Meeting date: Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 29 September 2021
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19 Vaccination Certification Scheme, Legal Right to Recovery, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Poverty (Purchase of School Uniforms)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Covid-19 Vaccination Certification Scheme
- Legal Right to Recovery
- Points of Order
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Poverty (Purchase of School Uniforms)
Portfolio Question Time
Health and Social Care
Good afternoon, colleagues. I remind members about the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.
The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first theme is health and social care. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question. In order to get in as many members as possible, I ask for succinct questions, and answers to match.
Covid-19 (Winter Service Provision)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting national health service boards to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on service provision over the winter. (S6O-00201)
As has been widely reported, our health and care system is under extreme pressure, which has been exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic. Of course, we are still firmly in the midst of that pandemic. Those unprecedented challenges are resulting in staffing shortages and high demand in hours and out of hours, and in a level of delayed discharge, and as well as that there has been a recent increase in Covid cases, which is now—I am thankful—on a downward trajectory.
We expect that this winter will be the most challenging that we have ever faced. To mitigate that, we are working closely with partners to ensure that measures are put in place to improve flow and increase capacity across the system. We are also promoting alternative pathways to ensure that patients receive the care that they require.
This year, we have already provided in excess of £1 billion to meet Covid pressures in health and social care, including £80 million to address treatment backlogs; additional investment—as members know—to support the Scottish Ambulance Service; and £8 million for staff wellbeing. I will update Parliament shortly on significant further funding that will be provided to support our national health service and social care system.
Earlier this month, NHS Fife postponed all non-urgent surgery and some out-patient appointments, and said that it is facing pressures
“unlike anything ... experienced during”
“response to the pandemic.”
Hospitals are already seeing more people turning up with Covid-related and non-Covid-related conditions than they would normally see at the height of winter, but it is still only September. When will the winter preparedness plan be published? What assurances can the cabinet secretary give to NHS staff and patients that the situation in Fife will not deteriorate further?
I assure Claire Baker that I regularly meet NHS boards up and down the country, and that my officials speak to them regularly, so we are very aware of the pressures that not only NHS Fife, but NHS boards across the country, are under.
We are not sitting on our hands. We have already invested, and we are investing, to address not just Covid pressures, but non-Covid pressures, for which I announced significant investment over the summer.
As I said in answer to the member’s first question, I will shortly lay out to Parliament additional funding announcements. We are not spending time on creating plans just for the sake of it; we are investing in services across the entire NHS system. I hope to give more details later this week, and will focus in particular on a whole-systems approach and on the social care side, which we know can help us with delayed discharge.
On Claire Baker’s last question, I promise that things will get better, but I think that this will be the most challenging winter that the NHS has ever faced. We will take action, as we have been doing, and we will do our best to mitigate the significant pressures.
In January, Professor Griffin from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh called for roads and pavements to be gritted properly, because icy conditions would lead to accidents that the NHS does not have capacity to deal with. Although that was in the context of reducing admissions to hospitals to prevent Covid infections, the same case can now be made in order to reduce emergency admissions, given the current pressures that we face.
Scotland’s NHS is in crisis; today the cabinet secretary extended the state of emergency in the NHS until March 2022. Can he guarantee that all council areas across Scotland will be provided with resources to ensure that roads and pavements are properly gritted this winter, in order to prevent further strain being placed on our NHS?
That is a good question. I assure Ms Webber that I am working on resilience in relation to that very issue across Government and across portfolios, with my colleagues. As she rightly points out, it is vital that when we come to the season of slips, trips and falls, our local authorities are properly resourced to ensure that roads are gritted. I discussed that with the chief medical officer just this morning, and he gave me an absolute assurance that he is also having conversations with local partners.
Covid-19 (Allergic Reaction to Vaccine)
To ask the Scottish Government how many systemic reaction specialists there are who can support people who have had an allergic reaction to their first Covid-19 vaccine. (S6O-00202)
The Government does not hold centrally information on how many systemic reaction specialists are available, but that information would be available at national health service board level.
