Cost of Living (Single Parenting)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd September 2022.

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Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the One Parent Families Scotland report “Living without a lifeline: single parenting and the cost of living”. (S6F-01364)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I welcome the report, although I wish that it was not necessary. We are all aware of the hardship that is felt by many families right now, and in particular by single parents. The Scottish Government’s very significant actions to tackle child poverty, alongside our interventions to mitigate the cost of living crisis, are providing direct support. For example, our five family benefits, which will shortly be worth more than £10,000 in the early years of a child’s life, include the Scottish child payment, which will increase to £25 in November, representing a 150 per cent increase within eight months.

All of that is in contrast to the approach of the United Kingdom Government, which continues to hold most of the key levers here.

If it reversed the welfare reforms that it has imposed since 2015, such as the two-child limit, the £20 cut to universal credit, the benefit freeze and the benefit cap, that would put £780 million into household budgets and would lift 70,000 people, including 30,000 children, out of poverty.

Unfortunately, right now, we have to rely on the UK Government to exercise the levers. I look forward to the day when such decisions lie in this Parliament’s powers.

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

I thank One Parent Families Scotland for its report and I thank the parents who contributed. The report is indeed a grim read, and one parent’s response shows how bad things are. She said:

“Depression, anxiety, stress ... I am responsible for the most amazing children but I am falling apart and terrified of losing my job.”

The report suggests many ways to tackle child poverty including, crucially, employability support to help people to stay out of poverty.

Will the First Minister explore the recommendations that the report sets out? Will she give an assurance that the cuts to employability support that the Deputy First Minister announced will not impact efforts to help single parents and other priority groups, including disabled people, larger families, families with children who are under one, mums who are under 25 and people of colour?

The First Minister:

I am happy to give that assurance and to engage in more detail on all of that. On the specific questions, yes, we will consider all the recommendations that are in the report. Support for employability is important. The Deputy First Minister set out the rationale for the savings that were announced two weeks ago. At a time of high employment and low unemployment rates, our judgment when our budget is under so much pressure is that we need to focus as much as possible on increasing people’s incomes through wage increases, as far as we can support them, and through increases to the Scottish child payment, for example.

Nevertheless, supporting employability for lone parents and others who tend to be furthest from the labour market remains extremely important. We will continue to use all levers and maximise the resources that we can bring to bear to tackle poverty generally and child poverty and the issues that lone parents experience in particular. The Government has a good record, but the more powers we hold in our own hands, the more we will be able to do.

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister share my frustration that, while the Scottish Government has introduced significant poverty interventions such as the Scottish child payment, which she mentioned, our ambition to tackle poverty is not only unmatched but absolutely undermined by Tory policies and, as long as the UK Government holds the key tax, borrowing and welfare powers, we will always be constrained in our ability to protect the most vulnerable in our society?

The First Minister:

I share that frustration. While we use our powers and deploy our resources to try to lift people out of poverty, the UK Government takes actions that push people into poverty. That is not a sustainable, sensible or morally defensible position.

The UK Government now seems to want to increase the bonuses that are paid to bankers, while further eroding the incomes of those who are on universal credit. That is utterly indefensible.

We are showing what we can do with the limited welfare powers that we have—the Scottish child payment is the leading example of that. As long as so many such powers and levers lie with a UK Government that is acting in the way that this one is, our efforts will continue to be undermined. That is why it is so important that we get all such powers into this Parliament’s hands as soon as possible.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s question time. The next item of business is a members’ business debate on a motion in Ruth Maguire’s name. There will be a short suspension to allow people to leave the chamber and the public gallery.

12:48 Meeting suspended.

12:51 On resuming—