessons and do things differently. From hardship and pain come strength and hunger for change. However, bold and transformative change will be needed to ensure that things do not go back to the way they were. We need to include everyone on our journey and ensure that things are better than they were before for everyone.
That is why I continue to be hungry for more ambition and bold action from the SNP-Green programme for government. It is also why I am disappointed that it lacks urgency, innovation and real action to change lives now. The Scottish Government can use, and should be using, all the powers that it has to radically transform lives. Crucially, it must act on its mission to end poverty. Declaration is not enough; it will not put food on tables.
We are at a unique point in our history at which we have an opportunity to rebuild our social security system from the ground up. So far, change has been incremental, and the system is at risk of failing to live up to the hopes that it would be a radically fairer one. We know that a well-designed and properly funded social security system can tackle poverty and reduce economic, health and education inequalities, and
“It is time for a radical reinvestment into Scotland’s social security system.”
I believe that many agree with that statement, and I know that it has the support of some in government, because it comes from the Scottish Greens’ manifesto on social security. I look to my colleagues in the Green Party and ask them to work with us in the Labour Party, please, to support our calls, to stand by their commitments, and to take the opportunity to encourage their Government colleagues to be radical.
I cannot mask my frustration that the Government is failing to meet the moment in front of us and to seize the opportunity to be radical as it builds a new system. That system must be adequate, dignified, accessible and automated where possible.
We are happy to support much of the Government’s motion, but not the lack of ambition in that regard. We are not yet using our powers to their full potential. We need to quickly address the eligibility for, and the adequacy of, carers’ and disability payments. Waiting until 2025 is too long—that is both time and opportunity lost. We have to go harder and faster.
We urge the Government to back our amendment to accelerate an ambitious and urgent timetable for transformation. That is why our amendment focuses on action that we can take right now. Doubling the Scottish child payment and adding £5 for families with a disabled person in them would help to protect them from poverty. That is why we are calling on the Government to immediately increase the payment to £20 a week. However, that will not go far enough for us to meet our targets. We know that, despite the Government’s current commitment, we are going to miss them. That is why we are calling for the Government to double the Scottish child payment now, and again in a year, lifting 50,000 children out of poverty and putting us on track to meet the 2023 target.
We have heeded the First Minister’s calls for a constructive Parliament. Where we can work with the Government, we will, and we have done. Today, the Government has a chance to work with us to get us back on track on child poverty, by backing our amendment and calls from charities across Scotland.
One person held back by inequality or overlooked by discrimination is one too many. One child in poverty is one too many. One day in poverty is one day too long. As the debate is entitled “A Land of Opportunity”, I urge members to seize their opportunity and act to open opportunities for thousands of people across Scotland by doubling the Scottish child payment now, and again in a year. I urge members to back our amendment.
I move amendment S6M-01248.2, to leave out from first “welcomes” to “affordable home; welcomes” and insert:
“notes the programme of work laid out in the Programme for Government to create a fairer society; agrees that tackling child poverty is a national mission and calls on the Scottish Government to immediately double the Scottish Child Payment and then double it again to £40 per week in 2022-23 for all children under 16 in order to meet the interim target of child poverty levels of 18% in 2023-24, as agreed by this Parliament; notes that the Programme for Government has committed to increasing access to advice services to maximise incomes, expanding free school meals provision, new statutory guidance to reduce the costs of school uniforms, supporting working parents with a system of wraparound childcare for school-age children and an investment of £1 billion over the current parliamentary session to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap; further notes the Scottish Government’s commitment to expand early learning and childcare to one- and two-year-olds, starting with those from low-income households; recognises the continuation of the social security programme, including the doubling of Carer’s Allowance Supplement this year and the introduction of new disability benefits; acknowledges the programme of work that contributes to ensuring that everyone has the right to a safe warm affordable home; notes”.
I hope that ministers were listening to that contribution, because it was one of the most powerful contributions that I have heard in the chamber for some time. There is a lot to learn from Pam Duncan-Glancy—her speech was an encyclopaedia of information about the state of poverty in Scotland. Ministers should listen and, more importantly, they should act.
I will focus my contribution on child poverty. Eradicating child poverty is an urgent mission. After 30 years of decline across the United Kingdom, it is once again on the rise. That means that more than one in four—260,000—Scottish children are officially recognised as living in poverty. In the absence of significant policy change, the figure is likely to increase in the coming years, reaching 38 per cent in 10 years. The Resolution Foundation suggests that the Scottish child poverty rate will be 29 per cent in two years. That is a lot of numbers, but I will clarify the situation for members. The rate is 25 per cent now. In two years, it will rise to 29 per cent and, in 10 years, to 38 per cent. That should be to our shame if we do nothing, and what we are doing so far is just not enough.
The connections between poverty and poor educational outcomes, behavioural problems, chronic illness and mental health are clearly evidenced—[
I will come to the Conservative Government later, on universal credit, but every Parliament in the UK needs to work to address the poverty that is gripping too many of our children. We should not simply complain about another Government, but take action on areas within our power. I am afraid that the Scottish Government too often points the finger elsewhere, rather than taking action here at home.
For Liberals, education and work are the route out of poverty. We support putting power in the hands of young people by giving them the educational tools that they need to achieve, and to get a good job and a warm home for themselves and their family in the future.
The performance in Scotland has just not been good enough. Five years ago, the First Minister promised to close the poverty-related attainment gap completely. She said that it was simply unacceptable that youngsters from the most deprived areas of Scotland were doing only half as well as their counterparts from the richest areas when sitting higher exams. She went on to say:
“I want our work to close the attainment gap to be the mission not just of this Government nor even of this Parliament but of the country as a whole.”—[
, 25 May 2016; c 5.]
Yet, over five years later, the poverty-related attainment gap still stands at 35.8 points of difference at Scottish credit and qualifications framework level 6 or above.
At that rate of progress—I acknowledge that there has been some modest progress—it will take another 35 years for the poverty-related attainment gap to close. The First Minister promised to close the gap completely; she did not say that it would take 35 years.
This area of public policy is completely in the hands of the Scottish Government. The Government has talked a good game on education and poverty, but it has failed to deliver. It has been slow-footed on introducing early years education for two-year-olds, and it is still slow-footed. Only about a third of those two-year-olds who are entitled to nursery education access it. That has been going on for years, yet the Government has failed to take action.
The Government has been slow-footed in adopting the pupil premium in England that targets funds at the poorest pupils in school. The “not made here” belligerence of the SNP has had a dramatic effect on the life chances of thousands of young people. The clock is ticking for the SNP-Green coalition Government because the clock is ticking for our young people. A poor child starting school now will be 40 years old by the time that the coalition Government closes the poverty-related attainment gap. Those children deserve so much more than that.
“the best way to take people out of poverty is to find them high-quality work.”
Who could disagree with that? That also happens to be the best way of cutting the cost of universal credit to the public purse. High-quality work cuts the universal credit bill by not £20 but £100 a week. However, the Conservatives have an unhealthy belief that the best way to tackle poverty is to make those who cannot find well-paid work, which is what is required, even poorer than they are now. That is not the way to tackle poverty or get people into work. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation was clear about the issue and said that the universal credit cut could force 500,000 people—almost half of them children—into poverty.
The Scottish Conservatives need to speak up and make their voice heard. If they do not agree with the policy, let them speak, criticise the UK Government and force it into taking action. The Conservatives have been cavalier on the issue. It is no longer acceptable and is short sighted, cruel and mean-spirited to punish people who are in their hour of need.
A fellow Orcadian knows how this one likes to talk. Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I am pleased to be speaking in favour of the motion today, as it highlights the ambition that the Scottish Government has for the session ahead. I note from the proposed amendments to the motion, particularly the Labour amendment, that there is quite considerable consensus, even if it is tacit, across the chamber on the measures that are being brought forward by the Scottish Government. It was, therefore, perhaps a wee bit contrary for Anas Sarwar and many of his Labour colleagues, since the programme for government was announced, to say that it somehow lacked ambition, when the areas that are mentioned in the motion match or go further than Labour’s manifesto commitments and so little is sought in the amendment.
Indeed, the one area of real deviation—[
.] I will answer that later. The one area of deviation between what is set out in the programme for government and today’s Opposition amendments is on the Scottish child payment.
All parties went into the election promising to double the Scottish Government’s anti-poverty, game-changing Scottish child payment. As someone who is an anti-poverty campaigner and believes that building consensus drives and sustains progress, I found that incredibly heartening. The question mark, of course, is about timing. We all want to see that increase happening as quickly as possible, but it highlights the limitations of a hybrid tax and social security system.
The Scottish child payment is demand led. That means that the budget commitments will change year on year, depending on eligibility, which of course will be higher at times of higher unemployment or poor economic performance that suppresses wages; that is also the time when consequential tax receipts are also lower. When we need to fund more social security, our revenue is reduced and that is why demand-led social security requires borrowing to work. The Scottish Parliament does not have adequate borrowing powers, which means that it takes longer to safely deliver and sustain social security benefits than it would do if they were being delivered with full powers.
