Meeting date: Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 26 June 2019
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Citizens Assembly of Scotland, Tackling Child Poverty (Progress Report), Tenement Maintenance, Transvaginal Mesh, Poverty and Inequality Commission, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Report
- Portfolio Question Time
- Citizens Assembly of Scotland
- Tackling Child Poverty (Progress Report)
- Tenement Maintenance
- Transvaginal Mesh
- Poverty and Inequality Commission
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Point of Order
- Decision Time
- UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Report
Tackling Child Poverty (Progress Report)
The next item of business is a statement by Aileen Campbell on the tackling child poverty delivery plan first-year progress report. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.15:06
Twenty years ago, when this Parliament was reconvened, it was because the people of Scotland wanted their own Parliament to make their own decisions on the priorities of the Scottish people. Reducing child poverty is a clear example of where we can do that.
When the UK Government decided to remove the child poverty remit from the Social Mobility Commission and abandon its child poverty targets, this Government did not agree. We withdrew from the commission and introduced the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill to set new statutory targets for reduction of child poverty. The bill was passed unanimously and was followed by the first tackling child poverty delivery plan. That is devolution in action, and that is where, collectively, we can make a difference.
Today, I have published a first-year progress report on that delivery plan that shows that we have been working hard to build the foundations for transformational change. The most recent poverty statistics, for 2017-18, show that almost a quarter of children in Scotland live in relative poverty. Those figures, though lower than the UK figures, are totally unacceptable. They predate the delivery plan, but the challenge that we face is clear and this Government is determined to tackle it.
Our progress report shows that, after the first year, 48 of the 58 actions in the plan are already in progress or are being delivered. For example, we launched our new devolved employability service, fair start Scotland, in April last year. Job outcomes are encouraging, and service users are positive about their experience. Our programmes do not penalise people through sanctioning benefits, which is a real divergence from the UK Government’s work programme.
The progress report also demonstrates the great package of support that this Government provides for families throughout childhood—from birth to school and beyond—all of which helps to reduce costs for families. One example of that is the fact that, in partnership with local government, we have set the national minimum school clothing grant at an increased level of £100 from the start of this academic year and backed it with joint annual investment of £12 million.
In November, we launched our new financial health check service through Scotland’s network of citizens advice bureaux. That service provides families with the help that they need to maximise their incomes and beat the poverty premium.
Since the publication of the delivery plan, through our new social security system, we are now delivering new benefits to low-income households.
All three elements of the best start grant are now open to families across Scotland, backed by £21 million this year. The unprecedented number of applications that we have received shows that, if we take away barriers, remove stigma and encourage people to apply, people will take up the benefits that are on offer.
On Monday, the third carers allowance supplement was paid to increase financial support for carers, meaning that £452.40 a year more is going to each carer here than goes to carers outwith Scotland.
The Poverty and Inequality Commission has welcomed the activity that is under way and has advised us that our investment must match the scale of our ambition. We agree. The progress report provides a first estimate of our direct spend on low-income families—£527 million in 2018-19 alone.
Of course, that is not the whole story. That estimate does not include the social contract that delivers the universal services that we all enjoy and from which our society benefits. A multibillion-pound package of additional investment is in place in key areas to help all children and parents, whether or not they are on low incomes, to realise their full potential.
As a Government, we are proud of what we have achieved, and we will keep on delivering. Over the next year, we will build on a number of key areas—for example, progressing the delivery of our massive investment in universal early learning and childcare, which will save families £4,500 per child, on average. On Monday, I launched a new £3 million fund to support the delivery of accessible and affordable community-based childcare and experiences for school-age children. By the end of the year, we will launch our new programme of parental employment support to help parents to return to work and progress in their careers.
The Government is taking action in challenging times. This week, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is at the UN to set out the damage that is being caused by the United Kingdom Government’s policies. His reports make for shocking reading. Professor Philip Alston has said that the social security safety net is “being systematically dismantled”, he has called out the two-child limit for the despicable policy that it is, and he has railed against the four-year benefit freeze. Those disastrous UK Government policies, which are driving increases in child poverty, are rightly described by the rapporteur as
“punitive, mean-spirited and often callous”.
