Eradicating child poverty in Scotland my top priority as First Minister

Since becoming Scotland’s First Minister, I have been clear that I want to work constructively and collaboratively with other parties.  We have to unite as a Parliament in the national interest.

Unity is important for its own sake – our democracy is always best served when parties can work together and compromise.  But unity behind a clear purpose is even more powerful.

Each of the parties represented in the Scottish Parliament have different values and different priorities – that is the essence of democracy.  Unanimity is always hard to come by in politics and we will never agree on everything.

But one area where I hope everyone across the political spectrum can come together and work to the same goal is on making sure that no child in Scotland has to live in poverty.

That is why I have made the mission to eradicate child poverty in Scotland my top priority as First Minister.

And I use that term deliberately.  I do not just want to reduce child poverty, I want to see it ended completely.  There can be no acceptable number of children living in poverty – one is too many.  Indeed, every child living in poverty is a national tragedy.

I am under no illusions that eradicating child poverty will be an easy task.  It will not be.

We are facing a cost of living crisis as a result of Brexit and the UK Government’s mismanagement of the economy, which is making it much harder for many families to make ends meet.

Cruel Tory policies are causing misery for so many families across Scotland, while UK Government austerity is continuing to tie one hand behind Scotland’s back and preventing us from investing as much as we would like in vital public services and anti-poverty measures.

But while I will continue to argue for these powers to be in Scotland’s hands through the full powers of independence, I am clear that this will not stop my government from taking all the action we can towards our goal now.

Already, we are making good progress.  It is estimated that as a result of Scottish Government policies, including the Scottish Child Payment, 100,000 children will be kept out of poverty in Scotland.

My commitment is to leave no stone unturned across government as we seek to build on this progress and finally eradicate child poverty.

And it is important that this effort is genuinely cross-government.  Because poverty impacts every single aspect of a child’s life.  It impacts health outcomes, educational attainment, their likelihood to interact with the justice system and much more.  That is why every part of government must play its part.

Eradicating child poverty is not just a moral duty – it’s also an economic necessity.  Simply put, Scotland will never be able to meet our long-term economic potential, unless every single child in Scotland is able to meet their full potential.

That is what I will devote every fibre of my being to during my time as First Minister – and I ask each and every party in the Scottish Parliament to commit to working with me in this great, national mission.

I am aware that, for now, this will also require joint-working with the UK Government, given where substantial powers over the economy and social security still sit.

I spoke with the Prime Minister earlier this week and told him that I stand ready to work constructively with him in an effort to deliver for the people of Scotland.

In particular, I made clear that the mission to eradicate child poverty requires an end to policies like the two child limit and the reprehensible rape clause.

And while I will make every effort to convince him, after 14 years of these policies from the UK Government, I am not holding my breath for a change in approach.

The reality of course is that a change in UK Government at the next General Election is overwhelmingly likely, and the onus for this will fall on Keir Starmer, who will almost certainly be the new Prime Minister.

He has so far committed to continuing with some of the worst examples of Tory policies – including the rape clause and the benefit cap.  But given the misery these policies are causing families it is vital that he changes course.

I will commit to having a good faith dialogue with Sir Keir on why we need to change these policies if we are to make the swiftest possible progress in eradicating child poverty – but it will also require sustained pressure from people and civic organisations in Scotland to make clear the strength of feeling across the country.

Because the fight to eradicate child poverty is one which I truly believe has the capacity to unite Scotland.  As First Minister, I will work across Parliament, across governments and across the country to make progress.  I will listen to and consider any ideas offered in good faith, no matter where they come from and I will ensure that the full force of the Scottish Government is brought to bear in this effort.

Eradicating child poverty is a moral imperative and an economic necessity.  By working together across Scotland, we can make it happen.

This article was originally published in the Daily Record, 11th May.