June 24, 2019 Blog

Leonard: Income supplement must be introduced sooner

Richard Leonard MSP

Every week in my surgeries and in my inbox I hear from people struggling to make ends meet in communities across Scotland.

People who have lost out due to the Tories’ botched roll-out of Universal Credit. People who are stuck on zero-hours contracts unable to get enough work to feed their family. People who need help.

Following further devolution from Westminster to Scotland in recent years, Holyrood has the power to help many of these people.

I have said that a Scottish Labour Government that I lead would use those powers to top-up existing child benefit by £260 per year, and we called for this measure in last year’s Scottish Budget.

The SNP Government has said that it will being forward some form of ‘income supplement’, and while details remain limited about how this will be delivered and to whom, it is nonetheless a welcome commitment.

Less welcome however is that the SNP government plan to delay bringing in this much needed support until at least 2022.

Children queuing with their parents at food banks cannot wait three years for help. They need it now.

I put that to Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions recently and highlighted that it is not just Scottish Labour demanding urgent action. The Scottish government’s own poverty commission has called on the SNP not to delay introducing the income supplement.

That call has been echoed by leading charities and think tanks such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the IPPR.

Waiting another three years is not a viable option.

Child poverty is on the rise.  Foodbank use in Scotland is at record levels.

The cost of not moving swiftly will be heavy. Not only will children be robbed of a proper childhood because of the circumstances into which they are born, we know that poverty causes long-lasting harms that the government will spend further money addressing such as the attainment gap and health problems.

On Thursday, the SNP’s finance secretary Derek Mackay admitted his government had banked almost half a billion pounds in unspent money.

That’s money that should be in pockets of the poorest people in our country, not in the SNP government’s pocket.

It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to put her money where her mouth is on tackling poverty and inequality.

Delaying the introduction of the income supplement to 2022 will condemn children into poverty for years to come.

Next week the Scottish Government will deliver a statement in parliament on its future plans with this regard.  It is an opportunity for them to do the right thing and commit to increasing incomes to tackle child poverty in this parliament.

If Nicola Sturgeon ensures her government do that she will have the support of Scottish Labour.