Allergy to food and medicine is not uncommon and those types of conditions are treated by a variety of clinicians in primary and secondary care. NHS health boards lead on local delivery of the vaccination programme and are well placed to support people who have concerns about allergic reactions, as well as those who have experienced allergic reactions.
It is important that people discuss their allergies and disclose any previous serious allergic reactions or anaphylaxis to their vaccinator. The vaccinators are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately. If a person has concerns about receiving their first Covid-19 vaccination because of a potential allergy, they should ask their general practitioner or clinician for advice.
My constituent, Craig, contacted me after experiencing a severe systemic allergic reaction to his first vaccination. He was referred to a specialist, but was advised that he was going to be put on an 18-month waiting list.
That is not an isolated case and the situation is causing concern for people who are eager to see a specialist, especially as Covid vaccination passports will come into force this Friday. I have checked the Scottish Government website this afternoon, and the guidance is still not clear for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. How will the Scottish Government tackle that backlog? How can the cabinet secretary reassure my constituent that he will not be excluded from any venue, such as a nightclub or football stadium, because he cannot produce a vaccination passport?
I thank Meghan Gallacher for raising the issue of her constituent, Craig. I am more than happy for her to write to me about the specifics of his case.
As members might imagine, I have spoken extensively to clinicians about the issue of allergic reactions to the Covid vaccine. There have been cases in which people have had an adverse reaction when they were given their first dose, but were able successfully to complete their second dose once they had had appropriate clinical advice or, in some cases, had had a change of vaccine, if that was necessary.
I am as concerned as Meghan Gallacher is about the circumstances that she mentioned. In answer to the second part of her question, a medical exemption process will be in place for anybody who is clinically unable to have the vaccine—although those numbers should be very small.
With regard to the answer to the second part of the question, will the medical exemption be available by 5 am on Friday?
Absolutely. People who have been identified by health boards as being unable to complete vaccination for good clinical reasons—again, I note that the numbers are very small—will have received notice by the time the scheme comes into effect. In fact, letters will be going out to them very shortly.
Only a very small number of people cannot complete both doses of the vaccine. As I mentioned in my answer to Meghan Gallacher, there are instances of people who have had quite severe allergic reactions to their first dose being able, through clinical guidance, to receive a second dose successfully.
To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to raise awareness among the public and healthcare professionals of the symptoms of leukaemia. (S6O-00203)
The detect cancer early programme works collaboratively with blood cancer charities and aims to raise awareness of possible symptoms, including leukaemia symptoms, to ensure that people present timeously. The national health service recovery plan has committed a further £20 million to the programme.
The refresh of “Scottish Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancer”, which was published in January 2019, supports primary care clinicians to recognise suspicious cancer symptoms, including leukaemia symptoms, and to put the patient on the right pathway at the right time.
Additionally, we continue to support Cancer Research UK to work with health professionals to raise awareness of symptoms and to promote referral best practice.
According to Leukaemia Care, patients with leukaemia have a significantly higher rate of emergency diagnosis than those with other forms of cancer, which means that people only find out that they have leukaemia when they present with an emergency. The problem is also being exacerbated by the pandemic.
What can the Government do to increase awareness, given that people are delaying seeing general practitioners, and that there are backlogs in the health service?
One of the challenges with leukaemia is the non-specific range of symptoms with which it can present. Often, people think that they have a virus, rather than leukaemia. Therefore, Katy Clark is absolutely right that we need to raise awareness and to encourage people who are feeling unwell and not improving to present at their GP.
Members will remember that at the beginning of the pandemic there was, among the public, real reluctance to attend healthcare settings. However, the number of urgent cancer referrals is now higher than it was pre-Covid, so we are catching up on the backlog.
As Katy Clark said, the NHS is experiencing significant and sustained pressures that are being immeasurably exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, cancer treatment and diagnosis have been prioritised throughout our response to the pandemic, and we have invested an extra £10 million to support cancer services during and beyond the pandemic, focusing on diagnostics and staffing.
