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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 27 November 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Gender-based Violence


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Communities and Local Government


Homelessness

1. Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how homeless people might be assisted this winter by the removal of the requirement to be found unintentionally homeless being a precondition of receiving local authority accommodation. (S5O-03815)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

Our vision is to support everyone who is at risk of becoming homeless, or who is experiencing homelessness, to have a settled home. By making assessment of intentionality discretionary for local authorities, we are eliminating one of the barriers that people face to receiving the support that they need. That will ensure that front-line staff can focus on providing a prompt and person-centred approach, as set out in their local rapid rehousing transition plans, and will help more people to get into a settled home quickly.

That change to how the legislation operates was recommended by the Government’s homelessness action group, and I was happy to accept it—as I accept all its recommendations.

Angus MacDonald

I welcome the commitment from the minister that local authorities will no longer turn away homeless applicants on the basis that they are deemed to be intentionally homeless—a label that does not, as the minister knows, always reflect the true nature of an individual’s circumstances, which might be filled with strife and hardship.

Will the minister outline how the changes will ensure fairness for homeless applicants who have endured circumstances such as marital splits, rent arrears and time spent in prison?

Kevin Stewart

The intention is that the changes to the legislation will make things fairer for folk such as those whom Mr MacDonald has described. It is recognised that under the previous rules many people who were assessed as being intentionally homeless had experienced difficulties in their lives that were outwith their control; for example, relationship breakdown, family issues, difficulty paying rent and mental health issues. Now, local authorities have the flexibility to investigate, which will mean that people can get the individual support that they need when they need it most.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I thank the minister for his answer.

One of the issues that has come up in my casework is that people are homeless, or cannot get the right accommodation, because of a lack of suitable housing for them. How will the rapid transition housing approach lead to permanent accommodation for people who have been homeless, or whom we are trying to prevent from becoming homeless?

Kevin Stewart

If Ms Boyack wants to highlight to me any such cases that she has come across, I will be more than willing to look at them.

Key to the approach is a person-centred approach; it is about finding the right accommodation for folks. Our housing first pilot is going quite well, and I recently met housing conveners at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and asked them to continue to look at what housing is required in their areas. Parliament is well aware that we offer flexibility in the subsidy for housing that is specialist housing, is wheelchair accessible or has more bedrooms. Local authorities and housing associations should take advantage of the current affordable housing programme to ensure that their housing meets the needs of people in their areas.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

Can the minister set out how the Scottish Government will monitor and report on the effects of changes in respect of intentionality in homelessness?

Kevin Stewart

We will continue to collect data about the numbers of people who are assessed as being intentionally homeless, using the information from homelessness applications to local authorities. As always, the data will be analysed and published twice a year. It will help us to understand not just changes to the numbers of people who are assessed as being intentionally homeless, but whether there are changes in the characteristics of people who are found to be intentionally homeless and in the outcomes that they achieve.

In November 2020, we will commence a review of how local authorities have implemented their new discretionary power to investigate for intentionality and its impact. That review will report on all its outcomes by July 2021.


Fire Performance of Cladding Systems

2. Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when the review of the BS 8414 test methodology for assessing the fire performance of external wall cladding systems will be published. (S5O-03816)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

The timing of the review of the BS 8414 test methodology remains a matter for the British Standards Institution. More than 200 pages of comments were received by the BSI following the public comment stage, and the relevant committee is working through those comments. Recent advice that we have had from BSI suggests that the revised standards will be published in late spring 2020.

Graham Simpson

The test has come under mounting criticism, some of which we heard at the Local Government and Communities Committee last week. It has been banned in England, as have desktop studies for cladding. The use of combustible cladding has also been banned on certain buildings, and not just in England, but in Germany and France. Why is the Scottish Government refusing to follow suit—or, at least, as the Association of British Insurers called for last week, to bring in a moratorium?

Kevin Stewart

I do not know whether I will be able to cover everything in my answer, but I am more than happy, with my building standards team, to speak to Mr Simpson or any other member on the issue.

I looked at the reports by the independent panel of international and national experts whom we had look at the issue: I took a very careful look at everything that went on. I also listened to the evidence that was given to the Local Government and Communities Committee last week: it would be fair to say that differing views were given at that meeting. It is an area of some complexity. I think that it was Professor Torero who said to the Local Government and Communities Committee that a ban would be too “simplistic” a solution to complex fire-safety problems, and might be “unrealistic”. He indicated that the fundamental problem is not the test or the regulations, but the lack of individuals who are competent to use data that is gathered from tests, and competent in design and construction.

