– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th October 2022.
5. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, “Poverty in Scotland 2022”. (S6F-01422)
The report is a stark reminder of the pressures that low-income households are facing and why the Government’s actions to tackle poverty are so important.
We have allocated almost £3 billion this year to help to mitigate the impact of increasing costs on households. That is from within our fixed budget, which is £1.7 billion less than it was in December last year, due to inflation. We are taking a range of actions, including increasing our unique Scottish child payment to £25 per week.
That is in sharp contrast to a UK Government that is plunging the UK into economic turmoil. We have seen over the past week—and, indeed, over the past 12 years—why it is so vital that the Parliament has the full powers to be able to tackle poverty and the cost of living and to support those who are most in need.
I thank the First Minister for that answer, but the
Joseph Rowntree Foundation report highlighted the particular pressures facing families in Scotland with a disabled person in them, noting that
“Three in four families ... where someone has a disability reported a negative impact on their mental health due to the cost of living crisis”,
and even higher numbers have had to cut back on essential spending.
Another report published this week by Inclusion Scotland made the very stark statement that there will be “avoidable deaths” of disabled people this winter without targeted action. Scottish Labour has pushed and pushed the Scottish Government to do something for disabled people during the cost of living crisis; so far, we have been ignored. What urgent action will the Government take to step in and alleviate the pressures that are facing disabled people this winter?
It is the case that poverty has a disproportionate impact on certain groups in our society, which undoubtedly include disabled groups. The £3 billion that I mentioned will, of course, be of benefit in many respects to people who live with disabilities; the fuel insecurity fund is one example of that. Within the fixed budget and limited powers that we have, we will continue to do as much as we can to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis.
Of course, the fundamental problem is that so many such powers, and the access to resources, lie outwith the hands of the Parliament. It is not enough to have partial powers over welfare or partial resources; we need full powers in this Parliament. I hope that we might yet see the day when Scottish Labour will argue for such powers to be not with Tory Governments at Westminster but in the hands of this democratically elected Parliament.
If the First Minister has all that power, why is she taking away money from disabled people by cutting the employability budget by £53 million this year? Will she tell the Scottish people—in particular, those who are disabled—why it is harder for a disabled person to get a job in Scotland than it is anywhere else in the United Kingdom?
It is important to stress that the budget for employability is increasing. It is not increasing by as much as we would like it to, because of the choices that we are being forced to make since our budget is shrinking as a result of the economic incompetence and financial decisions of the UK Government.
If any member does not like the decisions that we are making—we do not want to be in the position of having to make them—they can come and argue how else we should balance our budget and protect the people who are most in need.
I say particularly to the Conservatives that, if they do not like the decisions, they should start to argue with their colleagues at Westminster to stop cutting the Parliament’s budget so that such decisions are not necessary in the first place.