We have, in order specifically to support people who require radiology tests, invested £5.6 million to support additional mobile magnetic resonance imaging scanners and three computed tomography scanners, which are operational throughout Scotland, and which should speed up access to diagnostics tests for earlier diagnosis.
General Practitioners (Hard-to-reach Groups)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support general practitioners and other healthcare professionals to engage with traditionally hard-to-reach groups. (S6O-00204)
All primary care professionals have a duty of care in relation to reducing health inequalities. To support that duty, we have established a health inequalities in primary care short-life working group, drawing on a wide range of experts, to identify and implement improvements in how primary care supports vulnerable people.
Our investment in community links workers is already helping vulnerable people to address the issues that affect their health and wellbeing, and the general practitioner contract will allow for longer consultations for patients who have more complex needs.
The long-standing challenge of the unworried unwell, whereby people who are impacted by poverty, unemployment and austerity are less engaged with primary healthcare services, will be further exacerbated by the United Kingdom Government’s choice to end universal credit, which is the biggest overnight cut to social security since world war two.
What reassurance can be given that the Scottish Government is doing everything that it can do to ensure that those who are most vulnerable to health inattention access the healthcare services that they need?
I thank Audrey Nicoll for her question, which is on an incredibly important issue. In last night’s debate in the chamber, most of the parties came together to condemn the unforgivable decision by the UK Government to cut universal credit. That decision will, with the end of furlough, the hike in national insurance contributions and rising energy and food prices, create a perfect storm. The Scottish Government estimates that the cut will push 60,000 people—including 20,000 children—in Scotland into poverty.
We are acutely aware of the need of people who are impacted by poverty, unemployment and austerity to be fully supported by our primary healthcare services. That is why the Scottish Government is providing funding to support 150 welfare advice and health partnerships, in addition to the investment in community links workers that I spoke about.
More broadly, in October last year, a working group was established to identify service improvements and actions specifically for primary care in order to help to reduce health inequalities.
It is not too late for the UK Government to change its mind and reverse the cut. As Audrey Nicoll rightly said, it would be the biggest cut since the welfare system began, so I hope that the UK Government sees sense and changes its mind.
Worrying new figures show that 17 per cent of adults in Scotland are current smokers and that more than that vape, which contributes to 16 per cent of all Scottish deaths. That is a hard-to-reach group. Currently, pharmacists and third sector organisations are offering replacement therapy and counselling. What new measures or interventions will the Government consider to help in the fight to get people to stop smoking?
I am pleased that we have a good record on smoking cessation in Scotland. Of course, we have taken important and bold measures in this Parliament, under this Government, to help with that.
Sandesh Gulhane is, of course, right that smoking is one of the biggest causes of preventable illness and death. I am happy to get more detail and to write to him about the extensive measures that we are taking. I hope that we can, in turn, count on his support when we ask his party in the United Kingdom Government to reverse the unforgivable and damaging cut to universal credit.
Question 5 was not lodged.
General Practitioner Out-of-hours Service (Inverclyde)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any plans to reintroduce a full general practitioner out-of-hours service in Inverclyde. (S6O-00206)
As the member is aware, in February 2020, Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board made the necessary decision to implement business continuity measures for its out-of-hours service to ensure a safe and sustainable service for patients and staff.
Since May, the board has reinstated a part-time Saturday service at Inverclyde with the support of local GPs and approved medical practitioners. The board is due to submit an update paper on the future of the whole service later this year. That will be subject to consideration by my officials, on receipt of it, in terms of supporting the service moving forward, including the future of the service in Inverclyde.
Although I welcome the reintroduction of the Saturday GP out-of-hours service at the Inverclyde royal hospital, until that service is extended to other days of the week, many of my constituents will continue to be sent to the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley and the Vale of Leven district general hospital for that service. I have heard of constituents being sent to the Vale of Leven out-of-hours service just to be sent back to the RAH. Does the cabinet secretary agree that plans to reintroduce a fully operational GP out-of-hours service in Inverclyde must be accelerated and that that would have the added benefit of supporting the national health service recovery ahead of winter?