The member mentioned ambition. Our amendment absolutely recognises the work that is on-going but, as is consistent with the evidence that we heard this morning in the Social Justice and Social Security Committee—Neil Gray will have heard it, too—the social security system will have to do the heavy lifting, so that is where we need to put our energies, in order to lift children and families out of poverty. Does the member agree that that is the single biggest thing that we need to do right now?
Yes; obviously, we are in a tale of two Governments, in which one Government is investing in social security and one is cutting it.
However, as I was going to say to Miles Briggs, neither Labour nor the Tories included in their manifestos the commitments to the Scottish child payment that they make in their amendments today. Therefore, I look forward to seeing their costed budget submissions coming up, because it would lack credibility for either party to make those demands, which go beyond their just four-month-old manifestos, without explaining how they should be paid for. We have to operate within a fixed budget in Holyrood and new spending commitments have to be met from existing resources, because we do not have the necessary borrowing powers that a normal Parliament has when it delivers social security.
The commitments that have been made are being forecast and budgeted ahead of time, so that is exactly the same point that has been made around the Scottish child payment. For that to happen properly, it needs to be done in a way that ensures that the budget’s safety is built in over time, which is why the two Opposition parties need to come forward with where they would make the cuts in order to deliver the commitments that they are making.
However, the investment that the Scottish Government has budgeted for in this session, in order to make improvements to our social infrastructure, will make a real difference to the lives of the people in Airdrie and Shotts and across Scotland. Those improvements include: expanding our childcare offer to one and two-year-olds; investing £1 billion to tackle the poverty-related educational attainment gap—I declare an interest, as my wife is a primary school teacher and will soon take up a role as a local authority equity development officer—expanding wraparound childcare; doubling the Scottish top-up to carers allowance, so that carers in Scotland will receive better support than anywhere else in these isles; doubling the Scottish child payment and providing bridging payments as the roll-out to 16-year-olds continues; providing new adult and child disability payments; building 100,000 new affordable homes, including 70 per cent for social rent; expanding free school meals; and increasing school uniform grants. I could go on, because this Government is investing in social security, social housing and education, in order to tackle poverty, give our children the best start in life, support families and develop the progressive and compassionate society that will deliver for the people we are here to represent.
However, I spoke earlier about Scotland having a partly devolved, hybrid social security system and, sadly, we are seeing a tale of two Governments. UK inflation is at its highest level in a decade, having had its sharpest rise since records began, and it is predicted to keep rising into the Christmas period, meaning that the cost of essential items is rising and family budgets are being squeezed, but the UK Government is embarking on a perfect storm of tax rises and social security cuts that will devastate those on the lowest incomes. A regressive 10 per cent rise to national insurance is coming, which will disproportionately hit younger workers and the lowest paid. The disgraceful cut to universal credit, which is the biggest single cut to social security since the second world war, will force 60,000 people in Scotland, including 20,000 children, into poverty. That cut will completely undermine the benefit of the Scottish child payment and serves to highlight the real limitations of having a shared or hybrid social security system. In Airdrie and Shotts alone, 10,500 people—and their families—who receive universal credit or working tax credits will see their annual income cut by £1,000.
From the cabinet secretary, we have already heard the quote from the
Financial Times last week:
“The internal modelling of ending the UC uplift is catastrophic.”
We have regressive tax rises and cuts to social security—while inflation soars—from the UK Government, versus investment in social security, social housing and education from the Scottish Government. The Tories have got a real brass neck coming here and trying to lecture us about poverty.
I support the motion and the Government’s programme and I look forward to its transformational policies being delivered at pace.
Social justice, social security or welfare—whatever name you want to give it, it is the most important responsibility for any Government. Today’s debate is a useful reminder that far more needs to be done to tackle poverty in Scotland and ensure that everyone can live their lives to the fullest in a fair society.
We should spend all day debating our thoughts on how Scotland can be a fairer country, but when we look at the levers that could help create a fairer society—better healthcare, a good education system, stable employment and affordable housing—let us be honest that those are hardly areas in which the SNP excels.
The member says that the Scottish Government does not excel on affordable housing, but we have delivered over 103,000 affordable homes so far. That is 75 per cent more affordable homes per head of population than have been delivered in England by a Tory Government. What does that say about the Tory Government’s record on affordable housing?
I thank the cabinet secretary for her observations, but we are talking about Scotland—[
.] Let me finish, please. All we keep hearing about today is the United Kingdom or comparisons with England. I will be honest: the cabinet secretary was talking about homes—[
.] Please let me finish. She was talking about homes. Why is there so much homelessness if the Scottish Government is doing such a great job? That is what I want to know. I need to get on with my speech.
Organisations such as Barnardo’s and Save the Children have said that even before the pandemic struck, one in four children in Scotland were living in poverty, and the levels are rising in every local authority area. The attainment gap remains very wide. We cannot continue with that postcode lottery. Pupils from the most deprived areas do significantly worse at every level of education on average than those in the least deprived areas.
To give some home truths, I will talk about my own region. We have a tale of two towns, Milngavie and Clydebank. They are only minutes away from each other, but they are worlds apart. One of their schools ranked 14th out of 340 schools, and one of the other’s schools ranked 230th. At one, 68 per cent of pupils leave with five highers; at one, only 33 per cent leave with five highers.
Moving on from two towns, we look at the bigger picture of my whole region of West Dunbartonshire. There is almost double the national average of homeless households per 100,000 people. People can expect to fall into ill health more than 10 years before their neighbours in East Dunbartonshire do. The number of children who go on to positive destinations has dropped almost 4 per cent on the previous year. Presiding Officer, let me be clear. If those figures do not leave you questioning the Scottish Government’s priorities, I do not know what will.
I am sure that that will be a familiar story for many MSPs here today; sadly, that situation is reflected across the country. However, those are not just statistics. They are real people and they matter.
Let me tell members how the story goes with welfare—and by the way, for those who do not know, 11 benefits were devolved to Scotland in 2016. That means that the Scottish Government is in charge of those benefits—yes, the Scottish Government, not Westminster. It is no surprise, however, that the SNP was not ready and had to hand back those powers to the DWP. That was done by a party that said that it could set up an independent Scotland in just 18 months, but which will now not take those devolved welfare powers until 2025.
If we are to be serious about making Scotland a fairer society, we need to start thinking long term and not do what the SNP is doing today, which is sticking plasters over the cracks. Scotland needs much more. People need real change.
The motion refers to
“doubling the Scottish Child Payment as early as possible within the current parliamentary session”.
It has only taken the SNP three years to implement such an important payment. I strongly doubt whether there is anyone in the chamber who does not want to see a fairer Scotland. There is real inequality in our society and that must change. I hope that poverty and inequality will get the full attention of the Scottish Government during this session of Parliament, and will not be limited to an afterthought with endless reports and policies being published and no real action being taken.
We want to build a Scotland that not only supports people who are in financial crisis but helps to lift people out of poverty for good by tackling the root causes of poverty. We all agree that poverty must be reduced. We all agree that attainment gaps must be tackled, that health and social care must be improved and that housing should be safe, affordable and warm. We cannot afford to be sidetracked by meaningless debates on independence—
Like one in 12 people in Scotland, I have experience of homelessness, so a programme for government that aims to prevent it is something that I welcome very strongly.
Homelessness is not, or certainly should not be, just a fact of life and something that happens to people in the process of a normal society functioning. It is a symptom of many things: a lack of affordable housing, inadequate social security, a bad attitude towards disabled people, carers and others who are unable to work and, frankly, the inability, or, more likely, the indifference of certain Governments. I am glad to be able to say that that is not the case here. The programme for government seeks to address all those issues in so far as it can with current devolved powers, although, of course, a true transformation of our society requires the powers of independence.
This is the country that ended the right to buy and declared that anyone unintentionally homeless was entitled to a permanent home, and this will be the country that says no, people are not going to be homeless in 21st-century Scotland. We are going to listen to them, understand the issues that face them and do what we can to make sure that they have access to a safe and secure home.
Something that is often missing from homelessness action plans is tackling the wider drivers of poverty, rather than throwing money at tackling homelessness once the person is already homeless. What homelessness shows is that someone has fallen through a net. Perhaps they have had to wait six weeks before they got their first universal credit payment, lost their job due to shameful employment practices or were failed by a landlord who took advantage of loopholes in a tenancy agreement. I am therefore glad to see that a focus on the availability of homes, decarbonising homes, and putting money into supporting families with children in their early years are priorities for this Government.
I do not think that people appreciate just how often poverty is essentially predetermined. We have heard a lot so far, and I am sure that we will hear a lot more, about child poverty. Nobody can blame a child for living in a poor household, but when that child grows up, somewhere around the late teens and early twenties, it seems to start becoming okay for people to say that it is that person’s fault that they do not have the same educational background, they do not have money in the bank for a rainy day, they could not afford their driving licence when they were 16 or they have poor health due to lifelong nutritional or exercise issues.
It is important that we tackle those drivers of poverty. A fairer Scotland is a Scotland that addresses the issues at the root, rather than once a person has already had the whole course of their life changed by being homeless even for a short time. Take it from me—employers, credit agencies and landlords do not like to see “care of” addresses.