The term “desktop study” has commonly been used to describe an assessment in lieu of a fire test. The Scottish Government does not endorse assessments that are not based on test advice and sound engineering principles. Direct application rules for cladding systems that have been subjected to a single BS 8414 fire test, or multiple tests, have recently been published by the British Standards Institution, and are based on the work of a committee that is both expert and independent of Government.

I am aware of various remarks that have been made around the matter: the Scottish Government will not be complacent in any of this. We have—without doubt—done a huge amount of work, and we will continue to review. However, the best thing to do is to wait to see the review from the British Standards Institution and to work from there.

Nonetheless, I am, as I said, more than happy to talk in greater depth on the issue with Mr Simpson or any other member.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

When the report is produced in late spring, I will be particularly interested to find out who—based on the report, if the report requests them—will be tasked with providing fire performance certificates. People are concerned that they cannot, at the moment, get mortgages because there is no-one to test the cladding on their buildings and to say that it is safe. Does the minister have any idea who will be tasked with providing that reassurance and certificate?

Kevin Stewart

I know that Mr Rumbles has lodged a question on that matter. I point out that changes to building standards are not retrospective; they deal only with new buildings.

The current situation regarding mortgages, which I am all too well aware of, has to be dealt with separately from the issues that I covered in my answer to Mr Simpson. I have written twice to the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the mortgage situation, and we have chased up those letters but had no reply. My officials have been in discussion with UK Finance and others to try to find a way through the situation, which I hope we can do sooner rather than later, for the sake of the people who are affected.

I say again what I said last week: if any MSPs who have any influence over Mr Jenrick in the UK Government could add pressure to get a response, that would be useful—not only for the Scottish Government, but for the folk who are currently in limbo.

I want to find a solution. We have told the UK Government and others that we will do all that we can, but unfortunately the powers are outwith the competence of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. I hope that Mr Jenrick and his colleagues in the UK Government can move forward in partnership with us to find a solution.


Community Empowerment

3. Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to further empower communities. (S5O-03817)

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

We introduced the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which makes it easier for communities to take on public sector land and buildings, and to take part in decision-making processes.

The new £11.5 million investing in communities fund, which was launched in 2019-20, was developed to empower communities to address local priorities on their own terms. The fund also supports participatory budgeting across Scotland. In the past two years, more than 100,000 people voted to decide on the allocation of almost £6 million, thereby directing money to what matters most to them and their communities.

We are working in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, through the local governance review, to help to empower communities and to strengthen local democracy further.

Shona Robison

In my constituency, Fairfield community sports hub is working on a plan for community asset transfer from Dundee City Council, in which I wish it every success. Does the cabinet secretary agree that community asset transfers can be a very powerful way to empower communities, and that in order to facilitate greater use, we need to look at how they can be more proactively promoted by councils? Will the cabinet secretary support that and consider suggestions about how such transfers can be further promoted as a positive option and how councils could work more closely with organisations to take that forward? Will she consider liaising with me on how we can promote community asset transfers in the city of Dundee?

Aileen Campbell

I agree that ownership or control of land and buildings is a powerful tool for communities to drive change and to achieve their own goals and priorities, and that asset transfers should be considered by community organisations and authorities when the public benefits that community use will bring are recognised.

I sincerely thank Shona Robison for raising the issue. I would be happy to meet her to discuss that and any other suggestions that she has on empowering our communities across the country.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

One way of empowering all individuals is through accessible communities that champion inclusivity, whether that be in schools, libraries, small businesses or on the high street. What steps is the Government taking to ensure that communities fulfil their duty to make reasonable adaptations for disabled people, as set out in the Equality Act 2010?

Aileen Campbell

New buildings have to make allowances to enable people from all walks of life to access community resources. That is set out in building regulations and in other legislation, as Alexander Stewart rightly recognises.

If Alexander Stewart has particular issues in the area that he represents in relation to communities that he feels do not have equality of access, I would be happy to hear from him about them. The people who are responsible for the housing stock and buildings in the public realm more generally have endeavoured to ensure that things are as accessible as possible. We need to ensure that everyone can access facilities in our communities, and enjoy them on an equal footing with everyone else.


Waste Collection and Disposal (Dumfries and Galloway Council)

4. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Dumfries and Galloway Council’s decision to bring its waste collection and disposal service fully in-house. (S5O-03818)

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

It is for each local authority to determine how best to meet its statutory obligations in respect of waste service provision.