Yes, of course I agree. No one is sitting idly by. I give Stuart McMillan an absolute assurance that, when I speak to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, I am told that it is working at pace on the matter. Although I said that we expect to receive an update paper later this year, I will go back to the board to ask whether that can be sped up.
The member will understand the enormous pressure that we are under. However, he is, of course, right in saying that an out-of-hours service would help with some of that pressure. I am happy to see whether that can be accelerated in any way, shape or form.
The cabinet secretary said recently that the Government is on track to meet its target of recruiting 800 additional GPs by 2027. Given that one third of GPs say that they are considering early retirement, what number of GPs does the Government expect to leave the service between now and 2027? What number of new practitioners does the Government plan to recruit into GP practices over the same period? Will the 800 additional GPs be full-time equivalent posts?
We are not simply looking at forecasts of how many GPs might leave the profession and not doing anything about that. We are keen to work with the likes of the British Medical Association and with the United Kingdom Government on issues such as pension disincentives, to see what we can do to prevent our losing those GPs. I recently had a good discussion with the BMA, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland about the measures that the Scottish Government could introduce that would be helpful in retaining GPs.
In fairness to the UK Government, when I brought up the issue with Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, he said that he would go away and look at the matter again.
Yes, we will invest in an additional 800 GPs, but we will also work to retain the current workforce as best we possibly can.
General Practitioner Recruitment (Borders)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to recruit general practitioners in the Borders. (S6O-00207)
Since 2015, the number of GPs in the Borders has increased and is above the Scottish average for the population size.
Since the GP contract was introduced, in 2018, we have invested £7.3 million in developing multidisciplinary teams in the Borders to make being a GP there—and across Scotland—more attractive and sustainable.
We are also implementing Sir Lewis Ritchie’s report on rural general practice, which sets out wide-ranging recommendations to bolster the stability of rural general practice. That will be vital in achieving our commitment to increase our GP workforce by 800 by 2027.
Coldingham GP practice in my consistency recently closed because of a lack of rural GPs. The Scottish Government is failing people who live in rural areas because of its lack of workplace planning and an inability to recruit GPs to local areas. Can the cabinet secretary tell me how many of the 230 GPs who have already been recruited, out of the target 800 GPs to be recruited by 2027, have taken up rural posts?
I will get Rachael Hamilton that information on the distribution of the additional GPs who have been recruited. As I said to her a moment ago—and as I have said on previous occasions—we are on track to meet that target of 800.
I am aware of the issues around Coldingham surgery. The NHS Borders chief executive has made remarks, which I hope gave some reassurance to the many patients who have been affected, on the alternative arrangements that are in place whereby services are being provided by Eyemouth surgery. That is a matter for the local national health service board.
As I said in my first answer, we are implementing the recommendations of Sir Lewis Ritchie’s report and review of rural general practice, and I am happy to provide in writing the specific details that Ms Hamilton has asked for.
District Nurse Roles (NHS Tayside)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Tayside regarding the grading of district nurse roles. (S6O-00208)
I am aware of the dispute in NHS Tayside around district nurse banding. Like all such disputes, it needs to be resolved through the well-established nationally agreed procedures. Those procedures have been agreed in partnership with NHS trade unions, and it is important that they are followed in all cases, to ensure a fair and consistent approach that all parties can have faith in.
Scottish Government officials have been in touch with NHS Tayside with a view to ensuring that that is being taken forward in accordance with those procedures and in such a way that a robust banding outcome can be arrived at for that staff group.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the hugely valuable role of district nurses, who are absolutely crucial in the provision of community-based care. The district nurses campaign in Dundee has secured the support of almost 5,000 signatures. Will the cabinet secretary take it upon himself once more to press NHS Tayside to get on with the process of job evaluation, so that our district nurses in Tayside can get the recognition that the public gives them and that they absolutely deserve?
I will press NHS Tayside on that. As the member is aware, it is hugely important that those nationally agreed procedures are followed. Nevertheless, I agree that there should be some pace to that.