I move on to the Tories’ amendment. I note that it laments the fact that the Scottish Government is not taking full control over devolved benefits until 2025. I agree that it is a real shame that it took so long to devolve those powers and that it is taking a couple of extra years—pandemic years—to bring in social security properly, something that their party down south has not managed in more than a decade of power.
I appreciate that the member was not here in the last session of Parliament, but we passed the bill in the first 18 months of that session. It is going to take almost eight years for that to happen. The delay is not due to the Parliament. It is the Scottish Government not being able to take on the powers and relying on the DWP to do all the work.
It is a real shame that my colleagues on the Conservative benches have no sense of irony, hypocrisy or shame when they criticise the Scottish Government for being too slow in implementing benefits. The Scottish child payment, for example, was only brought in to mitigate the harm caused by a UK social security system that started as inadequate and then suffered years of cuts.
It is a real shame that so much of Government budgets in this country is spent trying to stop UK austerity hitting our worst off the hardest, and that the Scottish Government has to wait another few years before every power is devolved for decisions to be made for this country, in this country. I am sure that, in the spirit of their amendment, my Conservative colleagues will be delighted when that day finally comes.
I am also grateful to the homelessness charity Crisis for drawing my attention yesterday to a number of incredibly pertinent points, including its belief that the current plans that the Government has to prevent homelessness, which were developed with input from those with lived experience, hold the potential to make Scotland a world leader in homelessness prevention.
Every time I, as a member of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, read a paper that discusses homelessness, I am reminded of the process in which my housing officer told me that she needed an address in order to process my entry to the housing register, and in which I faced at least two years of temporary accommodation before I could imagine walking into a council house that I could call home.
Whenever we discuss homelessness, poverty, or disability benefits, which I currently receive, the personal connection is not lost on me, nor is the weight of responsibility. I will always truly value those who offer their lived experience to me and the Parliament to aid our decision making and improve the lives of others. I encourage my colleagues to reflect and do the same, and to listen to those in poverty.
Right now, more than one in four children in Scotland live in poverty. As Willie Rennie said earlier, according to a Resolution Foundation analysis, the Scottish child poverty rate will be 29 per cent by 2023-24—the highest rate of child poverty in more than 20 years.
All of that stands in stark contrast to the fall in child poverty that was observed in the UK in the 1990s and early 2000s. Labour reforms from 1997 saw an £18 billion annual increase in spending on support for families with children, and an £11 billion annual increase in support for pensioners by 2010-11. The result was that millions of children and pensioners were lifted out of poverty, and the country was on track to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
The key point is that if we want to tackle poverty and child poverty in the short term, the evidence is clear that we have to put resources and money in to increase people’s spending power.
Successive Tory Governments managed to dismantle those achievements with their failed austerity agenda, and we now have a situation in Scotland, as across the UK, in which we have food banks in every city and every town. Those who have not seen the film “I, Daniel Blake” should have a look at it, because it brings home the reality of failure by Government to support people when they need it.
The author James Baldwin once said that
“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor”,
which is why the hypocrisy of the Scottish Tory Party in coming here to talk about child poverty while at the same time supporting a move by the Johnson Government to cut £20 a week from universal credit—the largest overnight cut ever seen since the creation of the welfare state 70 years ago—is incredible. If the Scottish Tories believe that the £20 a week cut to the poorest, the most vulnerable, and the lowest paid workers is wrong, they need to stand with the rest of the Parliament and condemn that cut. It will result in more children in Scotland being in poverty and more people in Scotland having to go to food banks.
Pam Gosal talked about independence earlier. The greatest driver to increased support for independence in Scotland is driving more people into poverty through the direct action of a Westminster Government. If she cannot see that, pray help us.
It is true that, if we look to the medium term, we have to get more people into work and earning a good wage. When the SNP came to power 14 years ago, it promised to cut class sizes. In Fife, the area that the education secretary and I represent, the number of primary classes that have more than 30 children—some have 32, some have 35—is utterly unacceptable. How can those children get the same opportunities as children whose parents are able to afford to buy their education and get them into classes in which the teacher-pupil ratio is one to 16, and the ratio of children to adults, such as support teachers, is one to eight? There is no comparison. If we are going to tackle poverty in the medium term, we need to give every child the same opportunities for a proper and good education, regardless of how rich their parents are.
Likewise, on the skills shortages, Save the Children says:
“We believe that it is about scale and pace. We believe the priority for the Scottish Government should be to focus on key drivers of poverty. This includes the jobs market, work opportunities, low-paid roles often largely held by women.”
That is true; they cannot recruit for social care right now, but if we look at the inequalities and the low pay in social care, is it any wonder?
What about the skills agenda and skills shortages in construction? What opportunities are there out there for young people to get into the construction industry? The other day, I heard a lorry driver talk about companies who were quite happy to recruit lorry drivers from abroad on lower pay, but that has driven pay down from where it should be in that sector. That lorry driver, who was being interviewed on BBC Scotland, talked about getting a £20,000 pay rise, which is where the sector should be.
Rather than depending on bringing people in from abroad and paying them low wages, what opportunities will we give so that people get the education and skills that they need to get the jobs.
I became involved in politics because I was driven by a passion to see Scotland become a fairer and more equal society. I believed then, and I believe even more now, that an independent Scotland is the best way to achieve that.
I remember growing up in the 1980s and watching the deliberate destruction of Scotland’s manufacturing base by a Tory Government. We are still to recover from that. At the same time, we watched the acquiring of Trident, which would cost £12 billion today.
“Everyone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds. On the left, fairness often implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality—people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.”
How true that is in today’s Tory Britain. That quote gets straight to the point of today’s debate. What kind of country do we want? I want one that places equality, fairness and compassion at its heart. In his speech about making poverty history, the great Nelson Mandela stated:
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
Right now, the UK Government is getting ready to impose a cut to universal credit. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been mentioned a few times. It estimates that 8,500 families in my constituency and 450,000 in Scotland will lose out, with half of those having children. Indeed, six out of 10 of all single-parent families in the UK will be impacted. Analysis that the Scottish Government conducted in June shows that the plan to cut the £20 per week uplift in universal credit in October could cut social security payments in Scotland alone by more than £460 million a year by 2023-24. Withdrawing that payment is expected to push 60,000 people in Scotland, including 20,000 children, into poverty. I have 5,000 children in my constituency who are in poverty.
So, what is the devolved Scottish Government, with its limited powers, doing to create a more equal and fairer Scotland? The recently announced whole family wellbeing fund, which will be resourced through the provision of £500 million over the parliamentary session, is a very welcome step that will help to deliver support to families.
The Scottish Government is making major progress by taking ambitious steps to tackle child poverty, to promote social justice and to create a level playing field for young people from low-income backgrounds and their families. That includes investment to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap and support education recovery. In its first 100 days, the Scottish Government made payments of £100 as part of the £520 payments to support low-income families, and it paid the first instalment of £215 million of the £1 billion attainment Scotland fund. In 2020-21, the Scottish Government invested around £2.5 billion to support low-income households, which included nearly £1 billion for directly supported children.
The Scottish Government will roll out the Scottish child payment to all under-16s by the end of 2022. Thereafter, the Scottish Government will double the payment to £20 per week as quickly as possible. Like Neil Gray, I look forward to members of the Opposition parties making proposals in the budget discussions about how they intend to pay for that. If we are to meet the expected demand, we need to have the borrowing powers.
At this morning’s meeting of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, the committee heard in evidence that a number of the things that we need to do to tackle poverty in the long term will take much longer to do, so it will be long after 2023 before we meet the target. If the Government is only going to double the Scottish child payment—I hope that it doubles it today—how does it intend to meet the 2023 target?
Pam Duncan-Glancy makes a valid point, but I come back to the point that Neil Gray made. We, in this Parliament, do not have the borrowing powers to achieve that. If we had those powers—as we would in an independent Scotland—we would be able to do that. As Neil Gray said, we must look at the demand and how we can meet that.
That brings us to the fundamental question about the myriad of powers that are split between here and Westminster. We need to have all the powers here.
That is an issue on which there still needs to be discussion. I did not see the interview in question, so I cannot comment on Mr Marra’s specific point. I come back to the issue of the borrowing powers. We need to ask the UK Government for those.
An important point that has not been mentioned is the fact that the Scottish Government has taken the first step in establishing a minimum income guarantee, which will help to ensure that everyone in Scotland can live healthy, financially secure and fulfilling lives.
I have taken a few and I am conscious of the time.
Nine local authorities with Scotland’s highest concentrations of deprivation are sharing £43 million of investment. A further £7 million from the schools programme is being shared between 73 additional schools with the highest concentration of pupils from areas of deprivation. Headteachers are being given an enhanced £147 million of pupil equity funding to support disadvantaged pupils. In addition, of course, all councils are offering 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare to eligible children, thereby making high-quality early learning and childcare available to families and saving parents up to £5,000 per year for each eligible child.
The Scottish Government’s recent announcement about building a system of wraparound childcare for school-age children over the course the parliamentary session is to be warmly welcomed. That will offer care before and after school and in the holidays, which will be free to families on the lowest incomes.
This afternoon’s debate gets to the heart of why we are here: to protect the most vulnerable in our society and to provide hope and opportunities. I ask members to please support the motion.