Colin Smyth

The Scottish Government provides about £3.2 million per annum to Dumfries and Galloway Council through strategic waste funding. Will the cabinet secretary give a clear and unequivocal guarantee that that level of funding will not be reduced in any way over the next few years as a result of the termination of the private finance initiative waste contract? If there is to be a cut, how much will it be?

Aileen Campbell

Dumfries and Galloway Council decided to cancel its waste PFI contract in 2018. The member is right to say that the council has been in receipt of strategic waste grants to pay for the services that were previously delivered under the PFI. While the review takes place, we have continued to make those payments. I have been very clear that the council has been in receipt of grants from the strategic waste fund while the review has been on-going, but the council made its own decision to cancel its waste PFI contract in 2018.


Rough Sleepers (Glasgow City Council)

5. Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it can provide an update on its winter planning with Glasgow City Council for rough sleepers. (S5O-03819)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

Robust cold weather plans are in place in Glasgow and across Scotland. We support local areas in that planning, which was tested and proved successful during the extreme bad weather in early 2018. Outreach teams engage proactively with anyone who appears to have the intention of sleeping outside, to ensure that they get the support that they need to resolve their situation. To support that, I have provided an additional £174,000 this winter to help people to stay safe and warm.

I welcome the news that, after discussions and weather monitoring by partners, the Glasgow winter night shelter will open on Thursday night, three days earlier than scheduled.

Adam Tomkins

Glasgow City Council is moving to a rapid rehousing model in order to tackle homelessness in the city. That move has been criticised by a number of stakeholders and charities. This week, council papers revealed that the Scottish Government funding that is available for the rapid rehousing transition plan is

“significantly less than what we bid for to enable us to meet all of the targets set out in our plan.”

Why is the minister underfunding Glasgow’s homelessness strategy by so much that it now seems destined to fail?

Kevin Stewart

We are not at all underfunding the transition to the rapid rehousing model. I increased the amount of money that is available from £15 million to £24 million, having taken cognisance of some of the feedback that we received. As I have said previously in the chamber, that money should be used for the transition. Glasgow City Council has its own homelessness budget, and it is responsible for homelessness services. The transition money is to be used to allow the council to change services and to bend spend in existing budgets, so that money can be spent in better ways.

I am very happy that we now have rapid rehousing transition plans from most local authorities, and we have had second iterations from most of those. My officials are working with local authorities to help them to refine the plans so that we get things right for the most vulnerable people in our society. The emphasis should not be on the additional money that the Government is providing but on how we change local authorities’ current spend in order to tackle homelessness. I reiterate that homelessness services are the responsibility of local authorities.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

This month, temperatures have fallen to as low as -9.9°C. I welcome what the minister said about Glasgow winter night shelter opening three days earlier than scheduled; usually, it opens on 1 December. However, Bethany Christian Trust’s night shelter in Edinburgh opened on 23 September this year—nearly two and a half months earlier than 1 December. Is the minister satisfied with there being such disparity?

When the temperature drops as low as 0°C, surely there must be a better way of co-ordinating provision and ensuring that there is emergency provision to get people off the streets. If we are too late for this year, will the minister ensure that what happened this year does not happen again next year? We cannot just leave things to Glasgow’s night shelter; we must have provision for people who are sleeping rough on the streets in such temperatures.

Kevin Stewart

We are reliant on our third sector partners to provide night shelters. We have provided money to enable Bethany’s night shelter to open earlier. There have been discussions between my officials and Glasgow City Mission, and I am glad that it has decided to open its shelter earlier than was initially planned. We will continue to discuss the matter with the night shelter. If it wants to open earlier in the year, I would be happy to have a discussion about what funding we can provide to enable it to do so. However, we are reliant on its decision—it is a matter for the shelter. I am glad that the opening date this year has moved to 28 November and I am happy to have a discussion about when it should open next year.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I am glad that the night shelter will be opening early. However, we know that it will not have adequate capacity for the 150 or so asylum seekers who face the imminent threat of being deliberately made destitute by Serco through its lock-change eviction policy. In addition, those people will not have access to the rehousing policies that were mentioned earlier. I know that the Government is working on that, and I am grateful that I have a meeting arranged next week with the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government to discuss the matter. However, can the minister say anything now about the progress that is being made on the urgent need for substantial additional capacity in emergency accommodation in the days and weeks to come?