As he also knows, because he was copied in, I responded to the original correspondence to me from Ms Jacqueline Finnegan, who had written to pursue the matter on behalf of district nurses. There is a lot of support for the campaign within and outwith the nursing community. I thank both Mr FitzPatrick and Shona Robison for writing to me on the issue, and I thank Mr FitzPatrick for raising it again in Parliament.
I have in my hands a copy of the process that was meant to be followed. In June 2018, in April 2019 and on 1 September this year, district nurses were told in a phone conversation that the award would be made. Yesterday, they were told that the process is now being changed from a group negotiation to an individual process.
I agree with Mr FitzPatrick that the award has to be delivered, but the process is not being followed properly. Will the cabinet secretary meet me and Mr FitzPatrick to get the issue resolved, and will he insist that the process is followed properly and that the award is made now?
First and foremost, I do not disagree with Mr Marra’s characterisation that there was a flaw in the process initially, in 2018. That was uncovered after a freedom of information request either earlier this year or at the tail-end of last year. He is right to say that there was a flaw in the process, and NHS Tayside has acknowledged that.
I am always happy to meet members, but I would give him an assurance and absolute comfort that, according to my discussions with NHS Tayside, it is progressing the matter. He and Mr FitzPatrick are right in saying that it should be progressed at pace, because it is, understandably, causing consternation to the district nurses involved.
That concludes portfolio questions on health and social care. Before we move on, I will allow a short pause to facilitate Government ministers moving to the front bench.
Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
We move on to questions on social justice, housing and local government. I remind members that questions 5, 7 and 8 are grouped, and that I will take any supplementaries after all of them have been answered. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R during the relevant question.
I again ask all members to please ask short and succinct questions, which I hope will be matched by short and succinct answers.
Housing (Shortages and Costs)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to mitigate housing shortages and rising housing costs. (S6O-00209)
The Government has delivered more than 103,000 affordable homes since 2007 and is committed to delivering 110,000 more affordable homes by 2032, of which 70 per cent will be available for social rent and 10 per cent will be in our remote, rural and island communities.
In certain areas, short-term lets can make it harder for people to find housing, which is why regulation of short-term lets is vital in balancing the needs and concerns of residents and communities alongside wider economic and tourism interests. We are aware of the concerns around price increases and supply shortages of construction materials. We are working through the Scottish Construction Leadership Forum to fully understand the current supply chain issues and, where possible, to put in place mitigating actions.
Shetland is facing the perfect storm: increases in the cost of building materials; shortages; the fact that we are at the end of the supply chain; and a heated housing market alongside a lack of affordable homes and social housing. The situation is mirrored across different parts of Scotland, and it impacts particularly on young people and on efforts to keep them within rural and island areas. Is the Scottish Government’s house-building programme ambitious enough to meet Scotland’s current and future housing needs?
I think that it is ambitious enough. As I said, we have increased our target to 110,000 more affordable homes, 10 per cent of which will be in our remote, rural and island communities. Beatrice Wishart might be aware that we have committed to developing a housing plan specifically for remote, rural and island communities. I want to ensure that all communities have the opportunity to be part of the consultation on that, because we understand that bespoke solutions are sometimes required for local communities, and we want to support community-led housing solutions.
Beatrice Wishart might also be aware that I recently met the chief executive and leader of Shetland Islands Council. We had very productive discussions, particularly on how we can work together to address the affordable housing needs of the Shetland area.
I will take several supplementary questions.
In recent years, the Scottish Government has made substantial investment in affordable housing in the Western Isles. What can the Scottish Government do to encourage local delivery partners to ensure that rural areas in all local authorities are not left behind in relation to future building projects?
Although it is for local councils, together with delivery partners and communities, to determine the local priorities for affordable housing delivery, the Scottish Government’s ambitions for affordable housing are clear, and we expect appropriate delivery in remote rural and island communities. As I said, we are developing a new plan specifically for that.
The Scottish Government provides funding through the mainstream affordable housing programme and our rural and islands housing funds. A detailed rural housing needs assessment has recently been completed by the Hebridean Housing Partnership, which we expect to inform the forthcoming local authority strategic housing investment plan. Affordable housing developments are currently on site in Harris, North and South Uist, Barra and Lewis. The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the local authority to enable future opportunities across the islands.
Since 2013, more than £6.19 million has been received from developers by the City of Edinburgh Council alone as a result of exceptional reasons for not building affordable homes as part of developments. Can the cabinet secretary outline what those exceptional circumstances are? Has she spoken to all councils to find out whether the money is actually being used for affordable housing?
I will speak to all councils in due course. I had a good discussion with Kate Campbell, the convener of the City of Edinburgh Council’s housing, homelessness and fair work committee—[Interruption.] The member should let me finish instead of interrupting from a sedentary position. I had a very good discussion with Kate Campbell about local needs in Edinburgh. I recognise that some of our national policies are sometimes quite challenging in local housing markets such as that in Edinburgh. All those things will remain under consideration.
However, the situation is not helped by the United Kingdom Government’s 66.5 per cent cut to the Scottish Government’s financial transactions budget in 2021-22, which arose from the UK Government’s spending review. That will curtail the initiatives that we would like to continue to see, so Miles Briggs might want to speak to his UK Government counterparts to ensure that the cut is reversed.
Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on any discussions that the Scottish Government has had with local authorities on buying existing homes, particularly those that were sold off under the right to buy scheme?
The Conservatives were responsible for the right to buy, and our housing policy is now trying to pick up the pieces from that scheme. As part of that, there are a number of initiatives that local authorities can take forward, including the purchase of right to buy properties, which we would encourage. For some years, we have been supporting local authorities to purchase existing properties if doing so can clearly be seen to support the achievement of the priorities and objectives that are set out in their local housing strategy, and we will continue to do so.
Local Authority Services (Major Events)
To ask the Scottish Government what engagement it has with local government regarding additional support that it can provide in order to maintain local authority services in areas that are required to host or are affected by planned major events. (S6O-00210)
Scottish Government officials engage regularly with local authorities on major events, including through the events industry advisory group and as part of the gateway review process for flagship events. The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development has regular meetings with the chair of the events industry advisory group, and ministers have engaged across sectors with partners, including local authorities, throughout the pandemic.
It is not only cities such as Glasgow that are affected by major events such as the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties; neighbouring communities in North Ayrshire and Inverclyde have expressed concerns about the potential impact of such events. Issues include the influx of tourists and visitors, traffic, disruption to travel and the lack of suitable public amenities. What additional support will the Scottish Government give to councils to help them to manage the impact of events such as COP26, given that services are already under huge pressure and that there have been local government budget cuts?
I thank Jamie Greene for raising the issue on behalf of the local authorities in the region that he represents. I am sure that he will appreciate that, although COP26 is being led by the United Kingdom Government, there is a responsibility for people at all levels of government, including local authorities, the Scottish Government and the UK Government, to work together towards a successful event and to ensure regular engagement. Mr Matheson leads on that.
If Jamie Greene would like to raise with ministers specific pressures on behalf of the region that he represents, we would welcome correspondence on that. I am sure that he appreciates that the issue covers a variety of ministerial portfolios, but if he directs his correspondence to me, I will be happy to receive it.
Council workers have been heroic over the pandemic, and they will be again during the large events that Jamie Greene mentioned. Given that they are key workers, just as national health service staff are, will the minister lobby the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy—in the same way that the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government invited Miles Briggs to intervene and lobby his UK Government colleagues—to fund the pay deal that local government staff deserve, which should be on a par with that for NHS staff, in order to avoid potential strike action and the disruption that that would cause in our schools?
I appreciate the importance of the issues that Mr Griffin has raised. I note the points that he has made, but I hope that he will appreciate that such matters are under consideration by ministers, particularly the finance secretary, and that there is an on-going process.
Question 3 was not lodged.
Homelessness Services (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government whether the recent funding announcement of £50 million for homeless services will be new money or funds previously allocated to existing budgets. (S6O-00212)
In the programme for government 2021-22, we announced an additional £50 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, taking forward our ending homelessness together action plan. The action plan includes specific work to scale up housing first more rapidly; end the use of communal night shelters; advance legislative protections for people who experience domestic abuse; and explore alternative ways to reduce migrant homelessness.
That £50 million of new resource will be invested over this parliamentary session and is in addition to the £50 million multiyear funding that was announced in 2017.
I am grateful for the cabinet secretary’s answer; I am sure that Miles Briggs will be as well, given that he asked about the issue last week. On the homelessness crisis, we moved people off the streets in response to a pandemic, but we just moved them on. What are the Government’s specific intentions in relation to putting the homeless at the centre of the solutions to homelessness in Scotland?
We want to take forward what I think has been described as world-leading legislation and policy around homelessness. There is always more to do, so we are of course considering the prevention duty, which Martin Whitfield will be aware of and which could help us to enhance already robust homelessness legislation. In fact, I met officials only this morning to talk about the timeframe and the details of how we will take that work forward, and I am happy to keep him appraised of the detail.
What support is in place for homeless people with mental health issues who might be unable to live in communal spaces?
The housing first programme ensures that people with multiple and complex needs are allocated settled accommodation, with the individually tailored support that they need, in mainstream tenancies in the community, rather than in larger-scale communal settings.
We promote a no wrong door approach to improve joint working between health, homelessness and front-line services in recognition of the challenges that people with multiple and complex needs have in accessing housing. We are seeking views on practical options for improving access to mental health support and services for people who experience homelessness.
Siobhian Brown might be interested in the analysis that Crisis put out today, which shows that
“the proportion of people suffering from the worst forms of homelessness in Scotland is about half as high as in England”.
Campaigners have said that that is due to the policies of the Scottish Government.
There is always more to do, and we are determined to do it.
Further to the cabinet secretary’s answer to Martin Whitfield, if the £50 million announced in the programme for government is additional money, how much has still not been allocated under the £50 million that was announced in 2017?
I can write to Miles Briggs with the specific details, but he will see from the extent of the on-going work on homelessness that a lot of effort and resource is going in, not least during the pandemic. I can update the relevant committee on whether every penny of that £50 million has been allocated.
However, surely it is a good-news story that a further £50 million has been allocated to tackle homelessness. I hope that Miles Briggs will be able to welcome the comment from Crisis that
“the proportion of people suffering from the worst forms of homelessness in Scotland is about half as high as in England”,
because of the policies of the Scottish Government. Surely even he can recognise when the Scottish Government actually gets things right, with policies that leading homelessness charities such as Crisis praise.
Universal Credit (Discussions with United Kingdom Government)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the £20 reduction to universal credit. (S6O-00213)
The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government on eight separate occasions since March 2020 to ask it to retain the much-needed £20 uplift. On 30 August, I joined colleagues from Wales and Northern Ireland to write to the UK Government to urge it to retain the uplift. We have not received a response so far. There is broad cross-party opposition to the cut and, only yesterday, parties across the chamber, with the exception of the Conservatives, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the UK Government reversing the cut. It is time for the UK Government to listen and do the right thing.
Around 8,000 families and individuals in my constituency are on universal credit and they were already struggling before the pandemic. With the end of the furlough scheme looming, price increases across the retail sector and massive energy price hikes, cutting the £20 uplift in universal credit without carrying out an impact assessment is a complete dereliction of duty. Will the cabinet secretary continue to push the UK Government on that matter and seek a reversal of such a punitive decision?
Absolutely. We will continue to call on the UK Government to provide support to the poorest in society, not to take it away. As the member points out, people in Scotland are facing a perfect storm of hardship this winter. As food and energy prices soar, support from the UK Government in the form of the universal credit uplift, the self-employment scheme and the furlough scheme, are being withdrawn all at the same time. At its meeting yesterday, the Scottish Parliament showed the broad cross-party unity for reversing those cuts to avoid the immense hardship that they will cause. The UK Government should listen to those cross-party calls.
Universal Credit (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact that the £20 reduction to universal credit could have on households in Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley. (S6O-00215)
Scottish Government analysis indicates that as many as 6,614 households in Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley could lose out as a result of the United Kingdom Government’s decision to cut universal credit from the start of October. The cut could remove more than £460 million in social security spending from Scotland by 2023-24. The Scottish Government is doing what it can, but that level of mitigation is not sustainable. The UK Government must reverse the cut immediately to avoid a weakened universal credit compounding the harms caused by the perfect storm of rising energy and food price increases and a national insurance increase.
The impact of the cut on my constituents will be far reaching, with more than 6,000 people being directly affected, as the cabinet secretary said. Does the cabinet secretary agree that plunging so many more people into poverty is hardly the way to encourage people back into work, and that it is an attack by the Tories on the poorest people in our society?
Yes, I agree with that. As we know, many of the people who are on universal credit are already in work. A number of members set out yesterday that the cut will do nothing to motivate people to get into work. If the UK Government had any confidence in its workforce plans and its plan to support people into work, it would not be going ahead with the cut. Again, I implore the UK Government to change its mind.
I remind members that questions 5, 7 and 8 are grouped together, and that any member seeking to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or type R in the chat function during question 8, which I am about to call.
Universal Credit (Child Poverty)
To ask the Scottish Government what measures it has taken to address the consequences of the reduction of universal credit and any potential impact on child poverty. (S6O-00216)
It cannot always be for this Government, with its limited powers and budget, to mitigate the impacts of another Government’s actions. The extent of the consequences for people who are already struggling was laid out clearly in yesterday’s debate. The Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and many others are urging the United Kingdom Government to do the right thing and reverse the cut.
The impact of the cut on 6 million households across the UK will be harsh and it is likely to negate the positive progressive actions that the Scottish Government is taking to tackle child poverty head on, including through the Scottish child payment and bridging payments, which are benefiting thousands of children and young people, and which will put more than £130 million in the pockets of families this year.
As the cabinet secretary stated, all parliamentary parties, except the Tories, agree that this cut is shameful and it must be reversed. However, we must also recognise that, here in Scotland, we can mitigate the worst of the effects and help to tackle child poverty in particular. Will she therefore immediately use the powers that we have in Scotland to double the Scottish child payment, and will she commit to investigating doubling it again to meet the desperate need that we have in my region of South Scotland and across Scotland before we see instances of child poverty reaching desperate levels?
I say to the member that it would simply not be sustainable, on a fixed budget, for the Scottish Parliament to mitigate every action that the United Kingdom Government takes, as we would have to cut into huge swathes of the health budget or the budgets that go to local government. We simply cannot do that. We have to target our efforts on where we can make the biggest impact. There is no doubt about the Scottish Government’s intention to double the Scottish child payment. We have said that we will do that as part of the budget process, which is fast approaching. As I have said previously in the chamber, we will look at what else we can do to support the most affected families, and we are currently looking at what else can be done to support families through what will be a very difficult winter.
Time and again, the member and her party call for mitigation of policies that have been made in a different place, yet they do not support this Parliament having the powers to set the policies here, which would avoid us having to mitigate in the first place. I ask them to please join us in making sure that we get those powers here in this Parliament.
The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has noted that the UK Government’s plans to cut universal credit could have the effect of knocking out the benefit that the Scottish child payment brings to families. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that demonstrates why Scotland needs full social security powers if we are to successfully tackle poverty without having our efforts undermined by Westminster?
I agree that, as I said in my previous answer, prevention is better than cure. If we had the powers here, we would not have to mitigate policies that are made elsewhere that undermine efforts to tackle poverty.
The Scottish Government is taking and has taken ambitious steps to tackle child poverty, to promote social justice and to level the playing field for young people from low-income backgrounds. That is why, in 2020-21, we have invested around £2.5 billion of our fixed budget in supporting low-income households, including nearly £1 billion to directly support children. The Scottish Government has taken such decisions in order to support those families in the best way we can, but that work is seriously undermined if there are policies elsewhere that go in the opposite direction.
That concludes portfolio question time. There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business, to allow front-bench Government and Opposition members to take their places.