I am delighted to take part in this debate on supporting a fairer and more equal society. As a Scottish Conservative, I believe in the principle of equality of opportunity. We have a role to play in ensuring that what people achieve in life is determined not by where they come from, who their parents are or where they went to school but by their drive and determination to succeed. To achieve that, we need to tackle the root causes of poverty in Scotland, but the SNP’s record on tackling poverty is, quite frankly, shocking.
Nearly one in five Scots—which is over a million people—is living in relative poverty after their housing costs are taken into account, and that statistic rises to nearly one in four children across Scotland. Those rates have been gradually rising for the past decade. In the previous parliamentary session, the First Minister claimed that education was her number 1 priority. [
.] I want to make progress. I will take an intervention later.
The First Minister has, in fact, presided over a stubbornly wide attainment gap, which has shown that pupils from more deprived areas are not managing to succeed, and there are no signs of that gap closing across many different measures.
The usual excuse for that failing that we hear from the members on the nationalist benches is that they do not have the necessary powers to tackle poverty, but we all know that that is simply not the case.
Despite a range of new welfare powers being devolved in 2016, the SNP has said that it will not be able to successfully implement them until 2025—nine years later. Members should remember that the SNP is also the party that said that it could set up an independent Scotland in just 18 months.
In one case, the social security minister simply had to hand back responsibility for a benefit to the Department for Work and Pensions to avoid “unnecessary duplication”. Even SNP ministers now seem to see the benefits of having some welfare powers on a UK-wide basis.
The proposals put forward by the cobbled-together coalition of nationalists and Greens are even worse, being ill thought out and unaffordable. The new coalition has suggested that it will seek to introduce a universal basic income, but that scheme will simply give with one hand and take with the other. According to documents released under freedom of information by the Scottish Government, the scheme could cost the economy £58 billion a year. The policy appears to have been put forward to appease hardline supporters in the coalition of chaos rather than to target support to those people who need it most.
Another poor suggestion is the introduction of rent controls, which simply do not work and are not supported by economists across the political spectrum. Capping rents will make renting out properties a less attractive prospect for landlords and will lead to a reduction in the supply that is required. We have heard of similar proposals being introduced in Sweden, and people in Stockholm are waiting up to nine years to get a rent control problem resolved. That is yet another flashy policy from a party that is not looking at the real problems but only working towards its goal.
It has been mentioned many times in the debate that the SNP wants the full powers of independence. Unlike the coalition of chaos, the Scottish Conservatives have a real, workable solution to tackle the root causes of poverty and give everyone a chance to succeed. We will deliver the biggest programme of social housing building since the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999. We want to assist the construction sector to get back to pre-2007 levels of house building. Instead of introducing debating society proposals such as rent controls, we would address high rents and ensure that supply and demand of houses allowed people to rent and buy.
We would also provide funds for councils, which are delivering many of the front-line services on which the poorest people in our society rely. They have had to deal with swingeing cuts from this chamber and this Government over the past few decades. SNP and Green budgets have done that to councils again and again. We would ensure that increases to the Scottish Government’s budget were passed directly to councils through the funding formula that we would set in place. That would ensure that councils could continue to deliver vital public services.
However, it is important to point out that there are some areas where we are in agreement. [
We were the first party to announce plans to expand free school meals to include all primary school pupils, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government has since adopted that policy. We also pledged in our recent election manifesto to double the Scottish child payment. Again, I am glad to see that the Scottish Government is proposing to do the same, but we would like it to happen much more quickly, within the next financial year.
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to tackling the root causes of poverty to ensure that there are equal opportunities for everyone in Scotland. The nationalist coalition is too fixated on holding another referendum on independence to give this important issue the attention that it deserves. We will continue to hold this Government to account for its failings, which have been seen across Scotland for years. I support the amendment in the name of Miles Briggs.
As we all know, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our society, and we need bold action in order to recover. The cabinet secretary’s motion outlines many of the ambitious plans in the programme for government. We need to rebuild from the pandemic and grab the opportunity to create a fairer and more equal society, and so much of that revolves around education. It is important that, as we go forward, we remove barriers and ensure that pupils get the most out of their time in education.
Since the election, the Scottish Government has already increased the school clothing grant and abolished charges for music, art and other practical subjects, and the SNP is committed to extending free school lunches to all primary school pupils and introducing breakfast clubs. Those additional measures to tackle the cost of the school day are so important and will ensure that more children have the opportunities that they deserve.
Early learning and childcare plays a huge role in children’s development, and a universal system can do so much to minimise the consequences of poverty for children. The plans to extend early learning and childcare to one and two-year-olds and the introduction of wraparound childcare for school-age children will benefit children and families immensely. That builds on the achievement of 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare funded by the Government.
I remember, as a working parent, having to give up my pension contributions so that my daughter could go to nursery. There was no way that I could afford both. I am sure that many parents, and especially mums, have faced that problem. For some, the decision could not be starker: it involves choosing between work and childcare. It is important that the Government does as much as possible to support parents in, or into, the workplace.
Many new-build nurseries have sprung up across the country. At East Kilbride shopping centre, we have the new Rooftop Early Learning and Childcare Centre. The kids there have a huge roof garden where they can play and learn outside safely.
Providing outdoor space is really important as part of efforts to encourage children to get outdoors and help them to become more aware and appreciative of our natural environment. [
.] I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention. I would like to make progress.
The programme for government contains the welcome commitment that the Scottish Government
“will continue to promote and support outdoor learning, including trialling Scotland’s first outdoor primary learning facilities.”
I used to work for an outdoor education charity and we ran a project called bushcraft bear for nursery children from deprived areas. We created our own book starring the bear and the outdoor education instructors. We took children and their favourite soft toys to Chatelherault country park with our very own bushcraft bear dressed up as an explorer. We read stories, created a den and foraged for food for the teddies. I saw at first hand the positive outcomes that the project delivered. For some kids, it was the first time that they had experienced being out in the forest. We also gave every child a book voucher and encouraged them to visit the library more often. Most important, we invited parents and carers to come with us to show that a fun day out does not have to be costly. I would like to see such schemes become more widespread.
Delivering outdoor education, reducing the cost of the school day and expanding early years provision—[
.] I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention. I would like to make progress. Those things will help to tackle some of the problems that affect people who grow up in poverty, including low educational attainment and poorer health outcomes.
We must eradicate child poverty. The SNP Government will continue to drive forward that national mission. More than 6,000 families in South Lanarkshire have already benefited from the SNP’s game-changing Scottish child payment. We must tackle the root causes of poverty and treat people with fairness, dignity and respect. Scotland’s new social security system does exactly that, and I am sure that the upcoming introduction of disability benefits will be welcomed by many across the country.
Workers deserve fair employment and should earn, as a minimum, the real living wage. We must also be radical by ensuring that all our fellow citizens have enough money to live on. A minimum income guarantee will give everyone the dignity that they deserve. [
] I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention. I would like to make progress. The foundations for the guarantee have been laid and I look forward to hearing the steering group’s deliberations.
With most social security powers reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government is acting with one hand tied behind its back. The Scottish Government is working hard and using the powers that it has to build a fairer country, but the events of recent weeks show the limits of what we in this Parliament can do. The Scottish Government will support our young people by removing council tax for the under-22s. Meanwhile, at Westminster, Boris Johnson has appointed a Deputy Prime Minister who has called for the minimum wage to be scrapped for some of those aged under 21.
As my colleague Neil Grey said, this is a tale of two Governments. As we rebuild from the pandemic, we have an opportunity and a duty to make Scotland a more equal and inclusive society. The reality is that the only way to keep Scotland safe from more Tory cuts and Westminster Governments that we do not vote for is to become an independent country so that this Parliament—
The past 18 months has laid bare the brutal inequalities in our society, but they have also revealed our will and capacity to heal them. More than ever, we recognise how the fundamental pillars of green politics support and strengthen one another—not just environmental sustainability but social justice; not just non-violence but genuinely participatory democracy. Our vision, and our imperative for action, is of a Scotland that is fairer, more inclusive, more progressive and more equal.
The history of the past century and the experience of communities across the globe show us the centrality of human rights in achieving that vision. We want to see a Scotland where people understand their rights and those of their neighbours, where they feel valued and included and where they are empowered to claim their own rights and to stand in solidarity, compassion and justice to help others to achieve theirs too.
That is why it is so important to embed equality, human rights and inclusion across the entire public sector and especially in Government decisions, policies and spending. It is only when those who hold the power—which is us—are reminded day by day of our specific obligations to fairness that we will begin to uproot the structural inequalities that are so deeply rooted and bitterly toxic. In the coming year, the beginning of the conversation about how we will embed those principles will be among the most important work that any Scottish Government has ever done.
I also warmly welcome the commitment to begin consultation in Scotland on the public sector equality duty and the potential regulatory changes that that will require. The new duty on relevant public bodies to develop accessible and inclusive communications and the expansion of existing duties to include reporting on the disability and ethnicity pay gaps will be vital tools in creating greater inclusion and fairness.
How Governments make spending decisions on behalf of people and communities has a huge impact on the direction in which a country moves, and the work of embedding equality and human rights within all stages of the budget process is an essential part of that wider transformation. By taking account of the equality budget advisory group’s recommendations, we can help to ensure that spending decisions advance equality and human rights for everyone in Scotland.