Kevin Stewart

As Mr Harvie well knows, we are restricted in what we can do by United Kingdom legislation, although I wish that that were not the case. The legislation on such people having no recourse to public funds is inhumane and horrendous.

I know that the cabinet secretary, Aileen Campbell, has been working very hard on trying to find solutions for those folks. As Mr Harvie rightly points out, there are more meetings on the matter next week. As a Government, we will continue to do all that we can within our powers and within the law. However, we need a change in the law at UK level so that we can do even better for those folks. Mr Harvie can be assured that the Government will do all that it can to ensure that those people are safe.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Can the minister set out how the work of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group is helping to identify further action that is required to tackle rough sleeping across all local authorities, and how the £50 million investment fund that was established to support homelessness prevention has been used to carry out such actions?

Kevin Stewart

In response to the 70 recommendations that the action group made, in November last year we published “Ending Homelessness Together: High Level Action Plan”, which sets out our five-year plan to end homelessness in Scotland. Implementing the action plan will transform the system to ensure that our combined efforts are focused on helping people who are at risk of homelessness to ensure that they are supported to find and keep a permanent home.

One of the key points is that emergency shelters should be used only for extreme situations. As I outlined, the shift to rapid rehousing is a major way forward, along with our housing first pilots, which are doing immensely well given that 95 per cent of folk are now keeping their tenancies. We will continue to ensure that the right investment goes in at the right time so that the plan does all that it can to ensure that our most vulnerable people are safe and warm.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

That concludes portfolio questions on communities and local government. I offer my apologies to John Finnie and Mike Rumbles.


Social Security and Older People


Loneliness (Older People)

1. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle loneliness among older people. (S5O-03823)

The Presiding Officer

I should point out that questions 1 and 4 have been grouped together, so any supplementaries will be taken after question 4.

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government recognises that loneliness can be an issue for older people, which is why we have identified older people as one of the focuses of our national strategy on social isolation and loneliness. The strategy is supported by up to £1 million of funding over the next two years.

Those issues need to be addressed holistically in Government and in communities. On 19 September, I chaired the first meeting of the joint ministerial steering group, which includes ministers from across portfolios in order to maximise its impact. Ultimately, progress on the issues will be made by organisations and groups in communities. I am determined that our focus will remain on how we support local efforts, where connections are made and nurtured. “A Connected Scotland” is not just the name of our strategy, but the tangible means by which we will tackle social isolation and loneliness.

Brian Whittle

Does the minister agree—I think that she alluded to this in her previous answer—that activities such as walking football, walking netball, bowls, art, drama and music are hugely important in tackling the issue? With that in mind, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that there is access to those activities across all communities?

Christina McKelvie

Absolutely. I agree with Brian Whittle on that. I know that he has campaigned long and hard in many of those areas. Our older people’s strategic action forum takes account of some of that, and it always asks me to emphasise the action that is being taken, because it is the very action that Brian Whittle has just described.

The activities are key to this issue. We launched our plan in a centre that was a community buy-back, with over 50 activities for older people in a week. In arts and drama, we are very involved in the Luminate festival, which is a big part of that, too.

One of the other aspects of our work on social isolation and loneliness among older people is work with the Royal College of General Practitioners on social prescribing—many of those activities would be prescribed along those lines. I absolutely agree with Brian Whittle on that point. I agree that the best way to live the life that we want to live as we get older and not to be lonely is to take part in some of those activities.


Loneliness among Older People (South Scotland)

4. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to tackle loneliness and isolation among older people in the South Scotland region. (S5O-03826)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

My answer will be very much like the answer that I gave to Brian Whittle. The Scottish Government recognises that social isolation and loneliness can affect anybody, at any age, or at any stage or point in their life, no matter whether they live in our towns and cities, or in our rural areas.

The Government has a role in tackling those issues, but the biggest impact can be delivered only if we enable communities to play their part. That is why we are committing up to £1 million over the next two years to back our communities and our commitments to pilot innovative approaches, and it is why we are taking a cross-Government approach to drive forward the important agenda of tackling social isolation and loneliness.

Joan McAlpine

The Scottish Government’s national strategy to tackle social isolation praises the men’s shed movement as an excellent preventative initiative, and I saw that for myself on a recent visit to Moffat men’s shed. However, I am told that funding for the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association ends in April 2020. Can the minister give any assurances that it will be renewed?

