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I said at the beginning that we are here to get the right policies. I want the right policies in the Scottish Government.
The Government should end the five-week wait that claimants must go through, as Chris Stephens said, before they receive their initial universal credit payment. I was also concerned to hear that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions refused to rule out a further extension of the benefits freeze. I urge the Government to bring the benefits freeze to an immediate end, rather than looking at extending it. An extension of the benefits freeze means an extension of child poverty across Scotland. I urge the Government to end the benefit cap and the two-child limit policy.
Ahead of this debate, the House’s digital engagement team undertook a public engagement exercise and received over 700 responses. respondents called on the Government to look again at their damaging welfare reforms such as universal credit. I hope that the Government will reflect on that.
The Scottish Government must also look at the policy changes that they could make. They could introduce a Mary Barbour law to cap rents in the private rented sector, in order to help low-income families. They could build more social and affordable housing to end the disgrace of children being trapped in temporary accommodation, or finding themselves homeless. They could look again at the child support payment, which the Resolution Foundation found would still leave more than 25% of children in Scotland living in poverty—the Scottish Government’s own target of 18% would not be close to being met. I also urge them to listen to the calls of Scottish Labour for a child benefit top-up of £5 per week to support those affected by the two-child limit policy.
I started this debate by saying that all of us in this House share the goal of eradicating child poverty in Scotland. That goal will be achieved only through serious policy change of the kind that I have suggested today. I put on record my support for North Lanarkshire Council’s Club365 programme, which helps to tackle holiday hunger among children in my constituency. That shows that local councils can take action to address child poverty, despite the budget cuts imposed on them by central Government.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was right to say that Scotland now has a full-blown child poverty emergency. In emergencies, we expect rapid and decisive action. I hope we will see that action from both the UK and Scottish Governments.