The Scottish Government does not have the powers to reverse or scrap UK reserved policies. We have previously estimated that welfare cuts since 2010 would amount to £3.7 billion annually by 2020-21. Professor Alston has said that it is “unsustainable” for devolved Administrations to mitigate everything, and I agree. For those who do not want such policies, instead of being content with mitigation, why not join me in calling for full powers over areas such as employment and social security, so that we do not have to tackle disadvantage with one hand tied behind our backs?
Our commitment to work towards introducing an income supplement for low-income families in the lifetime of the delivery plan is a flagship policy that is designed to shift the curve of child poverty. Over the past year, the Scottish Government has undertaken a thorough assessment of a range of options, in line with the original two tests that were set out in the delivery plan. In line with the first test, we looked at how to target families who need the additional income most to lift children out of poverty. That analysis of costs and impacts has been published today. In line with the second test, we considered how to ensure that there is a robust and viable delivery route that protects the safe and secure transfer of the devolved benefits. Those analyses are brought together in a position paper, which has also been published today.
A year ago today, the First Minister appointed me as the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government and Shirley-Anne Somerville as the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People. She gave both of us the responsibility for tackling poverty, and we have worked closely together on the income supplement policy. Reducing poverty and achieving a fairer Scotland are why we came into politics. We do not want to live in a country in which we have to mitigate against the policies of another Government; in which children go hungry because their families have had to wait months for their first universal credit payment; in which 85 per cent of benefit spending remains under the control of another Government; and in which we cannot change the minimum wage to tackle in-work poverty. The majority in this Parliament do not want that either.
However, although we do not yet have all the powers that we need, we are not content to sit blithely by and allow the children of Scotland to bear the brunt of Tory austerity. Our ambitions require bold action. We must use the powers that we have to deliver on our commitment to tackle poverty, and I am delighted to confirm that we will use our new social security powers to introduce a new benefit to tackle child poverty. The new financial support will be delivered by Social Security Scotland and will be called the Scottish child payment. By the end of 2022, the payment will be for all eligible children under the age of 16. The payment will be made monthly and uprated annually in line with inflation, and all children in eligible families will be entitled to the support. There will be no cap on the number of children for that or for any other social security policy in Scotland.
The payment will be based on qualifying benefits including universal credit, jobseekers allowance and child tax credits. However, as universal credit is not due to be fully rolled out until 2023 at the earliest, many families will still be in receipt of legacy benefits. That would make automation of the service, which is always complex and time consuming, particularly challenging. Therefore, in order to deliver the new payment, Social Security Scotland will manage an application-based process. As with all benefits that are delivered by us, we will work hard to get maximum take-up.
Although we will introduce the Scottish child payment by the end of 2022—at a time when we are delivering a suite of complex devolved benefits—we have listened to the voices of front-line poverty campaigners, including people with lived experience who are facing the impact of United Kingdom Government welfare cuts now, and we have looked carefully at what is deliverable within a shorter timescale, considered the effects on other aspects of our social security programme and sought an approach that will have the biggest impact on children living in poverty.
I am delighted to announce that the outcome of that work is that we will introduce the Scottish child payment for all eligible children under six by the end of this Parliamentary session—which is much, much earlier than our original commitment. The approach on which we have decided is informed by these two facts: almost 60 per cent of all children in poverty live in a family with at least one child under the age of six, and we know that making a difference in the early years of a child’s life has the biggest impact on long-term outcomes.
We must shift the curve on child poverty, and the provision of direct support to parents can do just that. I announce today that our new Scottish child payment will be £10 a week. For a two-child family, the additional financial support of over £1,000 a year will make a major difference.
The Scottish child payment is a significant turning point in our action to tackle child poverty, which will benefit hundreds of thousands of children. The decisions that we have taken to enable early delivery from next year will benefit 140,000 households with 170,000 children through a substantial investment in families in Scotland. When the policy is fully rolled out, by the end of 2022, 410,000 children—more than a third of Scottish children—will be eligible for the payment.
