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23 June 2014
Russell makes tackling poverty number one priority

Russell makes tackling poverty number one priority

Tackling inequality is the Government’s “number one priority” but its efforts are being hampered by a lack of powers, according to Education Secretary Mike Russell.

However, Russell refused to commit a post-independent SNP Government to increasing taxation in order to fund the measures needed.

He said: “That is the logical step you should not make. The logical step is to say nobody wants to live in an independent Scotland, or any other Scotland, where poverty is stopping people from achieving their best. How you do that requires full fiscal powers because John Swinney and I need to work together with the cabinet on the relative priorities, and we can’t do that at the moment. What we can do is say, there is a lump of money, it is going to be cut this way into existing sets of expenditure which can’t be altered so we don’t have the flexibility we need.”

Russell spoke to Holyrood following the launch of a joint report by Save the Children and Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People showing how inequality and the costs of school materials can create barriers to learning.

He said: “The point I made was very clear – there are limits to devolution. There are some things we can’t do. We can’t do tax, welfare or labour market regulation. But the other thing is that if you wanted to say ‘let’s have a national crusade on this’, like a childcare policy paid for by increased taxation, you couldn’t do it that way, you would have to recognise that that national crusade would cost us from elsewhere.”

The study catalogues the views of nearly 1,000 pupils, with 88 per cent agreeing that education is essential to a person’s success.

But although children value education, they feel that the costs of materials such as textbooks, school uniforms and school trips can create barriers for those from low-income backgrounds. Web-based homework also creates problems for those who do not have access to the internet at home.

Speaking at the event, Tanya Mafohla, one of the young people who helped carry out the research, said: “Feedback from the report shows that school uniform does not create equality if some people cannot afford to buy it.”

Neil Mathers, Save the Children’s Head of Scotland, said: “Scotland’s education system needs to ensure the poorest pupils aren’t penalised and, instead, are given every opportunity to fulfil their potential. If we don’t take further steps to reduce the impact of poverty on children’s learning, we will continue to fail some of our most vulnerable young people and limit their opportunities.”

Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, said: “There is very little research that tells us what young people themselves think and know about growing up in families living on low incomes and this report aims to plug that gap by setting out the views and voices of young people on how poverty can impact on education, both in and out of school.”

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