On Wednesday I will set out the Scottish Government’s budget.
The recent decision of the UK Government to cut £1 billion in funding for the carbon capture and storage project in Peterhead is just the latest example of their failure to support our energy industry. Coming off the back of inaction on the North Sea and cuts to onshore wind support, it’s clear that our energy industry is being badly let down by the UK Government.
The SNP is committed to ensuring that everyone in Scotland can afford a quality home – we recognise that this is essential to achieving social justice and to supporting our economy. New figures published this week have shown that when it comes to social housing in particular the Scottish and UK governments are streets apart.
As one of the voices opposed to UK airstrikes in Syria, it is important that I put that on the record from the start.
Today is the International Day of Disabled People, and to mark the occasion Communities Minister Marco Biagi represented the SNP Scottish Government at the first Disabled People’s Summit in Edinburgh.
Just two years ago the Prime Minister urged the House of Commons to bomb the opponents of Daesh in an ill-conceived plan that would have likely strengthened the terrorist organisation. Today, the Prime Minister has returned to the House of Commons with a similarly ill-conceived motion that would see the United Kingdom engage in a bombing campaign in Syria.
Jeremy Hunt finally agreed to go to the Arbitration service ACAS to try and resolve the Junior Doctors dispute and avoid England's first Junior Doctors strike since 1975. With a day to go before the strike was about to start, an outline agreement has finally been reached. However, this is only a temporary reprieve as the British Medical Association (BMA) has until 13 January to start industrial action if the next round of talks does not reach a permanent deal.
The existing inequality facing women today has been further aggravated by the reforms to the social security system by the Conservative Government at Westminster.
Women are twice as likely to rely on income from social security payments as men – and so it has been women who have bore the brunt of the UK Government’s callous cuts for the last five years.
Since 2010, £26 billion has been taken from benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions - 85% of which has been taken from women’s incomes. The cumulative impact of these reforms has had a damaging and disproportionate impact on disabled women, lone parents, carers and those experiencing domestic abuse.
The SNP Government uses the current powers of the Scottish Parliament to help reduce the inequality women face. We have increased childcare to improve outcomes for children, and support more women back into work. All three and four year olds, and the most disadvantaged two year olds are now entitled to 600 hour of early learning and childcare and by the end of the next parliament we will double the available hours per week from 16 to 30.
We have developed the Scottish Welfare Fund and provides Community Care grants to support the most vulnerable through special difficulties. Furthermore, with an investment of £90 million between 2013 and 2016 in Discretionary Housing Payments we are protecting low income families from the impact of the Bedroom Tax.
The SNP welcomes the further devolution of some limited powers over social security to Scotland in order for us to further rectify some of the systematic inequalities that women face. In the first year of the next parliament we will bring forward a Social Security Bill. This will allow us to introduce measures to address weaknesses in Universal Credit, mitigate as far as we can the impact of UK Government welfare cuts and abolish the Bedroom Tax.
However, even after these powers are devolved, too many powers over welfare (as well as 85% of funding) will remain in the hands of the UK Government.
The dramatic u-turn on tax credits by George Osborne in the Spending Review was a welcome surprise.
It was a victory for the 250,000 families in Scotland who would have been hit by the cuts.