Over the past decade, the member’s party has supported the SNP when it has cut local government budgets. We have seen a 7 per cent reduction over the past decade. Now that her party is in government, will that be turned round, with fair funding for local government delivered?
I would ask the member what his party has managed to achieve through budget negotiations over the past seven years. I think that the answer is zero.
As we all know, the moral health of a society can be reliably judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. I therefore especially welcome the focus on child poverty contained in the new fairer Scotland duty guidance, which provides a vital statutory basis for public bodies to consider fundamental issues of socioeconomic disadvantage when making their decisions.
In the coming year, we will see consultation on a new human rights bill—a key aspect in advancing the 30 recommendations from the national taskforce for human rights leadership. The bill will incorporate, as far as possible within our devolved competence, key human rights treaties. I am going to name them all, because this is a truly historic commitment. They are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The bill will also follow international best practice in including a right to a healthy environment, and equal access for all, especially older and LGBTQI+ people, to the rights contained in the bill. The incorporation of those treaties into Scots law must, of course, be accompanied by decisive, bold action.
The right to adequate housing is one of the ICESCR’s central provisions. We in the Greens have been especially determined to realise that right for private sector tenants. We welcome the start that has already been made in working towards ensuring that everyone has a safe, warm place to call home, with rights and security, regardless of tenure. We will work actively in bringing about the new deal for tenants, ensuring equality of outcomes and protection. We look forward to enhanced tenants’ rights, including greater flexibility to make their homes their own and keep beloved companion pets; greater protection from winter evictions; more stringent penalties for unscrupulous landlords; an effective national system of rent controls; and a rent guarantor for estranged young people. Taken together, that represents the biggest transformation for tenants in decades, and I am pleased that the Greens secured it as part of the co-operation agreement.
A few months ago, I said in the chamber:
“At the heart of our collective wellbeing must be social security—not as a system or an idea but as a fundamental right.—[
, 8 June 2021; c 45.]
We know that the societies that guarantee their citizens’ social security are the societies that perform best: they have the longest life expectancy, the lowest levels of crime and the highest levels of innovation and economic performance.
I am delighted to speak to the motion.
I am a firm believer that we should always strive to do the best for our communities. I also sincerely believe that that is what our Scottish Government is doing with the programme for government and the specific interventions that are outlined in the motion. Those interventions will be simply game changing for individuals, families and children who are in need of help. However, while those interventions are very welcome, we must admit that they can only go so far.
Our Scottish Government can do only so much while continually fighting against the tide of, quite frankly, downright disgraceful decisions made by the Tories at Westminster. The Westminster Tories are removing the £20 uplift to universal credit, plunging more than 8,000 people in Aberdeen alone into poverty. Nationally, that figure exceeds 241,000 people. Removing that £20 uplift reduces their household incomes by £1,040 a year. I will say that again: £1,040 per year, which is being stripped from those in most need in our society. That forces some families and individuals to make horrendous decisions either to feed their children or to heat their homes—to make the horrendous decision as to who gets to eat that day: themselves or their children. That is the reality that many people will face once the universal credit uplift is ripped from the pockets of those who are most in need.
In recent weeks we have heard of yet another hammer blow by Westminster, again hitting the poorest in our society, through the raising of national insurance to pay for social care in England and Wales, a provision in Scotland that is already funded by the Scottish Government. While we do not know the full extent of the damage that that will do, members should be under no illusion that those decisions will mean less money in the pockets of the lowest-paid workers in our constituencies. That is less money to buy food, to pay bills and to meet the expenses of daily life.
I firmly believe that the Tories at Westminster have absolutely no interest in creating a more equal society. All I can see coming from Westminster is the broadening of the gap between the richest and the poorest of our society, with more working families forced on to the breadline.
In stark contrast to that, the Scottish Government has committed to an ambitious programme for government, a programme that, as my friend Neil Gray said earlier, will invest around £2.5 billion to support low-income households—a programme that commits nearly £1 billion to directly support our children. Pupils who live in Scotland’s most deprived communities will be among those who are set to benefit from a record investment of more than £215 million of targeted funding in this financial year to help close the poverty-related attainment gap.
The Scottish Government is committed to delivering a doubling of the carers allowance supplement. That will be a very welcome boost to the inadequate payments made by the UK Government. The SNP has also committed to doubling the Scottish child payment and extending it to all eligible under-16s by the end of 2022.
On the point about the carers benefit, we, too, of course support the doubling of the carers benefit, as it will put more money in carers’ pockets, but what do the member and her Government intend to do for the 39,000 people who have an underlying entitlement to carers benefit but will not receive the supplement?
I would like to think that the Scottish Government has that within its sights, and it will hopefully be able to deliver. I am sorry that I do not have the answer to that, but I am sure that the Scottish Government is very much aware of it.
We have committed to expanding free school meals provision, we have extended childcare provision to 1,140 hours, and we are committed to supporting working families through the provision of wraparound care and care for one and two-year-olds. The Scottish Government is also investing more than £12 million to provide access to free welfare and money advice services, ensuring that those constituents who are struggling the most have access to good-quality advice and support, allowing them to maximise their incomes. I know that that will be greatly received by many of my constituents in Aberdeen Donside.
As we rebuild from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to make Scotland a more equal and inclusive society. However, Scotland does not hold all the powers that it requires in order to achieve that. The UK Government has shown time and again that it does not hold the same progressive values regarding equality and fairness as Scotland does, and that only reaffirms the need for Scotland’s future to be in Scotland’s hands.
I believe that the Scottish Government will do all in its power and will continue to fight tooth and nail for equality in Scotland. I also truly believe that only once all decisions are made here will we be able to achieve our goal of truly becoming a fair, equal and prosperous country.
One of the first steps towards building a fairer and more equal society is to ensure that all children get a fair start in life, no matter where they are born. All too often, the issues of rural poverty are swept beneath the carpet—out of sight and out of mind. As our world becomes ever more connected, the communities on our periphery are being left behind. Ensuring that rural communities are connected, with young people afforded the same opportunities as their urban counterparts, is a key part of the challenge, and nowhere in Scotland is that more evident than in Ayrshire.
Looking at the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, it is sad to see that several communities in Ayrshire appear in the top 10 per cent of Scotland’s most deprived areas. However, the majority of those areas lie outside Ayr, in the countryside. Despite being a few miles from the promenades of Troon and Prestwick, those areas feel a million miles away.
Recently, during a street surgery tour, I visited towns in rural East Ayrshire, which has some of highest levels of deprivation in the country. While I was there, residents pointed out the number of derelict buildings in one of the towns—there were 12 on one street alone. The effects of housing poverty can be felt clearly in rural communities, and derelict buildings are the final result. Without adequate funds to keep houses in good condition, living standards deteriorate, which causes further hardship and stigma, with a knock-on effect on young people’s development.
In East Ayrshire, 37 per cent of buildings failed the Scottish housing quality standard, with that figure rising to 46 per cent in South Ayrshire—nearly half the local authority’s dwellings. In South Ayrshire, 41 per cent of dwellings were judged to have critical elements of disrepair—in other words they are flawed in terms of weather-tightness and structural stability—while 25 per cent were in need of immediate repair, affecting a horrifying 34 per cent of families.
Fuel poverty is another issue that holds back people in rural areas. In East Ayrshire, fuel poverty affects 15,000 households, including 2,000 families. Meanwhile, in South Ayrshire—a wealthier local authority—a staggering 12,000 households are affected, which is nearly a quarter of all households. In South Ayrshire, the fuel poverty gap, which is the amount of money it would take to pull households out of fuel poverty, has reached £850. Those figures truly highlight the disadvantage at which many people in rural communities find themselves.
Does the member think that the cut to universal credit will help those people who are in fuel poverty in those communities? Will it help or hinder those people that she was talking about to have £20 a week taken off them?
We fully supported the temporary uplift in universal credit at the height of the pandemic, but now that we are coming through it we need to get people back into work. People in my area do not want to live on benefits. They want investment from the Scottish Government in the area.
Does the member recognise that many people on universal credit are already working, but do not earn enough to reach the living standards that she is talking about? Removing the £20 will just make that situation worse. Surely the member can see that?
I have been to the Department for Work and Pensions and spoken to the people who work there. They think that this is the best system to encourage people to get into work—[
.] We need to invest in rural communities and we need to give people the opportunity to get into work. [
.] No, I am going to make some progress.
A doubling of the Scottish child payment would go some way towards resolving those issues, but it is not enough on its own, and it takes no account of rural and urban disparities. [
The Scottish Government has many worthy aims when it comes to resolving poverty, but there is often too much talk followed by too little change. Education followed by consistent employment is, and will always be, the best way to deliver real economic change in a community.
Making sure that we have the appropriate tools in place is an essential step on the road to reducing rural poverty. Inward investment is one mechanism, as is education, but employability programmes also have a role to play. With that in mind, I decided to look at how the Scottish Government’s employability programmes have progressed. I was surprised by the results—and not in a good way.
