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Chamber and committees

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


UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Report

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-17505, in the name of Keith Brown, on the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights report.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the final report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston, which was published on 22 May 2019; understands that he will present his findings to the UN Human Rights Council at the end of June; acknowledges that Professor Alston visited Scotland as part of his 12-day fact finding visit to the UK, where he heard directly from people affected by poverty; notes with concern the findings of the report, in particular the claim that rising poverty rates have been caused by UK Government policies; believes that the report backs up evidence from organisations working across civil society on the damage caused by UK Government welfare changes and austerity; notes the report's assessment that the UK Government must reverse the many policies that it has pursued, which it believes are increasing poverty and inequality, including it imposing what it sees as regressive measures such as the benefits freeze and two-child cap; believes that the special rapporteur is clear that the UK Government has been failing to listen and is “determinedly in denial” regarding poverty in the UK, and notes the view that the UK Government must take heed of this report and make the radical changes necessary to provide support to people and to actively take action to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland, including in the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency, and the rest of the UK.


Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

Presiding Officer,

“great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.”

That is the reflection of United Nations special rapporteur Professor Alston on the Conservative Party’s appalling record in government. The report that we debate today explores the destitution that Tory austerity and universal credit has imposed on communities across Scotland and the United Kingdom. It is unconscionable that, in a country that boasts the world’s fifth largest economy and huge amounts of wealth, 14 million people, or one fifth of the population, live in poverty, and more than 1.5 million people live in destitution, and that has been welcomed by the ministers responsible as an “almost unmitigated success”. It is completely immoral that the UK Government has presided over the systematic immiseration of such a large part of its own population, disproportionately women, children, people with disabilities, older persons, and ethnic minority groups.

In September, I hosted a summit in Alloa to assess the impact of universal credit on my constituency of Clackmannanshire and Dunblane. From the evidence presented, it was clear that the Tory’s flagship policy is not fit for purpose. It means an unnecessary five-week payment delay that sends people into spiralling debt, a cruel and inhumane sanction system that pushes people to the brink, and a toxic legacy of rising food bank use.

Latest figures from Clackmannanshire Council show that 85 per cent of universal credit-claimant council tenants are in arrears, totalling £550,000. Despite doing all that is required of them, they still end up being six to eight weeks in rent arrears before the Department for Work and Pensions makes any payments.

Stirling Council figures show that the level of rent arrears among tenants claiming universal credit increased from £13,000 in June 2017, when the system was rolled out, to more than £191,000 by April 2019. Those unacceptable figures represent a fundamentally flawed system that traps people in avoidable debt.

In the light of that, the UK Government’s contemptible attempts to discredit Professor Alston and his report have not been surprising. Amber Rudd has accused him of showing “wholly inappropriate” political bias, while Philip Hammond flat-out rejected the findings as a “nonsense”. Their stubborn denial and refusal to accept any kind of responsibility is matched only by that shown by members on the Opposition benches in this chamber.

It should completely shame all Conservative politicians that the Government has now accepted the findings in Professor Alston’s report as “factually correct”—accepted that Tory policies have been directly linked to an increased use of food banks and an increase in the levels of homelessness, and have forced destitute women into sex work.

Alternatively, perhaps it is a lack of shame that has led Tory politicians to stand up in the chamber time and time again, with their social security spokeswoman defending the two-child cap, the rape clause and the bedroom tax—in fact, she even denied that the bedroom tax exists at all—and discrediting the links between draconian sanctions and food-bank use. Others have written glowing puff pieces on the unmitigated disaster that is universal credit. Senior Tory MPs have spent the past weeks roundly criticising their own record in government. It is not too late for their MSP colleagues to rediscover their shame and accept the harm that those policies have caused.

Professor Alston is right to highlight the ideological fanaticism that the Conservative Government has shown in implementing austerity-driven economic policies and pushing through the deeply flawed universal credit. What we have seen disguised as an unavoidable fiscal programme is a radical social re-engineering and the undermining of the social contract as we know it. For years, we have seen the welfare state—the foundation of the social contract—attacked. “Strivers” are pitted against “skivers”, while values such as freedom and individual responsibility are distorted to eliminate any responsibility on the part of the state to ensure the welfare of its citizens. That enables the creation of an environment in which the vulnerable are viewed as undeserving of assistance. It also enables the creation of a welfare system that denies the most deserving their entitlements; that pushes disabled people into unsuitable work; and in which, as Professor Alston notes,

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach”.