We expect the Scottish child payment to lift 30,000 children out of relative poverty altogether and to reduce the relative poverty rate by three percentage points, as well as increasing the family incomes of many tens of thousands of families. The payment will help to prevent poverty among families who are on insecure incomes just above the poverty threshold, who face UK Government welfare cuts, and it will help children who are at risk of material deprivation—they are another of our targets.
A payment that prevents deprivation and protects people who need our support is something that this Government and this Parliament can and should be proud of. The Scottish Government is today making a conscious and deliberate decision to prioritise action to tackle child poverty for the remainder of this parliamentary session and beyond. However, doing what we know is right, and doing so early, means tough decisions and choices. Tackling child poverty will be central to the budget and spending review in the coming months, and there will be implications for the delivery of other aspects of our social security programme.
In its recent report “Social security: Implementing the devolved powers”, Audit Scotland noted:
“it is difficult to see how the programme could progress more quickly.”
It is therefore clear that we will need to make the necessary space to deliver the new payment early and successfully. It is important to be open with the Parliament from the outset. We have already carried out extensive work to ensure that we can deliver the payment. We are aware that we will need to actively manage the delivery of the payment within a highly complex and challenging existing programme. Over the summer, officials will carry out further formal assessment of the challenges and develop a clear plan for how to mitigate them. The work will include consideration of issues that relate to information technology systems, staffing, supplier management and our enabling services.
I can say now that we absolutely will deliver disability assistance for working-age people—our replacement for the personal independence payment—in early 2021, as we outlined to the Parliament in February. We are on track to deliver our first disability benefit—disability assistance for children and young people—next summer, as announced. However, our expectation is that the launch of our new claims service for disability assistance for older people, which is the devolved form of the Department for Work and Pensions attendance allowance, might need to take place in 2021 rather than in 2020, as was originally planned. There might also be an impact on the launch date for new claims for Scottish carers allowance, which might need to move back a few months, to early 2022, and there could be an impact on the date on which we expect to complete the transfer of benefits cases from the DWP to Social Security Scotland.
Today, the Scottish Government has responded to an initiated question on our plan’s implications for social security delivery. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People will update Parliament with more detail in the autumn, following completion of the impact assessment. We are having to make difficult decisions, but we are making them for the right reasons. After all, the risk of not delivering on the ambition of the payment is that we will not shift the curve on child poverty in the way that we know we have to. That is why, given the commitment across the Parliament to tackling child poverty and the collective agreement on the targets that have been set, the support of all members is crucial in enabling the early introduction of the payment.
Our progress report sets out the first year of action and the clear steps that we have taken towards making genuine reductions in child poverty. Those actions demonstrate our commitment to eradicating child poverty and offer a glimpse of what is possible when we have the powers and the will to act. On its own, the Scottish child payment stands to be one of the most progressive policy proposals since devolution. It will be backed by significant investment, and Scotland will be the only part of the UK that is making such a serious commitment to reducing—and ultimately eradicating—child poverty. The plan to introduce a Scottish child payment of £10 a week is bold and ambitious—and it will reduce child poverty, which is vital. Tackling such poverty head on is the only way in which we can make Scotland the best place in which to grow up.
The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement; I will allow around 30 minutes.
I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement and I look forward to engaging with the Government on the development of its content.
I have two questions. First, I note that the statement contains no numbers. Will she tell us what the estimated delivery costs for the Scottish child payment will be, for the interim period and when it is fully rolled out? Secondly, I am concerned that I again find myself hearing in the chamber that there will be delays in the management of some of the devolved benefits. Will the cabinet secretary assure me that there will be no further delays on those benefits?
In my statement I clearly set out the significant numbers that are associated with the policy. The most significant of those is the 30,000 children who will be lifted out of poverty by that action alone. Another is the three percentage point shift in the child poverty curve that we have needed to achieve for such a long time—an aim that has been made all the more difficult by Michelle Ballantyne’s party’s UK Government actions.
However, it is important to recognise that we will invest significantly in the delivery of the payment. In the first full year of early payments for under-sixes, the costs will be around £70 million. In the first full year of all payments for under-16s the costs will rise to £180 million.
Given that the Child Poverty Action Group has today published a report about the impact of the two-child limit, today really does tell a story of two Governments. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling child poverty head on, while people in the rest of the UK are bearing the brunt of the UK Government’s callous and punitive actions that are destroying lives across the country.
I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of her statement. Scottish Labour will, of course, require to scrutinise the supplementary papers and the progress report in due course.
As we have consistently put the case for interim measures prior to the income supplement implementation date of 2022, we welcome the fact that the Government has responded with proposals to put in place, during this parliamentary session, payments to families with children who are aged under six years. However, the cabinet secretary must recognise that the ambitious target to reduce child poverty significantly, which was set by the Parliament in 2017, will not be met by this new measure alone. We remain concerned for all other children who are living in poverty right now.
In 2017, when Parliament considered the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill at stage 3, the Scottish Government said that we needed to
“find ways to do more than just mitigate austerity and welfare reform”—[Official Report, 8 November 2017; c 63.]
Since the cabinet secretary has mentioned the two-child policy, I ask her why she will not take steps to mitigate the so-called “rape clause”, which, in her statement, she called a “despicable policy”.
Given that the Resolution Foundation has predicted that child poverty is on course to continue rising over the next five years, and that it is on course to hit a 20-year high of around 29 per cent by 2023-24, what further substantial measures will the Government put in place to ensure a dramatic reduction in child poverty over the next year?
I would have thought that the measure that I have announced would have been welcomed by Labour, given that it asked for it and that we have made substantial efforts to tackle child poverty through that action alone. It is a game changer. Other poverty groups have welcomed it, and it is a shame that Labour will not get behind it.
What a pity it is that we cannot raise the debate, given the kind of actions that we can deliver when we have the powers, the political will and the resolve. Imagine what reach the policy could have if we did not have to mitigate the disastrous policies of another Government.
I welcome Elaine Smith’s proposal to scrutinise the rest of the documents that we have published today, but I ask her to scrutinise “Every child, every chance: the tackling child poverty delivery plan 2018-22”, in which we give an undertaking to look comprehensively at all our policies across the Government, not just those in my portfolio or Shirley-Anne Somerville’s portfolio. Collectively, we have committed to tackling child poverty head-on, and that document includes a range of actions that will complement the delivery of the Scottish child payment to ensure that we can reach our interim targets.
I am absolutely delighted that the new payment is being introduced, because it will provide substantial support to people in my constituency and across Scotland. What will the annual investment be in the new benefit?
I thank Rona Mackay for that question, because it gives me a chance to underline the investment that we are putting into the policy. In the first full year of our early payments to under-sixes, that is, in 2021-22, costs will be around £70 million. That figure will rise to £180 million in the first full year of all payments to under-16s, which is 2022-23. That represents a significant investment in children and families, and it should be seen alongside the more than £0.5 billion that we have invested in the past year alone in supporting low-income families across a wide range of policy areas.
I thank the cabinet secretary for providing advance sight of her statement.
Across the board, means-tested payments have lower rates of take-up than universal payments. Child benefit, which is a trusted and well-known source of support, is claimed by around 95 per cent of eligible families. The Scottish Government’s own analysis suggests that it would achieve better coverage through child benefit. If it is not going to use child benefit as a route to boost family incomes, what assurances can the cabinet secretary give that every low-income family that is eligible for the Scottish child payment will receive it, especially given that the gateway benefits that the cabinet secretary mentioned are underclaimed?
I explained that we will make sure that we maximise uptake. The qualifying benefits will be universal credit and universal credit legacy benefits, which include child tax credit, working tax credit, income support, housing benefit, income-based jobseekers allowance and income-based employment and support allowance. That will be a huge way in which we will be able to target those who need the support most.
It is important to recognise that almost two thirds of the children we expect to receive the payment live in the poorest 30 per cent of households with children, and that almost a quarter of the children we expect to receive it live in the poorest 10 per cent of households with children.
The Child Poverty Action Group has said that our new measure will be a “game changer” in tackling child poverty. It will lift 30,000 children out of poverty, will shift the curve by three percentage points and will make sure that the families who need it most get the payment into their pockets, which will lift the children who need support out of poverty.
I give an absolutely unequivocal welcome to the measure. The fact that it will be implemented before the end of the parliamentary session is to be particularly welcomed.
We all know the reasons why there has been a substantial rise in child benefit claims—it is a result of the major cuts in social security benefits that have been imposed by the United Kingdom Government.
Will the cabinet secretary look again at the policy on the living wage as we move towards some kind of Brexit decision? One of the problems that we have is that, under European Union rules, we are not allowed to make it compulsory for companies gaining public sector contracts to pay the living wage. Given the new circumstances that are likely to arise over the next year or two, will the cabinet secretary look again at whether we will get to a position in which we can make that a requirement, as NHS Health Scotland has shown that that, too, would be an effective measure in dealing with child poverty?
Alex Neil is absolutely right to point out that link. One of the drivers of poverty is low income. Alongside the payment, we have to ensure that people who are working get a fair remuneration for their effort, and we have to tackle in-work poverty. That is exactly why the work that is being done across Government to ensure that more employers pay the living wage is critically important. Even though we do not have all the levers at our disposal, Scotland has proportionately more people in receipt of the living wage than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That shows that, with the will and the resolve, we can influence some of those decisions, despite not having the relevant powers here.
I would also point out to Alex Neil that “Every child, every chance”, the report that we are publishing today, contains a host of other ways in which we are providing parents with the support that they need to ensure that they get access to jobs and that they progress through their employment. That comes with significant investment to ensure that we can enable parents to get the right jobs to lift themselves out of poverty.
I thank the Government for the content of today’s statement and offer the full support of these benches. I will ask about uptake, in the same vein as Alison Johnstone.
Last week, Willie Rennie revealed at First Minister’s questions that only a third of families that are affected by poverty and which have two-year-old children are taking up the free childcare places that are available to them. We know that the uptake of Government initiatives is not always great. Will the cabinet secretary undertake to report to Parliament on uptake as we proceed with the implementation of the policy?
Shirley-Anne Somerville has to report back, anyway. I mention some of the things that I said earlier about the best start grant. That received unprecedented numbers of applications, which, again, points to the fact that, if you take away the stigma and encourage people to apply, people will take up the benefits on offer. We will certainly ensure that we use and explore all avenues that are open to us through the new payment and the delivery partner, Social Security Scotland, to maximise the impact of that, and we will work alongside those who want to be part of what we are doing to maximise the uptake so that the people who need this important benefit the most get access to it.
I, too, warmly welcome today’s announcement. The UN special rapporteur said that, for devolved Administrations, mitigation was not sustainable. Does the cabinet secretary agree that having full powers over all social security, employment and other areas would ensure that we could use all available levers to pull more people out of poverty and not have to use resources to protect people from another Government’s policies?
I agree. What strikes me as puzzling is why there are groans coming from the Labour benches as a very legitimate question is asked.
We are not content simply to mitigate or to tackle these issues with one hand tied behind our back. We are not just going to sit back, which is why we are using the powers that we have to deliver the benefits for those who need them most. We are not content simply to mitigate, which seems to be what Labour is content with. Why would we be content to mitigate when we are working up against a Government that has been described as “harsh and uncaring” and whose politically and ideologically driven decisions on welfare are consigning thousands of children to poverty?
We will use the powers that we have, and we will mitigate where we can. However, the UN rapporteur said that it was not sustainable to mitigate all the actions of the UK Government. We will continue to ensure that we can have all the powers that we need to ensure that we can tackle poverty more generally, in the way in which this party and this Government want to.
As the cabinet secretary stated, on Monday, the Government announced funding for impact assessments of community-based out-of-school care, which will commence in April 2020 and will take two years to complete. A framework will be published at the end of this summer, but when will new systems be put in place to deliver on the Government’s commitment to out-of-school care for school-age children from low-income families?