Fair start Scotland has been operational since 2018, but its performance has been disappointing. Only 14 per cent of participants who started in April 2018, in the scheme’s first quarter of operation, sustained one year of employment. The figures have not improved, and the pandemic is no excuse. In the final quarter of 2019, only 9 per cent of starts stayed in a job for a year. Although the pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact, at the height of Covid, in October to December 2020, 38 per cent of starts began a job. That figure plummeted to 9 per cent in the second quarter of this year. In June 2021, only 76 participants had achieved 12 months of work out of 878 starts the previous year.
If we are serious about curbing rural unemployment, the cabinet secretary needs to get a grip on Scotland’s employability programme.
The number of Scots using devolved social security programmes is set to rise exponentially as the effects of the pandemic are felt and further benefits are devolved. We need robust measures in place to boost rural employment, cut rural poverty, and end rural barriers to employment.
The Parliament does a really good job of hiding where there can be consensus and agreement from time to time. Perhaps we should leave the Conservatives to one side when we talk about consensus and agreement.
I recall attending events in our Parliament in the previous session to hear the case for £5 per week per child as an anti-poverty supplement. As a back bencher, I took those calls seriously, as the SNP Government and members across the chamber did. In 2019, the Scottish Government announced that, rather than a £5 per week child supplement, a Scottish child payment would be introduced for families on qualifying benefits as a £10 per week per child payment. There was no rape clause or two-child cap; it was a straightforward, forthright and direct payment to those most in need and in poverty. We got agreement across the chamber. We got consensus, and that was to be extended to all under-16s, starting with under-sixes.
The announcement was a victory and a vindication for campaigners. They had shown movement, as well. They wanted a universal £5 payment at the outset. We have now moved to a £10 targeted payment.
Since then, of course, the SNP has fast-tracked the delivery and roll-out of the Scottish child payment to under-16s and brought in bridging payments, as we have heard. SNP MSPs were recently elected on the commitment to raise the Scottish child payment to £20 per child per week. Commitments have been made across the chamber, and our Scottish Government will do that.
I absolutely accept that campaigners wish to see that happen as soon as possible. There are always demands on Government money. When we were bringing in the Scottish child payment, anti-poverty groups suggested that, rather than increase it further, if there was additional money, it could be given to the families of teenage children during the summer. That is another pinchpoint when families are in poverty. We should bear in mind that there are always many ways to spend money to help those who are living in poverty.
With various other direct policy initiatives to tackle child poverty, such as best start grants, best start foods payments, increasing the school clothing grant, and rolling out further free school meals, the Scottish Government clearly has a policy programme that takes seriously action to tackle child poverty and will bring with it a fairer and more equal society, which this debate is focused on. There is no complacency there. Of course we must strive to do more. Entitlements to support must not only exist; their uptake must be maximised. I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is embracing its statutory duty to promote benefit uptake. A similar statutory duty does not exist at Westminster.
The Scottish Government anticipated that, once the Scottish child payment was rolled out, uptake would be around 83 per cent. Of course, it wanted 100 per cent uptake, but that was the estimate. I absolutely welcome the fact that, from February, when the payment was introduced, to 30 June this year, 180,000 children have benefited to the tune of £176 million.
With around 133,000 children forecast to be eligible, that would suggest an uptake of around 80 per cent, although I am not sure about that figure. The Scottish Parliament information centre suggests that uptake was initially around 60 per cent. It is important that we work out what the current uptake is, and what we are doing to address any uptake gap, as those who are missing out may be the most vulnerable.
This year, the Scottish Government is distributing £12 million to support the provision of free welfare and debt advice. I commend various groups and organisations, such as citizens advice bureaux, local authority welfare workers and various other groups working in debt support and advice and income maximisation, on their work. However, the most vulnerable families often do not go to those bodies.
In my constituency of Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, I am lucky to have on-the-ground, trusted organisations that do not just offer practical support for those who are most vulnerable but seek to ensure that individuals and families are plugged into the wider benefits system. There are many such organisations, but I highlight the Glasgow north baby food bank and Spirit of Springburn. The baby food bank does not just give out baby formula, nappies and clothes, along with providing moral and peer support; it also signposts those individuals and families to Scottish social security benefits to ensure that they get what they are entitled to.
Spirit of Springburn has a hub at the heart of the Springburn community and brings services to the people who most need them. It does not get direct funding from Government; perhaps we should do more to build the type of community resilience that Glasgow north baby food bank and Spirit of Springburn offer.
In the time I have left, I want to talk about the £20 cut in universal credit. Presiding Officer, you were not in the chamber at the time, but I used the word “you” time and again while intervening on Miles Briggs. I apologise for that, as it is not parliamentary etiquette, but I was so affected by the looming catastrophe that the £20 cut in universal credit will bring to my constituents that I lost my sense of parliamentary etiquette.
There is a bit of a false debate in relation to the cut. Universal credit was not sufficient before the £20 uplift was brought in—it was never enough to live on. I have constituents who were already going to food banks, living in poverty and not heating their homes because benefits were too low. The increase of £20 a week just about got them to hang in there, and now it is being stripped away. It is disgraceful, appalling and shameful, and it is not dignified. It is quite simply wrong. The Conservatives in Scotland should get a backbone, stand up to their UK masters and stand up for the poorest in Scotland and across the UK.
It is a great pleasure to follow that thoughtful contribution from Bob Doris, in particular with regard to universal credit. In particular, I echo his comments that, before the £20 uplift, the pressure on families with children—including families in work—was, quite simply, unacceptable.
I welcome the thought behind today’s motion regarding an
“ambitious programme ... for Government to create a fairer society.”
However, I want to take a moment to consider what we mean by “fairer society”. A number of members have spoken about the need for an equitable and fair society. I want to look at what that means for the people who are living in our society, in our communities, right now.
I have to confess that, as a primary school teacher, I have sat through—I say this carefully—some very convoluted assemblies in which I have heard adults try to explain to children what “fairer” and “equitable” mean. I say that with my fingers crossed, as the headteachers I know will probably immediately email me.
To explain what a fairer society is, we need to get down to a simple principle. If we ask a child, “Is it fair?”, they will say no if they have not benefited. Is a fairer society therefore about everyone being equal? I deeply hope that we all in the chamber can agree that it is not about everyone being the same. Indeed, I am minded of Henry Drummond, the character based on Clarence Darrow, who was perhaps the first human rights lawyer in the US and who took part in the monkey trial. When there are attempts to stack the jury, he says:
“Conform, conform! What do you want to do—run the jury through a meat-grinder, so they all come out the same?”
I hope that no one in the chamber—indeed, no one in Scotland—wants a society where everything is the same. Richard Lavoie, the educationalist, said:
“Fairness means everyone gets what he or she needs.”
That flexibility is important going forward.
I welcome the fact that so much of the motion concentrates on young people, because that is important and it is crucial that the society that we bequeath them is one that is fairer, one that they feel attached to and one that they feel they have contributed to.
However, it is not enough to have slogans, it is not enough to have promises and it is not even enough to rebrand previous offers. Nineteen per cent of Scotland’s population—1.03 million people—live in relative poverty each year. If we take away housing costs, that figure becomes 17 per cent. Child poverty levels in this country are an absolute disgrace. We have young people and families in this society who are supported by food banks, by third sector groups, by charities, by churches and by their friends and neighbours.
They are also supported by local authorities, and I welcome the work that is being done there. Indeed, East Lothian Council’s poverty plan has been well received, but 25 per cent of children in East Lothian are living in poverty, as was so eloquently expressed by that area’s constituency MSP, Paul McLennan. Further, 26 per cent of the children who live in the Borders and 24 per cent of the children who live in Dumfries and Galloway live in poverty.
We cannot live in a society where one child is hungry, and we should aim to prevent that. On current figures, without an alteration to the Scottish child payment, we will miss the target. We—this Parliament, this Government, we who have been elected to look after and support people—will miss the target that has been set. That is unacceptable. Scottish Labour has made a choice. I know that Neil Gray is not in his seat just now, but I am sure that he would leap up and intervene to say, “Where is the money coming from?” However, Scottish Labour has made the choice that the Scottish child payment should be doubled and doubled again next year. Why? So that 80,000 children and young people can be lifted out of poverty. It is a question of choices. It is a question of what is important and what lies at the heart. Earlier, Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned that social security has to do the heavy lifting in the short term.
Absolutely. It is not for social security to pay for everybody for ever, because that would reduce the dignity that people find as individuals. However, it is right in the short term that we use social security to do the heavy lifting and get those children and families out of poverty so that, as we look to their education, they feel more able to contribute and learn; and as they go on to find jobs, they can hang on for a job that they feel more fitted to rather than take the first thing that comes along, often pressed on them by those who administer the social security system.
I agree that social security is not the single answer, but I suggest that it is the answer going forward, so that we have children who can receive the bridging payments without the need to be on free school meals, and so that, after the abhorrent £20 cut, children in Scotland whose families will lose universal credit can continue to receive the Scottish child benefit.
I know that time is short, but I have one question, to which I ask for a response.
From my constituency office, I can see the Social Security Scotland headquarters building at Dundee waterfront. By autumn next year, 3,500 people will be employed by the agency across Scotland, including up to 900 in my constituency. We heard this week that another 300 jobs are set to be created nearby at the new NHS 24 regional hub in the city, so the SNP is delivering for Dundee.