That radical transformation of the relationship between state and individual is an attack on our rights as citizens, for what freedom is there in being trapped in poverty as a child, a single parent or someone with a disability? What freedom is there in being part of a social security system that appears to be designed to keep people trapped in that poverty?

I am glad that that negative view of freedom—that entrenchment of poverty—is rejected by the Scottish National Party Government, which recognises that it is the Government’s role to play a positive part in empowering and enhancing citizens’ freedoms, and that we as citizens have the right to expect a social security system that provides just that. We also have the responsibility to make a fair contribution to society through a progressive taxation system, which—as many political thinkers have said—is a hallmark of a democratic society. Taxation is not a burden; it is an investment in our future—in health, education and infrastructure. That investment empowers our citizens; strengthens their ability to take responsibility for their lives; often liberates them from ill health, poor educational prospects or a lack of opportunities; and enhances their freedom.

The difference between the SNP Government and the Tory Government could not be more stark. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have presided over a decade of austerity, cuts and sanctions, and they are now offering huge tax cuts to the wealthy. The Scottish Government, for its part, spends £125 million a year on mitigating Tory austerity—-a situation that Professor Alston’s report rightly recognises as “unsustainable”. It is outrageous that a devolved Administration must take action to protect its citizens from UK Government policies.

That money could be better spent on supporting the work of Social Security Scotland: a social security system that is built on the principles of dignity and respect, and which rejects a punitive sanction system that has no role other than forcing millions into poverty. Using new social security powers, the Scottish Government has already delivered transformative new entitlements, supporting 77,000 young carers and 7,000 new families in low-income households, and making more payments in the first two months than the Department for Work and Pensions benefit that it replaced made in a year. It will shortly take on further responsibility to provide disability entitlements and winter and heating assistance.

We heard from the cabinet secretary today about the Scottish child payment. I would be interested to know when she replies to the debate whether she has received any assurances from the Tory spokespeople to whom she has spoken as to whether they would intend to continue with those benefits—the mitigation of the worst of the UK Tory Government’s policies—if they were ever to get into power. The Scottish Government has also strengthened the social contract between the Scottish people and their Government—all paid for by progressive taxation. Will any Tory members stand up today and commit to those entitlements?

Professor Alston described as “compelling” the Scottish Government’s plans to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law and the recommendations by the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership. Such action, which improves the lives of citizens rather than impoverishing them, is the kind of action that Governments should take. Adam Smith, one of Scotland’s greatest philosophers, once observed that

“the true measure of a nation’s wealth is not the size of the king’s treasury or the holdings of the affluent few but rather the wages of ‘the labouring poor’.”

Politicians across the UK would do well to remember that. As representatives of the people, it is our responsibility to challenge inequality, to fight poverty and want, and to build a society that is fair, just and prosperous.

Following the UN’s report, it could not be clearer that the UK Government is manifestly failing in that regard. The Scottish Parliament must have the powers to create a fair and equal Scotland. The bedroom tax, the two-child cap and the rape clause have no place in a civilised society that treats all its people with respect and dignity, and they should have no place in an independent Scotland. We have a moral responsibility to oppose those measures, and the SNP will continue to do so.

Before we move to the open debate, it is right to recognise that, although this evening’s debate focuses on the UN’s report, such findings have been consistently raised by other organisations across Scotland and the UK for many years. The UK Government must end its stubborn denial and listen to those voices, it must implement the UN report’s recommendations and it must devolve all social security powers to the Scottish Parliament. I look forward to what I am sure will be a considered and thoughtful set of contributions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. Speeches should be of around four minutes, although we have a little bit of time in hand.


Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

While Dr Alston’s report makes many valid points, I feel that an opportunity has been missed to have a rational, reasoned debate on the issues that affect the most vulnerable in the UK and to depoliticise what has been a heavily partisan conversation.

There is a common misconception surrounding United Nations special rapporteurs—namely, that they are representatives of the UN. As Dr Alston himself has said, he is not a UN official; he merely presents his independent findings to the UN. Bearing that in mind, we should be careful not to conflate the views in Dr Alston’s report with the opinions of the UN. It is also important to note that the UN has struggled with its relationship with rapporteurs and that it does not always agree with their findings. Philip Alston has recently come into conflict with the UN, as we saw from Ban Ki-moon’s reaction to his work in Sri Lanka.

