A look back over the year…
Last year, the Scottish Government put in place some world-leading actions to break down the barriers that cause poverty and inequality.
When I joined the Cabinet last June I was able to build on the significant legacy left by my predecessor Angela Constance. Following the passing of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act in late 2017, Scottish Government officials worked flat out to produce Every Child, Every Chance: The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in March. This involved teams from policy areas right across the government and the first progress report will be published this summer.
In April, the Fairer Scotland Duty came into force. This new duty – a UK first – places a legal responsibility on public bodies in Scotland to actively consider what more they can do to reduce inequalities, whenever they take the big decisions that affect all of us.
May saw the first fruits from Every Child, Every Change, with the announcement of a new £100 minimum School Clothing Grant in Scotland.
In August, we became the first Government in the world to make free sanitary products available to all 395,000 pupils and students in schools, colleges and universities from the start of the academic year, thanks to a new £5.2 million fund.
In September, we made a £1 million investment in the Affordable Credit Fund, a joint venture with Carnegie UK Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to boost the affordable credit sector. This will enable not-for-profit lenders, such as credit unions, to provide access to mid-cost credit to low income families. You may have spotted our campaign posters and adverts encouraging people to use credit unions. We also managed to add a bit of a-list stardom to the campaign by securing support from Hollywood actor Michael Sheen.
Also in September we delivered on our commitment to monitor food insecurity by publishing the first data set in the Scottish Health Survey Report. Scotland is the only country in the UK to routinely monitor food insecurity using the UN’s recommended measure, and we’re continuing to challenge the causes of it.
We rolled out the Financial Health Check in November for low income families and older people. A key part of Every Child, Every Chance, the FHC offers personalised advice to ensure people can maximise their incomes and avoid paying the ‘poverty premium’ where the least well-off pay more for basic services. The FHC is delivered by Citizens Advice Scotland and the nationwide network of Citizens Advice Bureaux. It will cover things like benefit take up, debt advice, access to free school meals, school clothing grants and cheaper deals on energy and other utilities to reduce household costs. We will invest £3.3 million in this service over the next two years and it is expected to help at least 15,000 households in Scotland each year. A campaign will begin this month to make sure that everyone who is entitled to help from the service is aware of the benefits it can offer.
November also saw a 12 day visit to the UK from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston. The report on his interim findings highlighted many of the negative impacts of the UK Government’s welfare reform programme, but had positive things to say about our approach in Scotland.
In December, we published a second update report of the Fairer Scotland Action Plan. This demonstrated the wide range of progress being made across the government on the Fairer Scotland agenda. One great example is how we’re supporting new ‘Poverty Truth Commission’ type bodies in Dundee, North Ayrshire and Shetland, being led by people with lived experience of poverty, to influence policy makers and deliver real change. We’ve also provided Edinburgh with funding for its new Poverty Commission.
December also saw the first Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby payments for low income families, which helps cover some of the costs of having children, like needing a pram or buying clothes for your baby.
These are all actions that will make – and are making – a real difference to the lives of people across the country. A tremendous amount of work has gone into making these happen and I’d like to thank the teams within the Scottish Government, as well as our stakeholders, as without their hard work none of this would have been possible.
New year is a time to reflect on the past year and what we would like to achieve in the year ahead. We must now build on this to make sure that in 2019 we can make even more progress for Scotland to become the fairer, more prosperous country I know it can be.