Christina McKelvie

The Men’s Sheds Association is certainly a key aspect of our work, and the Scottish Government provides it with 100 per cent core funding. That annual support of £75,000 has enabled the number of men’s sheds to grow from five in 2013 to 179 in 2019. We also fund Age Scotland’s shed effect project, with an annual investment of £50,000. The project provides a dedicated men’s shed community development officer, who supports sheds with practical issues such as asset management, health and safety and start-up.

As the member knows, the Scottish budget has had to be delayed due to the general election, but the Scottish ministers are focused on introducing it at the earliest practical opportunity. Therefore, funding for 2020 onwards is still to be agreed. In the meantime, we are in regular contact with our stakeholders, including the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association. I can keep the member apprised of the process as it goes on.


Independent Living (Older People)

2. Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that as many older people as possible can continue to live independently in their own homes. (S5O-03824)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government champions independent living for older people in their community. Living in the right home with the right support can be the key to enabling people to live safely and independently at home. Last year, in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, we published our housing strategy for Scotland’s older people, “Age, Home and Community: The Next Phase”, which outlines the actions that we are taking to ensure that older people have the right advice, the right home and the right support at the right time.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

The minister will be aware of the Scottish Government guidance regarding care at home and choice. In many cases, that is simply not a reality. A constituent of mine in Moray who is in his early 70s was placed in a local care home after an injury, pending a care package being put in place to allow him to return home. That was in April and, increasingly, social workers are suggesting that a permanent move to a care home is the only way that care can be provided to him, despite his clear wishes. What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that people such as my constituent who are capable of living independently with support at home can access the care and choice to which they are supposedly entitled?

Christina McKelvie

That is obviously a specific issue that Jamie Halcro Johnston is dealing with in his constituency. We know that, since the integration of health and social care, local authorities have responsibility for this, but I hear what he is saying loud and clear: an issue arises when someone’s need changes and we must be able to develop a programme to meet that need. I will be happy to hear more about this particular case; I know that the member has been in contact with the Government and I am happy to look at the case and see what we can do.

We need to look at how we plan for the future. The strategy that I mentioned in my opening answer gives us an understanding of where we need to go next. We need to make sure that older people’s voices are heard when their needs change and that the Scottish Government designs something that meets those varying needs and is informed by that process. If the member wants to update me on the particulars of the case, I will take it forward to my colleagues in the health and social care portfolio and see what we can do to resolve it.


Support for Older People (Cold Weather)

3. Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what extra support or guidance it provides to older people during periods of cold weather. (S5O-03825)

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

Warmer homes Scotland is the Scottish Government’s national fuel poverty scheme, which was designed to help households living in, or most at risk of, fuel poverty. It provides energy efficiency measures, including insulation and renewable heating systems, to qualifying households. People who are of pension age, have no working heating system and are in receipt of a qualifying benefit can receive assistance. Those over the age of 75 need only be in receipt of a qualifying benefit to access help from the scheme.

Edward Mountain

I have been in communication with care homes across Inverness. Elderly residents are often finding that they are unable to be transferred to hospital by patient transport for appointments or for treatment. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that adequate guidance is given to care homes on the safe transfer of residents to and from medical appointments during the winter to avoid trips and spills, which can often cause more problems? Who will oversee that?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The member’s question might best be raised with one of my colleagues, since it does not sit in my portfolio, but I take his point about the importance of ensuring that anyone, whether within their own home or in a care home, can access appointments as and when they are required. That is obviously to the benefit of them and their continuing care. I will endeavour to ensure that this is passed to the correct minister, who will perhaps write to him with the specific details that he asked for.


Emergency Food Parcels (Fife)

5. Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to recent figures from the Trussell Trust showing that thousands of three-day emergency food parcels have been handed out in Fife this year. (S5O-03827)

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

The Trussell Trust’s “The State of Hunger” report contains further evidence that the UK Government’s welfare cuts are the key driver of food bank use and notes the importance of other support, such as the Scottish welfare fund. We invested more than £1.4 billion in targeted support for low-income households last year alone, including £100 million to mitigate the worst aspects of the UK Government’s welfare cuts. Our £3.5 million fair food fund continues to support community organisations to tackle the causes of food insecurity. We have provided an additional £1 million to FareShare to increase the help that it provides to alleviate the pressures arising from uncertainty around Brexit.