With any piece of work, one of the greatest challenges is ensuring its validity. Many members will have undertaken graduate and postgraduate work. One of the first recommendations that those who embark on research receive is that their sources should be peer reviewed. Sadly, the piece of work that we are discussing today did not enjoy such academic scrutiny. For example, by referring to the UK’s budget surplus or fundamentally misunderstanding the devolution settlement, Dr Alston does not help his cause. His hyperbolic language does not aid his case, either, and I believe that the secretary of state will make a formal complaint to the UN to make that point.

Although it has been confirmed that the statistics that are contained in the report are valid, the fact that many of the publications are simply out of date—they rely on figures and anecdotal evidence from before 2017—has not been accounted for.

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)


The Deputy Presiding Officer

Will you stop shouting from your seat, please, Mr Arthur?

Michelle Ballantyne

I find it strange that Dr Alston claims that poverty is rising in the UK, when we can see from the social metrics figures that he relies on that poverty levels have remained on roughly an even keel since 2001. Dr Alston is right to highlight the funding that was cut from universal credit in the 2015 budget, but he makes no mention of the changes that were made in the 2017 and 2018 budgets.

I have made no secret of the fact that I would like the funding to be restored to pre-2015 levels. As I am sure that many members would agree, it is vital that we support the most vulnerable claimants to the best of our ability. That said, I feel that Dr Alston should have accounted for just some of the recent developments in welfare reform, and in the economy and society, so I will raise them here. This year, £220 billion will be spent on welfare, and almost £10 billion has been injected into the welfare budget since 2016.

Keith Brown

Michelle Ballantyne has spent the bulk of her time so far attacking the author of the report—the messenger. Does she accept the statement of the Conservative Government that Professor Alston’s report is “factually correct”?

Michelle Ballantyne

I just did that. Keith Brown needs to listen to what I say, rather than working up interventions.

We have had the introduction of the national living wage, giving 2.1 million of the lowest earners a pay rise; we have had an extra £250 million to support the child element of universal credit; and, last month, working allowances were raised by £1,000, meaning that 2.4 million claimants keep more of what they have earned. Those things have happened, but they are not mentioned in Dr Alston’s report.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Will Michelle Ballantyne take an intervention?

Michelle Ballantyne

I have run out of time, so I need to finish. Sorry—four minutes is not very long.

Not only that, but, this year, the UK had the lowest number of low-paid workers in 10 years. According to the UN, it is one of the happiest places to live, has record unemployment and is a top 10 nation for social support. How does that square with Dr Alston’s report?

I am not alone in believing that the UK Government’s welfare reform policies are bringing positive changes. Bodies such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have concluded that UC will reduce the number of working families that are in poverty by around 300,000, and the Institute for Public Policy Research has said that universal credit could be the most cost-effective method of solving child poverty.

That is not to say that Governments should not and could not do more. As the Poverty and Inequality Commission has said, Governments need to be better at monitoring the outcomes of their policies, as well as their impact, and both the UK and Scottish Governments could improve their data collection to inform future policy making.

Solving poverty and inequality is a duty that we all share and, regardless of Dr Alston’s report, it is clear that there is still work to be done.


Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I thank Keith Brown for securing the debate and for drawing to the Scottish Parliament’s attention the UN special rapporteur’s report, which is a shameful and appalling indictment of the UK Government’s persistent and deliberate attack on the poor in our society.

Much has been made of the UN’s relationship with its rapporteurs, but when an independent report or inquiry is launched, it should challenge institutions—that is why we have independent reports. I commend Professor Alston for his work on exposing the shame of the UK Government.

The rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights—Professor Alston—was very clear when he stated:

“Policies of austerity introduced in 2010 continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences. Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021.”

At the end of the summary of his findings, he said damningly of the UK Government:

“A booming economy, high employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy pursued more as an ideological than an economic agenda.”

Making the poor of this country suffer is a political choice of the Conservative Party.

That indictment of the UK Government is backed up by this Parliament’s Social Security Committee in our recent report on social security and in-work poverty. I am privileged to convene that committee. We hope to secure Professor Alston’s attendance at the Social Security Committee to discuss the matters further.

Unsurprisingly, we have already raised concerns about the minimum five-week wait—although it is often much longer—to get universal credit; the 26 per cent increase in rent arrears in the first four local authorities where universal credit has been rolled out, which is really damaging some of the most vulnerable constituents we represent; and the attack on pension credit for mixed-age households.

We have also raised concerns about the extension of sanctions to not only those who are currently on universal credit but the in-work poor more generally, so even if the only benefits and only parts of universal credit that someone gets are child and working tax credits, they can still be sanctioned. That is new, damning and shameful.

