Nicola Sturgeon on poverty
Our third poverty Q&A is with First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon
As a politician, how does it make you feel passing a person begging on the street?
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister and SNP leader: Immensely sad, as no one should have ever to beg on the street, but also determined to do more to make sure people have the support they need.
What’s more important - tackling poverty, tackling inequality or mitigating the impact of poverty?
It’s crucial that we do all of these things, but what we really want to do is change deep-seated, multi-generational deprivation, poverty and inequality.
We have a proven record of taking action to protect people on low incomes - through our commitment to universal services, establishing the Scottish Welfare Fund and ensuring no one in Scotland is impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’. But we need full powers and resources to lift people out poverty, not just mitigate continually to a standing start.
In our Fairer Scotland Action Plan, we pledged to increase early learning and childcare provision, introduce a new Best Start Grant for low-income families in the early years, and tackle the poverty premium – all of which will help deliver our ambition to eradicate child poverty.
Can the Child Poverty Bill’s aims happen without taxing people more?
Poverty and inequality exist in all countries and there’s no magic bullet. But we know reducing child poverty needs a comprehensive, long-term, pan-Scotland effort. That’s why we’ll develop detailed delivery plans, aligned to parliamentary terms, as we work towards 2030. But we are fully committed as a government to taking whatever action is needed.
Are targets really a useful way to tackle poverty?
We all know that legislation won’t solve child poverty on its own. But there are a number of reasons why I think it is appropriate to include targets in a Child Poverty Bill. The proposed targets are a clear, public statement about our ambition and the direction of travel we want to take. Statutory targets are a useful tool to galvanise action and to drive the sort of cross-government action that will be necessary to tackle child poverty. The targets, and the delivery plans and associated annual reporting, will allow the public to hold the Scottish Government to account for their progress towards eradicating child poverty.
Do the proposed targets for levels of child poverty represent an acceptable number of children in poverty?
No child should grow up in poverty in a country as prosperous as Scotland. At the moment, one in five children live in poverty in Scotland. That’s completely unacceptable, and of course, our ultimate aim is to eradicate child poverty and we’ll strive to deliver that. However, we know that the UK Government’s programme of austerity and the economic uncertainty caused by the EU referendum result make this an increasingly difficult challenge. The targets we are proposing strike a balance between being sufficiently stretching and ambitious, but realistic enough that all parties can sign up to playing a part in achieving them.
What is the best method for defining child poverty?
I believe that income is central to the definition of poverty. That’s why we fundamentally disagreed with the UK Government’s decision to repeal the income-based child poverty targets last year.
How should Scotland’s new powers over social security be used?
During our recent consultation, it was obvious that people in Scotland want a social security system that treats them better. It was harrowing, at times, to hear how people felt alienated by the current system. People realise that we all have a stake in this, we all contribute to society in different ways - in return, it’s only fair that the Government should provide support and care when it’s needed. We have always been clear that we will establish a system that treats people with dignity, respect and fairness and have a Scottish social security agency delivering devolved benefits by the end of this parliamentary term.
How can childcare expansion avoid pushing more women into low-paid jobs and having a negative impact on attachment and attainment?
Parents are the primary influence in a child’s life and a high quality home learning environment is important for all children. Our expansion of childcare will support parents to enrich the home learning environment by integrating early learning and childcare (ELC) with the range of existing family support.
The expansion will also provide more opportunities for parents, if they wish, to move into employment, increase their hours of work or to study. The Scottish Government is committed to promoting fair work practices and we are considering how payment of the living wage can be encouraged across sectors.
Despite best efforts, insecure and poorly paid jobs are commonplace. Is it time to get tougher with employers?
The Scottish Government is committed to creating a culture of fair work and we are working closely with the Fair Work Convention to drive change.
Our ambitions for fair work are based on the growing body of evidence that if people feel valued, rewarded and engaged in their work, then this will foster more innovation in workplaces and drive productivity. Our approach is to persuade and influence, where we cannot legislate, and we have already made great progress using the levers which we have.
For example, through public procurement we have published statutory guidance addressing fair work practices, while the number of Scots-based Accredited Living Wage Employers has now risen to more than 680, with a target of increasing this to 1000 by autumn 2017.
Given most people can’t afford a house at 80 per cent of market price, isn’t it time to redefine ‘affordable housing’?
The most recent figures show Scottish house prices continue to be more affordable and are rising more slowly than housing in the rest of the UK.
House prices can, of course, be expensive for a lot of people, so we’re committed to increasing the housing supply and delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes, backed by over £3 billion investment, during the lifetime of this Parliament.
We are also helping first-time buyers through the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax - rates prioritise support for first-time buyers and those buying properties at the lower end of the market. In 2015/16, over 93 per cent who bought a house for £40,000 or more either paid less tax compared to UK Stamp Duty Land Tax or paid no tax at all.
Is Christmas becoming too expensive?
For as long as I can remember, people have always said Christmas is becoming too commercial and too expensive. I doubt that feeling will change any time soon, but maybe the sentiment makes more of us realise that what matters is not how much we spend at Christmas but how we spend Christmas with one another.
Black Friday. What’s all that about?
Love it or hate it, it looks like Black Friday is here to stay. Whatever happened to the January sales?
What film do you always watch at Christmas and why?
I’ve always preferred books to films, but since I was wee I have always loved the Wizard of Oz.
What’s your new year’s resolution?
To read more good books.
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The final chapter of our poverty-related Q&A with the party leaders is with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson