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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 13 March 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Year of Young People 2018, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Sir Hugh Munro


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-16292, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Carer’s Allowance Up-rating (Scotland) Order 2019 [draft] be approved.—[Graeme Dey]

The Presiding Officer

Mark Griffin wants to speak against the motion.

17:00  

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Two weeks ago, I called on the Scottish Government to use the retail prices index to uprate carers allowance and supplement, in order to help unpaid carers. I did so because Parliament still has some way to go to show our appreciation for carers, who do tremendous work caring for loved ones. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order, please.

Mark Griffin

Labour called for the RPI to be used, to shift away from George Osborne’s decision to use the consumer prices index, and to support carers with an extra £33 next year. We did so to set the precedent that new powers would be used progressively to invest in the people of Scotland, and to afford carers the dignity and respect that they deserve.

We did so with the backing of national carer organisations including the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Marie Curie, as well as Energy Action Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Those organisations recognise that the switch to the CPI has cost people billions of pounds; they recognise that carers are being short-changed by a Government that is using the cheapest possible uprating method. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People recognises that, too.

In the chamber debate on the carers allowance supplement, I said that the RPI is no panacea, and I said that a Government’s choice of uprating mechanism is underpinned by how generous it hopes to be. However, the Scottish National Party Government used that debate to show its dogmatic support for the Tory’s switch to the CPI, which is a cut that multiplies every year. The cabinet secretary demanded that we keep decisions on uprating separate from decisions on benefits levels, but she knows full well that the CPI is just one Tory uprating policy, among others, that will slash the incomes of the most vulnerable people in Scotland by £1.9 billion.

In the Social Security Committee’s meeting the following day, the cabinet secretary bemoaned the fact that the RPI is “erratic”, but failed to point out that in 2009 the Labour Government responded to a negative RPI with a 1.5 per cent uplift, and that Scotland could take that approach, if it were needed.

The cabinet secretary also claimed that the CPI accurately tracks the cost of living, but failed to acknowledge the poverty premium and heightened cost of living that carers face. Rather than set a path to more generous uprating for carers, the cabinet secretary said in the committee that the CPI is “a choice”, agency arrangements—and the multimillion pound bill in that regard—are “a choice”, and the need for some carers to consider cutting their working hours is “a choice”.

Later that afternoon, the cabinet secretary said in the chamber that carers will not see a single change to their allowance until after the transition—after 2024, which will be almost a decade after the supplement was announced by the First Minister. That is not a choice that Labour will accept for Scotland’s carers—nor will we accept the use of the Tories’ CPI system.

I secured the uprating of carers allowance and the supplement in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. I recognise how vital certainty is, but we will not accept an inferior Tory increase. I ask the cabinet secretary to withdraw the order and rethink.

17:04  

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

I am disappointed that the Labour Party wants to vote against an increase in the financial support for carers today. The draft Carer’s Allowance Up-rating (Scotland) Order 2019, on which we will vote at decision time, will increase the weekly rate of carers allowance by 2.4 per cent.

Through the carers allowance supplement, the Scottish Government brought the financial support for carers to the level of the jobseekers allowance. Because we uprate the supplement and carers allowance, the Parliament’s agreeing to the order will mean that, for the first time, carers in Scotland will get a higher level of support than that which is provided by jobseekers allowance. That means that carers in Scotland will receive £452.40 a year more than their counterparts outwith Scotland. That is what the Labour Party will be voting against today.

We debated the uprating of carers allowance and the carers allowance supplement in the chamber on 27 February and at the Social Security Committee the following morning. On both occasions, there was extensive debate about the uprating measure that was to be applied and, on both occasions, there was support for the Government’s proposal to use the consumer prices index. The CPI—not, as Labour claims, the retail prices index—is widely regarded as the most effective measure to ensure that the benefits retain their value.

I will take the opportunity to correct Labour’s gross misrepresentation in debate in this chamber of the report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which it said supports the use of the RPI. In fact, the report highlights that the RPI, in its current form, is a flawed measure of inflation that requires improvements before it would be in any way viable for uprating purposes, and it recommends that the UK Government use the CPI for uprating purposes

“in all areas where it is not bound by contract to use RPI”.

We do not have time to retread in full the facts surrounding the instability of the RPI or, indeed, the Labour Party’s absolute invisibility during the budget discussions on carers issues in general. However, this Government, alongside every member of the Scottish Parliament, welcomes the immense contribution that carers make to society by caring for family, friends and neighbours. That is why I hope that everyone in the chamber will show their support for carers by voting for the order and ensuring that the carers allowance is uprated. If Labour members want to let carers down and vote against an increase in the financial support that we provide to carers, that will be on their conscience, and it will be for them to answer for.

The Presiding Officer

The vote on the matter will be taken at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of six Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move motions S5M-16293 to S5M-16297, on the approval of Scottish statutory instruments, and motion S5M-16298, on substitution on committees.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Fishery Products (Official Controls Charges) (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Jurisdiction and Judgments (Family, Civil Partnership and Marriage (Same Sex Couples)) (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment etc) Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Public Procurement etc (Scotland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Public Procurement etc. (Scotland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Amendment Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that Bill Kidd be appointed to replace George Adam as the Scottish National Party substitute on the Justice Committee.—[Graeme Dey]