Further, we have raised concerns about the closing of job centres and the move to digital by default; the bedroom tax; the shared room rate; and the attack on housing benefit for the under-35s. I could go on. Our committee has deep and meaningful concerns about all those areas.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Scottish Government has estimated that, by 2021, £3.7 billion will have been taken from Scotland’s most vulnerable people through the UK Government’s political choices.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s attempts to mitigate many of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, but the Social Security Committee recognises that that situation cannot go on for ever—it will have an end point. I will not list all the opportunities for mitigation that the Scottish Government has taken, but I will make special mention of this afternoon’s announcement of the introduction of the Scottish child payment. As the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government said, it will be extended to up to 410,000 young people who are most likely to be living in poverty, to address that situation and lift 30,000 children out of it. That illustrates that the Scottish Parliament is taking a different approach from that taken by its UK counterpart.

In the time that I have left, I want to talk about the people who sometimes fall through the cracks—even with the good-quality welfare provision that we in my Glasgow constituency have from Glasgow City Council, Citizens Advice Scotland and others. The other day, Alex O’Kane, a friend of mine who runs a Facebook group called No1seems2care, contacted me, as he has done many times in the past. This time, he was concerned about a lady who had no food or electricity and who also had significant welfare issues, but would not go to her councillor or MSP, or to an advice service. Alex and No1seems2care put me in touch with her; we were able to provide her with food and have her power put back on, and we hope to have her welfare issues addressed.

However, things should not have to be that way. It should not take well-intentioned individuals such as Alex and the members of his Facebook group to draw such cases to the attention of politicians so that they can be acted on. We have to deal with such suffering at its source, which is the UK Government’s policy of austerity. I commend Keith Brown for drawing that to the attention of Parliament in the debate. I also thank Alex O’Kane for all that he does to help vulnerable people among the constituents whom I serve.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The last of the open debate contributions is from Elaine Smith.


Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I, too, thank Keith Brown for securing the debate, which has highlighted, in the chamber, members’ concerns about the findings of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

I would normally use the term “shocking” to refer to the situation that is described in Professor Philip Alston’s report. However, its contents actually come as no shock to the many members who have been warning of the effects of austerity since 2010. The report also reflects the findings of all the anti-poverty organisations in the UK and of numerous academic studies. What has been shocking is the UK Government’s dismissive response to the report, in spite of all the evidence that has been presented, and the Scottish Tories seem to have taken a similar approach here.

The motion that was lodged by Keith Brown notes the special rapporteur’s view that

“the UK Government has been failing to listen and is ‘determinedly in denial’ regarding poverty in the UK”.

Indeed, the UK Government’s response to the report seems to confirm that view. The roll-out of universal credit across the country has played a major role in the problems that are mentioned in the Alston report, as has the dismantling of the social safety net and the rise in in-work poverty.

An area that must be of particular concern is the increase in the number of people who are turning to what Professor Alston describes as “survival sex”, which Keith Brown mentioned in his contribution. The very fact that a parliamentary committee at Westminster has deemed it necessary to launch an inquiry entitled “Universal Credit and Survival Sex: sex in exchange for meeting survival needs” should shame us all. That situation has nothing to do with women—and, in some cases, men—entering the labour market for work; it is about abuse, violence and humiliation. We should also remember that prostitution is on the Scottish Government’s spectrum of violence against women and girls.

Universal credit has been an absolute disaster, and its impact on women’s lives has been especially bad. Although the Alston report notes the devolved Administrations’ efforts to mitigate the worst effects of the austerity agenda—I welcome today’s announcement on the Scottish child payment, which will benefit some children—we could, and should, be doing more with the powers that we have. Keith Brown mentioned the Scottish Government’s mitigation of the bedroom tax, but he also mentioned the two-child cap, which has not been addressed. I will continue to put the case that it should be mitigated.

Professor Alston’s report also mentions the provision of the welfare fund by—

Bob Doris

Will the member take an intervention?

Elaine Smith


Bob Doris

Elaine Smith might suggest that the Scottish Government is picking and choosing what it mitigates, but does she accept that the Social Security Committee has agreed that it is no longer possible to mitigate everything that the UK Government does?

Elaine Smith

I agree that this Parliament and Government cannot mitigate everything, but the Government has been keen to say that the two-child cap is a despicable policy and that it has put it high on the agenda. That is why I continue to put the case that that policy ought to be mitigated. However, I take Bob Doris’s point.