As we have heard, Social Security Scotland is delivering the game-changing Scottish child payment to low-income families. It will be doubled to £20 per week per child as soon as possible. Social Security Scotland is also delivering the new child disability payment in three pilot areas, including in my constituency in Dundee.
When the actions of the Scottish Government are compared with the actions of the UK Government, it is clear who is serious about tackling poverty in Scotland. The Tories have imposed the bedroom tax, the benefits cap, the five-week wait for the failing universal credit, benefit sanctions, the two-child cap and the abhorrent rape clause. Last night, Scottish Tory MPs at Westminster sat on their hands as Boris Johnson bulldozed through his £20-a-week cut to universal credit which, as many others have said, will push thousands of children in Scotland into poverty.
As the cabinet secretary put it last week, it is a total “disgrace” that Tory MPs have the “brass neck” to come into this Parliament and demand that the Scottish Government plug the holes that the Tory Government is creating at Westminster, so the Tories need to
“get their own house in order.”—[
, 9 September 2021; c 54.]
I am proud of the steps that the Scottish Government is taking to eradicate poverty. The Scottish Government is delivering for Dundee, including more than £4.2 million to 3,700 Dundee carers, through our carers allowance supplement.
There is a slight dissonance between the rhetoric and the reality. Joe FitzPatrick must know that poverty in Dundee continues to increase dramatically, that child poverty is increasing dramatically under this Government, that drug deaths are increasing dramatically, that the outcomes for the people of our city—
Clearly, no one is suggesting that poverty does not exist in Scotland. It does, which is why the Scottish Government takes the matter so seriously and is investing so hard, although that is difficult when every action that we take is reversed by Westminster Government actions, which we then have to mitigate against.
For Dundee, the Scottish Government has delivered more than £4.2 million to Dundee’s 3,700 carers via the carers allowance supplement; more than £1 million via the two family pandemic supplements, which supported 5,422 children and young people in our city; more than £1.7 million via the best start grant and best start foods; and more than £0.5 million in funeral support payments, to support people at that most difficult time in their lives.
Obviously, I am not a minister.
However, over the past three years, the budgets for alcohol and drug partnerships in Scotland have risen year on year and, in this year’s budget, there has been a significant investment of new cash, which I welcome. Clearly, we have more to do; I hope that the matter is one of the things that we can work on together.
The Scottish Government has done other things for Dundee. Provision of free school breakfasts and lunches is being expanded to all primary school pupils, which is benefiting more than 10,000 children in Dundee alone. More than 6,000 children and young people in our city are receiving the school clothing grant. [
.] I am sorry—I need to make progress.
Sadly, the progressive and ambitious work of the Scottish Government is constantly undermined by the callous approach of the Tories at Westminster—slavishly backed by their Tory colleagues in this chamber, who will defend the indefensible in order to preserve their precious union. Scotland cannot afford to remain part of the sinking ship that is the United Kingdom. Imagine what we could achieve in Parliament if we had full control of our welfare system, like any other normal country in the world.
I look forward to supporting the forthcoming independence referendum bill once the Covid crisis is over, so that the people of Scotland can decide whether to remain shackled to Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain or to choose independence, which will deliver the full range of powers to enable Parliament to put in place a transformational recovery that will lead to a fairer and more sustainable and prosperous nation. That will be a Scotland that is able to work in partnership with our friends in the rest of the UK and in Europe, in a genuine partnership of equals.
Often, when we talk about independence in the chamber, there are complaints from Tories that we need to focus on the day job. We had an election and its result was clear and decisive. The people of Scotland delivered their verdict on the Tories’ fundamentally undemocratic position—that the people of Scotland should never have the chance to choose again. There is a clear majority in Parliament in favour of an independence referendum. That is what Parliament is duty bound to deliver, on behalf of the people of Scotland, whom we serve. I will be proud to support that, when the time comes.
I support the motion, and I particularly welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to putting human rights at the centre of our Covid recovery. A new human rights bill will be introduced by the Scottish Government that will incorporate all the conventions that Maggie Chapman mentioned.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
In my speech, I spoke about an organisation called Spirit of Springburn and the wonderful job that it does. I did not declare that I am a director of Spirit of Springburn, which I should have done. I now place that on the record.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. That will give me the opportunity to follow on from what my Dundee colleague Joe FitzPatrick has said— which I will do later.
Only this weekend, during the online SNP conference, the First Minister took a short break from setting out conspiracy theories to tell us that Scotland can be Denmark, Ireland, Austria, Norway or Finland. Personally, I quite like being Scottish. Given all that, perhaps it should be no surprise to see the Government taking on the language of the United States with the phrase “a land of opportunity”, which we have heard not very much about today.
Although we on the Labour benches strongly believe in opportunity, that has not really been the focus of the motion or the debate. The grasping of opportunities can become a reality only when there is a universal realisation of rights—the right not to be hungry, the right to a decent education and the right to live free of the indignity of poverty. My colleague Martin Whitfield was incredibly eloquent in painting a picture of the need for the realisation of those rights. I hope that the cabinet secretary picks up on Mr Whitfield’s point regarding the implementation of Government legislation for the incorporation of rights legislation.
Those are fundamental principles that should exist in our social contract, yet that was not really what the afternoon’s debate was about. Using the language of opportunity about those core issues shifts significantly the issue of the social contract. It speaks not really about equality, but about a wider sense of individualism. Perhaps we should hear about Susan Aitken’s analysis that we should have the opportunity to empty our own bins, to sweep our own streets and to run our own libraries.
To end this analogy, maybe borrowing that language from Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio signals a new, more honest direction from the Government on how society should look—or, perhaps, it is just a little bit odd, and a tired attempt by a press officer or civil servant to rebadge what has been a dull and timid programme for government.
The cabinet secretary started the debate by saying that the Government was
“well aware of the challenges ahead”.
I have to say that, across a wide range of portfolios, it does not really seem like it. There is a real lack of ambition around the remobilisation of education and of our NHS, which we have heard so much about today, and around the crisis that we see in our social services.
The cabinet secretary talked about rights, giving a list of bills, rights consultations and rights discussion groups. However, the rights framework has very little to say about the reality of the city in which we both live—Dundee. She mentioned the housing first programme, but she did not mention that 12 staff working on that programme have been made redundant and that four other staff have taken on full responsibility for the programme on top of their existing jobs, as a result of the funding ending and not being replaced by the Government.
The cabinet secretary talked about the protection of women and girls, but she did not mention the fact that refuges in the city of Dundee are often full, with no access available when a woman seeks refuge for her and her family.
I certainly recognise that money has gone in recently, but in recent weeks there have still been incredibly long waiting lists for one-to-one work between women and Women’s Aid in Dundee, so that resource is not changing the situation. The refuges have been full in recent years and continue to be in a state of extreme pressure.
We have to think about the reality of the Government’s policy. Pam Duncan-Glancy talked about that very clearly when she skewered the cabinet secretary on the issue of the 125,000 young people who are missing out on bridging payments due to the approach taken by the Government, in a speech that was her customary tour de force on these issues.
Willie Rennie praised that speech, too, and he went on to highlight the key statistic in this debate, which we are all taking note of: the 25 per cent of children living in poverty in Scotland, rising to 38 per cent in 10 years’ time. Alex Rowley talked about that statistic and told us, rightly, that Governments can and should do more, as Gordon Brown and Labour did. Simply put, warm words do not put food on the table; we need pounds in the pocket to make a difference. Mr Rowley made the point very strongly, saying that Labour took 1 million children out of poverty, but child poverty now continues to rise year on year under both of the present Governments.
The immediate moral imperative for the Scottish Government is to live up to its end of the social contract, which should be to eradicate the scourge of child poverty in Scotland. In my home city of Dundee, more than 25 per cent of children are living in poverty—7,046 children and families who need our support now. I am afraid that the picture that Mr FitzPatrick portrayed of that city and the challenges that we face did not meet the mark. He asked us to imagine what could be achieved. I ask him to imagine what could be achieved if one in eight teachers had not been taken out of the schools in Dundee by the SNP council, whose budget has been cut by the SNP Government.
Analysis shows that a £40 per week Scottish child payment would lead to a reduction in child poverty for up to 80,000 children in Scotland. Neil Gray said that we were asking for very little. That is not very little; it is a significant move.
What we have done is seen that the writing is on the wall under this Government—frankly, the child poverty targets are going to be missed—and our party has listened. We have listened to the faith leaders across Scotland and the hundreds of third sector organisations that are telling us to take that action. I say to Mr Gray that the public accounts show us that the Government has more money this year than it has had in previous years and more than it is likely to have under the Tory Administration for years to come. If not now, when will it have the resource to deal with child poverty?
Mr Gray seemed to indicate in his retreat to the issue of powers that we need more borrowing to tackle it and Mr McLennan could not answer my point, although I understand that he missed the piece on the telly when the Deputy First Minister said that an independent Scotland would not have quantitative easing and could not borrow. Frankly, when Mr Gray accuses us of being confused, I think that he would take that point.
The pursuit of a fair and equal society is an endeavour in which we all have a part to play. It will take all of us to strive for our goal when so many different areas must be addressed. We must be ambitious in our plans to tackle issues of inequality and, more importantly, we must deliver on that ambition.