The £3 million fund that we announced this week was designed to test new approaches to focus the care and support that is required to enable parents of school-age children to access work and training. It is important that we test the flexibility and the different ways in which that care and support can be delivered. I launched the fund with Maree Todd in order to complement her work in driving forward the transformational change in early learning in childcare. We will make sure that Alison Harris is kept informed of the progress and framework for that. It is a critical part of ensuring that parents get the support that they need to access work, which should be paying the living wage.
We welcome the fact that the Government has listened to Labour and front-line poverty campaigners, who have consistently called for the early introduction of the income supplement.
Given the fact that the cabinet secretary said in her statement that children often go hungry because families have had to wait months for their first universal credit payment, does she share concerns around using universal credit as a qualifying benefit? I ask that on a completely constructive basis. Universal credit has been roundly and rightly criticised. Can the Government not find an alternative way of delivering the payment?
We have set out a comprehensive analysis of why we have taken the approach that we have, which is the same approach that we have taken for the best start grant. The analysis makes the point that we are using legacy benefits to ensure that we target the families who most need the support. Although there were groans and moans around mitigation and not wanting us to call for the powers that we need, we have to deal with the world that we are in. This is the world that we are in and that is why we are taking this approach. There is a comprehensive analysis of the reason why we are taking it, which is to make sure that, in the best possible way, we get to the right people and families who require the support.
Today’s announcement should be welcomed across the Parliament. What support does the cabinet secretary expect to get from other parties to ensure that the new benefit is introduced in the right timeframe, so that it can start working for children and families in Renfrewshire South and across Scotland?
I underline what I said in my statement: this stands to be one of the most progressive policy proposals since devolution. Given that we are about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Parliament being reconvened, that is fitting. Alongside our statutory child poverty targets and the wider actions that we are taking, the policy sets Scotland apart as being the only part of the UK that is taking such concerted action to reduce and eradicate child poverty. We are pleased that, despite the grumbling, in general, there seems to be a degree of support. Given that we collectively signed up to the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 and to hitting the targets to shift the curve on child poverty, it is incumbent on all MSPs across the Parliament to welcome and support the new benefit and give their assurance today that, if they ever reach Administration, they will seek to continue its payment.
Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether the new regulations for payment of disability assistance to people with a terminal illness will be introduced in the summer of 2020, or will that benefit also be delayed?
Nothing has changed on that matter.
I warmly welcome the statement and the substantial measures in it, and I am sure that my constituents in Greenock and Inverclyde will, too.
Can the cabinet secretary highlight other key priority areas where we can tackle inequality and reduce poverty?
We will continue to work hard across the whole of Government in recognition of the fact that a whole-Government approach is required to tackle child poverty. We will continue to concentrate on the work that we are doing to support employment opportunities and actions on the living wage and to provide support through the financial health check and a range of other things. I note that Maree Todd is here. In relation to her portfolio, we will continue to focus on the flexible delivery of early learning and childcare in order to ensure that families get the support that they need to access employment and training opportunities without facing a burdensome cost.
A range of actions require our diligence and our commitment across Government to enable us to reach the interim targets and, ultimately, the targets that we have set out for 2030.
Will the Scottish Government introduce primary or secondary legislation as a basis for the new Scottish child payment? If so, when might we expect to see that?
We will take the matter forward through secondary legislation. Over the summer months, we will have an opportunity to explore all the things that we will need to ensure that we continue with the safe and secure delivery of social security payments. My colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville will update the Parliament on that work and outline the ways in which we will take forward regulations to deliver the payment.
As we have heard, the Scottish child payment, which all my colleagues have welcomed this afternoon, will be both demand led and means tested. Can the minister confirm that the budget figures that she gave a few minutes ago were calculated on the basis of a notional 100 per cent take-up?
We have looked at and analysed a number of different approaches, and the analysis and projections are being published today in the open and transparent way that is required. The payment will be demand led, and that is what we have based the figures on. The analysis is there for Iain Gray to look at, and if he comes back with further questions, I will be happy to answer them. However, it will be a demand-led service that is delivered in the way that I have outlined, through the qualifying benefits, and it stands to lift 30,000 children out of poverty. That shift in the child poverty rates is important if we are to hit the child poverty targets.