The report also mentions the provision of the Scottish welfare fund by the Scottish Government for emergencies and hardship. That fund is welcome, but it has not been increased since 2013-14, which means that there has been a real-terms cut of £3.5 million. The Government has no plans to increase funding between now and 2025, so by that point, there will have been a real-terms cut of £7 million.

When she was asked about the underfunding of the welfare fund last week, the First Minister questioned whether the Labour Government in Wales had such a fund. It has a discretionary assistance fund, and an increase to that fund was announced in the most recent budget. In that regard, Scotland should follow Welsh Labour and make provision of funds for the poorest people in society a priority.

Presiding Officer, I hope that I get a bit of extra time.

In bringing my remarks to a close, I will highlight the work of the charity Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help, which is exhibiting in Parliament this week. I had a chat with some of its members. The projects that it supports include projects that work with families who have children with disabilities, and that provide support for women and children who need a stepping-stone home as they escape from dangerous or abusive situations.

Poverty and deprivation affect the families of people in the armed forces and those who have left the services. Veterans are sleeping rough and living in abject poverty. Veterans have nearly been evicted from tenancies because universal credit payments have not come through. I will briefly highlight the case of Walter Richardson. He was medically discharged from the forces. Walter and his family were facing eviction in Lanarkshire because of council tax arrears, and were living in poverty.

In Scotland in 2019, there are far too many such accounts in the UN report, in our newspapers and in our communities. It is unacceptable.

The work of SSAFA Forces Help and of many charities and public services across Scotland should be commended as they try, in the face of increased poverty and further austerity, to hold people’s lives together. However, we need fundamental change.

The UN report is damning about austerity, and the rapporteur is equally so about the UK Government’s lamentable response, but outrage is not enough.

The Scottish Government needs to make tackling poverty even more of a priority, and to turn ambitious words into meaningful action, in order to do everything that it can with the powers that it has to stop poverty increasing across Scotland.


The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

As others have done, I thank Keith Brown for securing this important and timely debate.

As I set out in my statement of 27 November 2018, the Scottish Government was pleased that the special rapporteur spent two days of his UK visit in Scotland. He heard directly from people who are affected by poverty and met Scottish ministers, parliamentarians, Government officials and representatives of civil society. He got lived experience from the mouths of people who are directly bearing the brunt of Tory austerity—not anecdote but the realities of what is happening in Scotland and across the UK.

We welcome the special rapporteur’s final report. It is a devastating analysis of the UK Government’s austerity measures. It describes the policies that have been pursued since 2010 as

“retrogressive measures in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations.”

It clearly shows that there must be a change in direction.

We previously estimated that, in Scotland alone, due to the UK Government’s welfare reforms, £3.7 billion would be cut from annual social security spending by 2020-21. To put that into context, £3.7 billion is the equivalent to three times our annual police budget or the entire annual budget of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian. However, the UK Government refuses to fix the problems that its welfare cuts have caused, which have been articulated today. To use the phrase that we have heard in similar debates in the past, it refuses to test and learn. The continued assault on welfare and continued benefit cuts make it feel as if we in the Scottish Government are fighting poverty with one hand tied behind our backs.

Michelle Ballantyne said that today’s debate and Professor Alston’s report are a missed opportunity to talk rationally about poverty, but it is the contrary. Professor Alston’s work shone an independent spotlight on the politically motivated and ideologically driven attack on the most vulnerable people.

The special rapporteur noted that the devolved Administration is spending considerable resources to protect people from the worst impacts, but that those efforts are simply not sustainable. How can they be, when what is being taken out of social security spending is the equivalent of the NHS budgets for Glasgow and Lothian? In 2019-20, we will continue to invest more than £125 million to mitigate the worst impacts of the change and to protect people on low incomes.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomed “positive policies”, such as our mitigation of the bedroom tax. As a result, we have shielded the most vulnerable people. The reductions in household incomes in Scotland due to the impact of tax, social security and public spending decisions is lower than in England and Wales but, ultimately, there is still a reduction. We cannot shield people entirely, and the money that we spend is money that we would much rather invest in lifting families out of poverty.

Elaine Smith

I fully support the Government mitigating the bedroom tax. Given the despicable nature of the rape clause and the two-child cap, should that policy not be considered as a special case for mitigation?