Jenny Gilruth

Does the cabinet secretary agree that increased reliance on food banks, including those in Glenrothes and Levenmouth in my constituency, is the most damning indictment of the UK Government’s approach to society’s most vulnerable people, and that the disastrous roll-out of universal credit needs to be halted and the flaws fixed?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I absolutely agree with the point that Jenny Gilruth raises. As I said in my original answer, the Trussell Trust’s report concludes that the UK Government’s welfare cuts are among the key drivers of the increasing demand that it faces. That is why it is absolutely important that we ensure that universal credit is halted and the fundamental flaws that are in-built in its design are fixed. We pointed to that in the debate on universal credit in the chamber last week, when we said that universal credit is undoubtedly increasing hardship, debt and poverty, not just in Glenrothes and Levenmouth but across Scotland. That is why all welfare powers should be in the hands of the Scottish Parliament and not in the hands of the UK Government.


In-work Poverty

6. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to help families experiencing in-work poverty. (S5O-03828)

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

Our tackling child poverty delivery plan commits £22 million for new parental employment support, with a focus on helping parents in work to progress through their career and increase their earnings.

We are taking steps to promote fair work practices through our work to build a living wage nation, our revised business pledge and our commitment to fair work first. Alongside that, we have widened eligibility for devolved benefits to reach working families, we have committed to introducing the ambitious new Scottish child payment, which is worth £10 per child per week, and we are providing advice to help to maximise incomes through our money talk team.

Pauline McNeill

One of the issues with the Scottish child payment is that families may need to keep reapplying for the benefit because of the chaotic fluctuations caused by universal credit, which I know are not this Government’s fault. Has the cabinet secretary looked at whether some work might be done to militate against the effect of those unintended fluctuations on families? For example, would she consider that a family’s eligibility for payment could last for six months or a year, so that they would not have to reapply each time there was a fluctuation? I think that she knows what I mean by that.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I absolutely take the point that Pauline McNeill raised. The Government is seriously looking at the issue to see what we can do. We are slightly limited in our powers, because of the way that the devolution of benefits works. The Scottish child payment is a top-up to a reserved benefit, so the person must be entitled to that reserved benefit to allow us to pay a top-up to it. However, I take her point that that uncertainty about universal credit from month to month is of great concern, and I do not want the implementation of the Scottish child payment to be impacted by that. We are determined to look at everything that we can do to ensure that it is not, and I am happy to keep Pauline McNeill updated on the issue, because I agree that we must deal with this matter as far as we can within the powers that we have.

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

How has the introduction of universal credit Scottish choices enabled low-income families to manage their money more effectively?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The Scottish Government is committed to using the limited powers that it has to try to make the delivery of universal credit better suited to the needs of those who claim it. Since October 2017, we have been giving people in Scotland the choice to receive their universal credit award either monthly or twice monthly and to have housing costs in their award paid directly to their landlord, in both the private and social rented sector.

More than 119,000 people have taken up one or two of those universal credit Scottish choices. Research by the Resolution Foundation tells us that the majority who made new claims for universal credit were paid either fortnightly or weekly in their previous jobs, which shows why, by introducing twice-monthly payments, we have been helping people on low incomes to better manage their finances. Meanwhile, in the rest of the United Kingdom, universal credit claimants have to wait one month for each payment.

Our decision to include a choice for direct payment of housing costs to landlords has helped to prevent and reduce rent arrears and eviction proceedings, thus helping us to safeguard tenancies where we can.


Scottish Child Payment (North Ayrshire)

7. Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many children and young people in North Ayrshire it expects to receive support from the new Scottish child payment. (S5O-03829)

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

Once the Scottish child payment is fully rolled out, we estimate that around 13,000 children in North Ayrshire could be eligible for it, out of around 410,000 eligible children across Scotland.

The early payments for under-sixes could benefit around 5,400 children in North Ayrshire, out of around 170,000 children across Scotland who are under six.

Kenneth Gibson

I thank the cabinet secretary for that positive answer. Can she further advise the chamber how many children and young people in North Ayrshire it is anticipated will be lifted out of poverty once this important measure is fully rolled out?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Unfortunately, I cannot give Mr Gibson a precise answer on that. Due to the smaller sample sizes involved in local authority-level analysis, it is not possible to model how many children will be lifted out of poverty in one local authority area, but the payment will undoubtedly have significant impacts for families across Scotland, including in Mr Gibson’s constituency.

As I have noted previously, the Scottish child payment will lift 30,000 children across Scotland out of poverty and help to stop those just above that level from falling into poverty. That is especially true of North Ayrshire, where 58 per cent of all children under 16 will benefit from that payment. That is the second highest proportion of any local authority in Scotland.