We’re only a month into this new – and pretty dismal – Tory government, yet already, every day, new evidence emerges of the impact of its policies on the lives of families and children.
Last week, a survey from the EIS reported more teachers providing food and money for school uniforms – and that more children were being impacted by poverty. A report from Citizens Advice Scotland called for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused to fix the flaws that mean that many people claiming the benefit can go without money for up to six weeks, resulting in rent arrears and more people applying for crisis grants.
And data from the UK government itself makes plain who is bearing the pain caused by its benefit cap – a policy declared unlawful by the High Court in England. Almost half of the 88,000 households caught by the lower level of the cap have children under five, with 20,000 of them lone parents with children under 2.
These are the inevitable consequences of a right-wing Tory government which persists with austerity measures as a matter of political choice rather than economic necessity. Sometimes it feels like the only policies that they are certain about are the ones that hurt ordinary people hardest. On everything else, they are clueless.
The Tories are all over the place on crucial issues like Tuition Fees, public sector pay and of course, Brexit.
Yet, from the conversations that I have with individuals, businesses and organisations every day as First Minister, what people crave now is clarity and an end to austerity.
My government is committed to doing all we can, with the powers and resources we have available to us, to provide as much stability and security as possible – for everyone in Scotland.
That is why we will maintain Free Tuition for every Scot going to university here – we will not saddle our young people with average loan debt of £32,000 as recent figures show that average debt in England now is.
We will not prevaricate on public sector pay. We have already said that we will lift the 1 per cent cap on public sector pay next year to help our essential workers in the NHS, police, fire and education meet rising costs in living.
And we will continue to mitigate the impact of poverty on children, who bear the brunt of Tory welfare cuts and austerity measures more than most.
Our new Child Poverty Bill will see Scotland become the only part of the UK with statutory targets to help reduce the number of children affected by poverty. And last week, we set up a new independent Commission on Poverty and Equality to both challenge government and hold us accountable for what we must do to tackle poverty in our society.
Supporting our economy to grow and providing more job opportunities are key to this.
Figures released last week show that Scotland’s economy has grown by 0.8 per cent since the start of the year – four times more than the growth rate for the UK as a whole. With economic output now 6 per cent above the pre-recession level and unemployment now at its lowest level on record, we have strong economic foundations upon which to build prosperity and fairness.
More good news came in the form of statistics showing that Scotland’s graduates are outperforming those from elsewhere in the UK when it comes to getting a job or going onto further study. That’s especially welcome for a city like Glasgow with three excellent universities.
What I am focused on now is making sure that everyone benefits from our economic growth.
That’s why we’ve just launched a campaign to encourage more small and medium sized businesses to employ disabled people, and expanded an internship scheme for disabled people to create new avenues of work experience. And through actions like increasing the number of foundation apprenticeships for young people to 5000 and creating an extra 2,600 nursing and midwifery training places, we are giving more people more chances and choices to succeed in life and make their contribution to our collective economic well-being.
My government has a bold, ambitious vision for Scotland to be a fairer, more prosperous, outward looking country. But that future won’t happen by itself – and it certainly won’t happen if we sit back and wait for the UK Government to act.
Their policies mean hundreds of thousands of Scottish children growing up in poverty. Their choice of a hard Brexit outside the EU single market threatens jobs and businesses all across Scotland. That’s not the future I want for any of us.
So my priority is getting on with the job of governing in the best interests of everyone in Scotland. In the coming months, I will refresh our approach in government, and put forward creative, bold and radical policies, which using the current powers available to us, will help to realise our vision. A vision that involves us building the best future for everyone.
This article originally appeared in the Evening Times.