Aileen Campbell

Mitigating everything is not sustainable. There is £3.7 billion coming out of social security spending. We already spend £125 million to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare reform and the figures that I published today show that a total of more than £500 million is being spent on supporting low-income families. I do not want to be always mitigating the acts of another Government. I would much rather have the powers here to deal with the problem head on.

My disappointment with Labour members is that, while we cross our fingers and wait for a Labour UK Government to try to do that at some time in the future, I would far rather that we had the powers in this Parliament for us to tackle those issues head on and support the people who live in this country. That does not seem to be where some members are, but we will continue to do what we can with the powers that we have to support and protect the people who live in this country to the best of our ability.

The Scottish Government agrees with Professor Alston’s assessment that the UK Government must reverse the many policies that it has pursued that increase poverty and inequality, such as the benefits freeze and two-child cap. His criticisms of universal credit reflect the numerous representations that have been made to the UK Government by Scottish ministers.

The UK Government must take heed of this report and make the changes that are necessary to provide support to people and to take action to tackle poverty and inequality in the UK. The changes that have been made do not go far enough; they do not address the long wait for a first payment under universal credit or the two-child cap and its abhorrent rape clause and they do not reinstate the original work allowances that were proposed for universal credit. Professor Alston described the recent changes made as

“window dressing to prevent political fallout”,

and I do not think that many of us in the chamber could disagree. As Elaine Smith and Bob Doris have made clear, the disregard that Professor Alston’s report has generated from the UK Government is incredible, when it should be utterly shamed by the misery that its callous cuts have caused.

In Scotland, we regard confronting poverty as an urgent human rights concern that requires priority action across ministerial portfolios and on the part of all state institutions. Although child poverty and in-work poverty levels are currently lower in Scotland than in the UK, it is simply unacceptable that people who are doing all that society asks of them should never get out of the bit and should continue to live in poverty.

As I have said in previous debates, that is why we are not sitting blithely by and letting welfare reforms hit the poorest hardest. We are taking action. In his report, as well as noting that the Scottish Government is investing considerable resources to protect people who are living in poverty, the special rapporteur referred to Scotland’s ambitious plans for poverty reduction. Those plans are underpinned by four official measures of child poverty, as set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, which are expressed as targets towards the eradication of child poverty in Scotland.

Earlier today in the chamber, I outlined the significant action that we are taking towards genuine reductions in child poverty, including the introduction of the new Scottish child payment. By the end of 2022, the payment will be introduced for all eligible children under 16. We estimate that around 410,000 children will be eligible for the payment, and it has the potential to lift 30,000 children out of relative poverty and reduce the relative poverty rate by 3 percentage points.

By the end of this parliamentary session—nearly two years ahead of the time that was given in our original commitment—we will introduce the new payment of £10 per child per week, which will be paid monthly to all eligible families with children under six. The payment will help to prevent poverty in families who are just above the poverty threshold but who are on insecure incomes. That is a substantial investment in families who are most in need.

We agree with the rapporteur’s conception of poverty as a “multidimensional” phenomenon that impacts on the full enjoyment of human rights. In Scotland, the Government considers tackling poverty as part of its co-ordinated work to realise a vision of a Scotland where every member of society is able to live with human dignity and to enjoy their rights in full. We are committed to protecting human rights, advancing equality and tackling poverty. The special rapporteur notes our commitment to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law within the current parliamentary session.

As Keith Brown said, Professor Alston described the recommendations that were made by the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership as “compelling”. In her response to the recommendations, the First Minister endorsed the overall vision of a new human rights framework for Scotland to be delivered by a new act of the Scottish Parliament. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People will co-chair the national task force that is being established to take the work forward.

The special rapporteur is clear that the UK Government has been failing to listen and is

“determinedly in a state of denial”

about poverty in the UK. The same cannot be said of the Scottish Government. We are determined to tackle generations of deep-seated poverty, and we will be ambitious, bold and radical in our approach. We will pursue policies that are designed to respond to the needs of the people of Scotland.

As I said earlier, today is a tale of two Governments. The Child Poverty Action Group published a report today on the devastating impact of the two-child limit, which stems from a decision by the UK Government. On the other hand, there are decisions and actions that we are taking in Scotland. The new Scottish child payment will lift 30,000 children out of property, which offers a glimpse of what is possible with the powers that we have. Ultimately, members of the SNP do not want to just show what is possible with the powers that we have; we want to create another Scotland that is fairer and equal and that uses the powers at our disposal, but which does not have to mitigate the actions of another Government.

Meeting closed at 18:17.