I add my voice in welcoming the cabinet secretary’s announcement of the Scottish child payment, and I look forward to seeing the difference that it will make in our communities. A lot of the content of the statement has been covered by previous questioners, so I ask the cabinet secretary what the other key priority areas are to tackle inequality and reduce child poverty.
We are taking forward a range of actions and activities to tackle child poverty. One of the big things to point out is the “Every child, every chance” progress report, which shows that, alongside the significant announcement that I have made today on the Scottish child payment, we are investing £527 million in targeted support for low-income families across a wide range of programmes to make a long-term sustainable difference to children who are living in poverty. That includes some of the things that I outlined in my statement, such as the work that Shirley-Anne Somerville is taking forward and the mitigation that we have to do to help to protect our most vulnerable people from the harsh realities of UK reforms. It does not include the things that we all enjoy—early learning and childcare, education, universal services or the social contract that underpins the society that we in this Government maintain and hold dear.
I welcome the Scottish child payment. It is a good initiative—and a long overdue one—to help to tackle child poverty in Scotland and in Dundee, where 31 per cent of our children live in poverty.
As the cabinet secretary encourages take-up, will she show some flexibility? I have had a constituent who recently tried to take up the best start grant for a child who was starting school and was told that they were not eligible based not on income, but on the cut-off date, because the child’s school place was deferred. Will the cabinet secretary look at that issue of eligibility for the best start grant and encourage flexibility as she approaches this welcome new policy?
As I understand it, people who defer can apply. If Jenny Marra wants to set out the specifics in correspondence, we will ensure that she gets information and support and that we take any necessary actions. We will deal with the points that she raised because we want to maximise uptake. If there are things that we can learn, we are happy to do so.
For as long as I have breath, I will always campaign for the full powers of independence. However, given that this Parliament made an all-party commitment to use our existing powers and resources to end child poverty, how will the cabinet secretary build consensus on not just what we will spend money on, but the tough choices that will have to be made about what we do not spend money on so that we can focus our resources and efforts, raise the debate and take on the challenge of ending child poverty?
I pay tribute to Angela Constance for taking forward the Child Poverty Act 2017 and the delivery plan and setting in train the actions that we are reporting on today, which will have a fundamental and transformative impact on children’s lives and future life chances. She is right to point out that the issues that we grapple with demand tough choices. Today, I outlined the tough choices and hard decisions that we have had to make to find and carve out a space to deliver this much-needed bit of support for families around the country.
The progress report captures actions across the whole Government. Whether for the economy, education or other portfolios, every cabinet secretary needs to be guided by the principle of creating a fairer and more equal country.
My job—as Angela Constance’s was before me—is to ensure that the voices and lived experiences of those who experience poverty are not forgotten, and to speak up for folk who are not heard, are disempowered and are surviving but not thriving.
The decisions that we take as a Government must be examined through the lens of child poverty to generate the better decisions that must be made. That is the only way that we will ever make good on our national performance framework, which I fundamentally believe in, because it values the success of our society based not only on gross domestic product, but on the depth of our humanity and kindness, our dignity and our wellbeing.
All those things will ensure that we as a Government take the right decisions and make tough choices. It might be bumpy, but if we have the collective support of this Parliament, we can overcome those bumps. Ultimately, we want a country that is fairer, supports children’s rights and eradicates poverty.
I have had a last-minute request, which I can accommodate.
I very much appreciate that, Presiding Officer.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of the child payment, which will benefit 410,000 children around Scotland.
The cabinet secretary mentioned the required alteration of the timetable for the new disability assistance benefit, which I accept. Is the cabinet secretary still confident that new claims for disability assistance and reassessments for it will be carried out by Social Security Scotland, as opposed to the DWP, by the end of this parliamentary session?
Nothing is changing in that regard. Given Bob Doris’s position as the convener of Social Security Committee, we will furnish him with all the implications of the announcement and ensure that he has access to the full analysis. We will send him a letter to ensure that he is clear about what the announcement means in terms of the other benefits that are being delivered by Social Security Scotland.
That concludes questions on the ministerial statement on the tackling child poverty delivery plan first-year progress report.