Cost of Living (Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 4th May 2022.

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Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

3. To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on what the Scottish Government is doing to support households through the cost of living crisis. (S6F-01051)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We are doing, and will continue to do, everything that we can within our powers and resources to help people who are facing the impacts of higher energy bills, increased food costs, the United Kingdom Government’s national insurance hike and interest rate rises. However, it is a fact that most of the resources and levers to tackle the crisis lie with the UK Government, and it needs to do much more.

Through our own cost of living support and our spend on Scottish social security payments, many of which are not available elsewhere in the UK, we are set to invest almost £770 million to tackle the cost of living crisis this year. Of course, we will also lift an estimated 50,000 children out of relative poverty through the Scottish child payment.

Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

A Tory hard Brexit has hit food supplies, Tory social security cuts have hit household budgets and the Tory obsession with fossil fuels means soaring energy bills. People are struggling with a cost of living crisis that is entirely of the UK Government’s making, but we are doing what we can in Scotland to mitigate it.

I am proud that constructive and collaborative work by the Scottish Greens has led to free bus travel for young people, a more than doubling of the Scottish child payment, the biggest investment in energy efficiency in the UK and mitigation of the cruel benefit cap. Does the First Minister agree that constructive politics should be practised at all levels of Government, and that tomorrow voters should think globally and act locally by electing councillors who will work together to deliver more of that progressive agenda?

The First Minister:

Yes; I agree with that, and Gillian Mackay is absolutely right to point out that in many ways the cost of living crisis is a Tory-created crisis. The actions that have been highlighted are very good examples of constructive partnership working in the Parliament between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens to tackle inequality and poverty. We have worked together to ensure that we support households through the Scottish child payment, mitigating the UK Government benefit cap, which disproportionately impacts on families, and introducing free bus travel for under-22s.

All those actions support households, and we are doing them all within our fixed budget. That is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s failure to act, which is exacerbating the crisis. Removing the £20 universal credit top-up, failing to match our action on uprating benefits and the hike to national insurance are all placing much more pressure on households. The time is now to provide immediate financial help to tackle the cost of living crisis, and people across Scotland will tomorrow have the opportunity to say that very loudly and clearly.

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

Last week, the chancellor said that it was “silly” for the Tory Government to help households who are struggling with their bills. Yesterday, Boris Johnson admitted that he has not done enough to alleviate the pain of the cost of living crisis, and today, the Secretary for State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that to cope with the cost of living, people should choose value brands, and that the Government intervening would be throwing money at a crisis. Does the First Minister think that the Tories do not understand or simply do not care about the pressure that people face?

The First Minister:

Is it that they do not understand or that they do not care? To be honest, it is probably both those things. I do not think that they understand at all—I think that they are deeply out of touch—but we know from callous Tory policies down the years that they do not care that much about people who are struggling. Their actions and words in recent weeks show that they do not understand, and their failure to act shows that they do not care nearly enough. We have heard various UK Government ministers admit that, and I am shocked, as many people are, that they think that it is okay to describe supporting families who face hardship as throwing money at people or, even worse, as “silly”.

There is a desperate and pressing need to act now to support households who are acutely feeling cost of living pressures every single day. The UK Government could act: it could cut VAT on fuel bills; it could tax all companies—not only energy companies—on excess profits; it could increase benefits, as we have done where we have been able to; and it could reinstate the £20 that was cut from universal credit. It could and should do all those things, but what is not and should not be an option is for the UK Government to sit with its head in the sand and take no action to support households who are in so much need at this time.