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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 07 November 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Apology (Same-sex Sexual Activity), Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Respect for Shopworkers Week


Topical Question Time

Child Poverty

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent Child Poverty Action Group report, “The Austerity Generation”. (S5T-00748)

That report can be added to the catalogue of evidence that the United Kingdom Government’s onslaught of welfare changes and austerity has been deeply damaging to individuals and families. The report shows that across the UK, universal credit will push 1 million more children into poverty—1 million more children; I find that utterly appalling, and the Tories should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

The member asks for the Scottish Government’s response to the report. I cannot put it better than the CPAG chief executive officer, Alison Garnham, who said of the UK Government:

“Since 2010, rather than investing in our children, government policy has been creating an austerity generation whose childhoods and life chances will be scarred by a decade of political decisions to stop protecting their living standards.”

That goes to show that it was just pure rhetoric when Theresa May said, on becoming Prime Minister, that she wanted to tackle the “burning injustices” of people having different life chances if they were poor. It is time to protect our children and reverse those destructive cuts.

The Child Poverty Action Group has said that the report shows that the Tories are guilty of a

“colossal failure of public policy”

and of breaking their promise to reward those who work, and that their policy decisions make the Scottish Government’s pledge to end child poverty in Scotland much harder. Does the cabinet secretary agree?

of course I agree. Where the Scottish Government is demonstrating a clear ambition to eradicate child poverty by setting ambitious targets, the UK Government’s decisions are pushing 1 million more children across the UK into poverty. CPAG states that, of those, 900,000 will be in severe poverty by the end of the decade.

We all know that 70 per cent of children in poverty live in households in which someone is in employment. With the Tories’ policies working against us, the challenge to reduce and ultimately end child poverty is significant. As Governments, we should be seeking to reduce child poverty and create better outcomes for the lives of future generations. The Tories are doing the opposite of that by presiding over the biggest rise in child poverty since modern records began in 1961.

The CPAG report reveals that cuts to universal credit will push up child poverty across the UK by 1 million. Will the cabinet secretary reiterate calls for the UK Government to halt the roll-out of universal credit and fix the major mistakes in that benefit that are seriously hurting the people of Scotland?

Along with others, the Scottish Government has repeatedly called for the UK Government to halt the roll-out of universal credit until it fixes the fundamental flaws, starting with the in-built minimum six-week wait for first payment.

As the CPAG report shows, however, the problem is far more than that; it is cuts in the tax credit system, cuts to and freezes in work allowances, the benefit freeze, the benefit cap, and the two-child limit, which has brought about the appalling rape clause. Under the cover of simplifying a complicated benefit system, the Tories have systematically and ruthlessly made cuts and introduced new policies that will hit working families particularly hard.

CPAG is not the only one highlighting the damage that has been caused by universal credit. A report that came out today from the Trussell Trust shows that, in areas where universal credit has been in place for six months or more, there has been a 30 per cent average increase in the number of people coming to food banks compared with the figure for the year before.

I repeat that the UK Government must take its head out of the sand and take urgent action to reverse those policies to prevent even more families and children being pushed into poverty.

Tomorrow, Parliament will debate and, I hope, pass the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. Without anticipating too much of what might be said tomorrow afternoon, I thank the cabinet secretary for her constructive approach to stage 3 of that bill.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the bill now is much stronger than it was when she introduced it and that it has been strengthened because of Opposition amendments at stage 2, which were voted against by, among others, Ruth Maguire in the Social Security Committee?

Without pre-empting Parliament decisions, I hope that we will indeed come to a historic decision when we unite across the chamber to push forward with the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. The bill was not in the Government’s manifesto, so it shows that this Government is always prepared to go above and beyond the commitments that we make in public during elections in our manifestos and in our programmes for government. We want to do the right thing, so I have welcomed the engagement from across Parliament with the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which will strengthen Scotland’s hand in addressing child poverty.

Despite what CPAG’s report shows, Mr Tomkins fails to recognise that we must all unite against UK Government policies and unite in support of the Scottish Government’s legislation, because the loss in family income as a result of cuts to tax credits and to welfare support is staggering. The report says that

“The poorest 10 per cent are at risk of losing 10 per cent of their income”,

which is £450 a year, and that

“Working families stand to lose £930 a year on average from cuts in the tax credit system and £420 a year from cuts to Universal Credit”.

I hope that, as well as uniting around our legislation in this Parliament, we will also unite in opposition to the damning cuts to welfare that the UK Government has imposed.

The report outlines that freezes and cuts to universal credit work allowances will leave lone parents as much as £710 a year worse off. Does the cabinet secretary agree that universal credit is hurting the poorest and lone parents in particular? Does she agree that it is right that there should be cross-party working to halt the roll-out of universal credit until the system is fixed? Will she outline what assistance the Government might be able to offer to lone parents, who are the hardest hit?

The Government is taking forward a range of initiatives, investments and endeavours. I know that the member is a big fan of financial health checks to make sure that people receive the benefits to which they are entitled, but that begs the question of what people’s overall entitlement should be.

The member is right to point out to the increasing plight of lone-parent families. Across this Government, we will always endeavour to increase our efforts to help those most in need. I am sure that the member is well aware of the range of measures that are outlined in the First Minister’s programme for government. At a fundamental level, we will have the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, our social economic duty, our fairer Scotland action plan, 50,000 affordable homes over the lifetime of the Parliament, our massive investment in the early years and childcare and the £750 million attainment fund. We are doing all that now. As we move forward from our child poverty legislation, the question will always be what more we can do and what will be next, not least for lone-parent families.