Attainment Gap

– in the Scottish Parliament on 30th September 2021.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

7. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action it is taking to close the poverty-related attainment gap, including in response to the reduction to universal credit. (S6O-00231)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Record investment of £215 million this year, including a £20 million pupil equity funding premium, is providing additional support for children and young people who need it most. That is the first investment as part of our £1 billion commitment to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap and support education recovery in the current session of Parliament.

However, tackling the poverty-related attainment gap cannot be done by education or schools alone. Scottish Government analysis indicates that the United Kingdom Government’s decision to cut universal credit could push 60,000 people in Scotland, including 20,000 children, into poverty. That is why the UK Government must reverse that harmful and senseless cut immediately.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I refer colleagues to my entry in the register of members’ interests. As the cabinet secretary said, this action cannot be about just education, although I note the substantial investment in our schools. The best way to narrow the poverty-related attainment gap is to address poverty.

When a £6 billion cut in universal credit, which will remove £1,000 from low-income families, is coming forward from the Tories, a £500 million replication of the Scottish welfare fund, as was announced this morning, will go no way towards making up for the poverty that people will suffer. What impact will those cuts have on the Government’s ability to close the poverty-related attainment gap?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I quite agree with Neil Gray. The announcement today of a £500 million fund does not, in any way, begin to compensate for the £6 billion cut to universal credit. That is why we, in the Scottish Government, are doing what we can. I have spoken about the record funding that we are providing to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, but Neil Gray is quite right to say that we also need to tackle the root causes of poverty.

One of the root causes is that the UK Government has a fundamentally different approach to its social security system—an approach that seems to punish the poorest people in our society. Given the votes in the universal credit debate this week, I think that the Scottish Tories share the UK Government’s view. That is exceptionally disappointing, but we in the Scottish Government will continue to do what we can to support our people.