Unfortunately, the Government is very good at ambition, but woefully inadequate at its delivery. We have heard across the chamber of all the times that the SNP has failed to deliver a fair and equal chance for the people of Scotland.
My colleague Miles Briggs highlighted the role of unpaid carers and young carers, yet no one has addressed the points that he has raised, so I hope that the Government will do so in concluding. My colleague Pam Gosal laid out the dreadful and truly heartbreaking disparities in her area, whether in school performance, instances of homelessness, or life expectancy. The postcode lottery should not determine one’s school results or whether one has a home, and certainly not how long one lives.
Alexander Stewart referred to the fact that the Government has been handed powers over devolved benefits in 2016 but will still not take full control over them until at least 2025. It will take almost a decade before it gets its affairs in order, yet it keeps saying that it wants more powers.
I merely point out to Jeremy Balfour that we have a Government that is investing in social security, but the Government that he supports is cutting it. Did the member hear Stephen Crabb, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, say yesterday that it was a mistake for him to assume that cutting social security would get people into work? Mr Crabb backed the policy that this Government supports to see the universal credit uplift retained.
My colleague Mr Briggs made clear that we would have preferred an extension if possible. However, we also recognise, as Neil Gray does, that we have to make financial choices. All that we have heard from the SNP benches this afternoon is “let’s have more power”, but we have heard repeatedly that it has not even delivered with the powers that it already has. The SNP slags off the DWP, but without it, poor people would be even poorer and people would not be getting benefits.
We have heard from my colleague Sharon Dowey of the terrible lack of opportunities in our rural communities around education, employment and so on.
I echo my colleague Alexander Stewart and say that we, as Conservatives, believe in equality of opportunity. The hallmark of a fair society is that it allows individuals to thrive regardless of the situation into which they are born and the type of family in which they live. Child poverty is a massive problem in Scotland.
We have the same powers north and south of the border, so I would love the minister to tell me why more disabled people are in employment in England compared to Scotland. The Government needs to answer those questions rather than slag off other Governments.
Members mentioned earlier that it is estimated that almost a quarter of children in Scotland live in relative poverty after housing costs. If that statistic does not hit you like a punch in the gut, you surely do not grasp the magnitude of it.
You were talking about child poverty and said that your Government needs to make difficult financial choices, yet you demanded that this Government double the Scottish child payment immediately. Do you not see the irony in that statement? Those people receiving money are Scottish families. How can you justify £20 coming out of their hands?
All five parties had that in our manifestos. We want to deliver on our manifestos, because we have listened to the faith groups and the third sector, who said that those things needed to be done. You have simply got your—
The member has talked about organisations that quite rightly call for the doubling of the child payment. Those same organisations are telling members on the Tory side that cutting universal credit by £20 is the wrong thing to do. Why are you listening to them only on one issue and not the other?
I might be wrong about this, but I understand that we are in the Scottish Parliament and we have responsibility for Scottish decisions. If you want to go and discuss universal credit, stand down and get yourself elected to Westminster.
Let us focus on what we can do in this Parliament with the powers that we have, rather than focusing on other Governments. It is of the utmost importance that we as a Parliament seek—
No, I have no more time.
As I have said, many charities have said that doubling the Scottish child payment to £20 would make a massive difference and have an immediate impact on the number of children in poverty. It would lift tens of thousands of children from the most tragic of circumstances. Of course, it is in no way a silver bullet, but it would make a real difference and it is something that I and all 128 other members can do when we vote on the budget in a few months.
If the Scottish Government wants to take these issues seriously, it must stop all the talk, roll up its sleeves and deliver effective policies that will actually promote a fairer and more equal society. What would be a better way to start than ceasing to kick such policies down the road and doubling the Scottish child payment now? Commit to it now. Vote for Miles Briggs’s amendment, and let us give a clear message that we understand what the Scottish people want us to do.
I thank all members for their contributions today. We have, understandably, heard a lot about the anti-poverty measures that are being taken by the Scottish Government, particularly the Scottish child payment. We heard about that right at the start, from Miles Briggs, and we have heard about it from many other members. It is, of course, this Government’s intention to double the Scottish child payment to £20 as early as possible in this parliamentary session. It is, after all, a benefit that went from announcement to delivery in 18 months, which is a record delivery time for our new social security system.
I will speak about some of that in more detail if I have time. However, I point the member to the fact that we are already delivering 11 benefits through Social Security Scotland, seven of which are brand new and unique. We are taking some time to develop the policy with those with lived experience in order to get it right and to ensure that we have a stable system that will allow us to make the change. When I was the social security secretary, I worked carefully with stakeholders on the reasons for that.
Going back to the Scottish child payment, as the debate went on, it was telling that we heard about the Scottish child payment and universal credit. According to Jeremy Balfour, we should not debate universal credit; we should just leave it to Westminster. He will forgive me if I do not take that offer up. It is a choice, and we all have choices. I will happily give way to any of the Scottish Conservatives here who would like to intervene and condemn the UK Government or—not going as far as that—at least cajole the UK Government into dropping its threat to make the £20 cut to universal credit. Anyone?
I will say exactly the same as I said to one of our back benchers. My motion seeks to make sure that we double the Scottish child payment during the current financial year. Will members support that, or are they about to vote against it?
None of the Scottish Tories will actually do that, which is testament to where their priorities lie and, as Jeremy Balfour said, to the choices that they have made. We have set out clearly what we will do with the Scottish child payment, and I look forward to seeing what will happen in the Scottish budget debates and what we will hear from every single party as we move forward with costed budgets.
As she always does in her speeches in the Parliament, Pam Duncan-Glancy took a very thoughtful, considered approach. However, I urge her to exercise caution on some issues. We would all love to get on with certain things, but specifically on the Scottish child payment, as Shona Robison pointed out in an intervention, we are providing bridging payments to make sure that we are getting on with it. Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned that the provision of those payments does not match up with everyone who would get the Scottish child payment. That is simply because we do not have the data to allow us to deliver on that. Although that is a commendable desire, we can only work with the reality of what we have in our social security system. The answer, therefore, is for us to have full powers, not split powers.
I apologise, but I want to make progress.
Emma Roddick made a very thoughtful contribution in which she talked about her experiences of homelessness and the absolute necessity of tackling the drivers of poverty. It is absolutely unacceptable that people fall through the net. We must take a cross-Government approach in order to deal with that.
I must mention Maggie Chapman’s speech, because not many members mentioned the work that is being done on human rights and the incorporation of the UN treaties. In this parliamentary session, we have the opportunity to deliver something that is truly world leading in that respect. She mentioned the different parts of our society that will benefit from that. I genuinely hope that we will be able to make progress on that consensually.
I was just coming to Martin Whitfield’s contribution on the UNCRC. The matter is, of course, with the Supreme Court at the moment, so I will not spend too much time commenting on a live case. The Government remains absolutely committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC to the maximum extent of the powers of the Scottish Parliament. I hope that that gives Martin Whitfield some comfort.
I want to move on to talk about some issues relating to education, children and families that have not come up in the debate. The pandemic has had a significant impact on families, and we must deliver support to them. That is why our programme for government sets out our commitment to invest at least £500 million over the parliamentary session to create a whole family wellbeing fund.
We must also take into account the promise that all of us made last year to thousands of care-experienced children and adults. We promised transformational change in the care system, and we intend to keep that promise. We will deliver on that promise despite the challenges that we face.
We are determined to move forward with that. The member has seen our programme for government and our commitment on the issue, which we are determined to deliver on.
I move on to the education recovery, which a number of members mentioned. We are aware that there have been negative impacts on the health and wellbeing, and the attainment, of some children and young people as a result of the pandemic. That is why £450 million of additional funding has already been committed as part of the education recovery. A significant amount of work on renewal and recovery in education is already under way, and we will continue to work with partners to ensure that pupils who have been negatively impacted are given the support that they need to recover.
An important part of that work is on the Scottish attainment challenge programme, which has a vital role to play. Audit Scotland has recognised that progress has been made on the poverty-related attainment gap, and headteachers have reported that they are seeing progress, but we know that there is more to do, which is why we have committed £215 million to the attainment Scotland fund, including a £20 million pupil equity funding premium. That is the first part of a £1 billion commitment to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap in this parliamentary session.
We are determined to tackle teacher recruitment and ensure that teachers have permanent contracts wherever possible, although recruitment and retention lie within the gift of local authorities. We have already committed £248 million to support local authorities in the appointment of an additional 2,200 teachers and more than 500 support staff in schools across Scotland, and we are providing further funding for councils to support the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants over the parliamentary session.
There is much in the programme for government that Ms Robison and I could have discussed today in our portfolios. There is an ambitious programme to create a fairer Scotland. We have seen progress, and we are proud of the Government’s record. The results of the election have demonstrated that the Scottish people have, once again, put their trust in us to deliver on that, and we are beginning to repay that trust already. Looking at our first 100 days, it is clear that we have demonstrated that we are committed to delivering on teacher recruitment and on measures to tackle poverty. That is the type of delivery that we are already seeing within the first 100 days, and that is the level of delivery that we are committed to continuing over the session.