Covid-19 has highlighted and entrenched inequalities within our society, so it is vital that the next Scottish Parliament is completely focused on recovery. Fully reopening our economy and getting people back to work is the first thing we need to do to tackle poverty.
Next, we must address all the drivers of poverty and ensure a strong social security system is in place for people who need it. I want to ensure we rebuild a Scotland that supports those in financial crisis and breaks the cycle of poverty. To do this, we need to use all the policy levers at our disposal.
Work is the best route out of poverty, so we believe achieving full employment should be the number one priority of the next Scottish Parliament. A strong economic recovery is required to deliver this.
Beyond the economy, the Scottish Conservatives have set out a range of policy proposals to reduce inequalities from the earliest stage – supporting young mothers, improving access to early years education, tackling the attainment gap, providing free school breakfasts and lunches to all primary age pupils, and funding after school activities for children in Primary 1-3. We are also focused on improving public health and supporting the most vulnerable with a new approach to disability employment and better recognition of veterans.
In addition, we have put forward proposals to end the housing crisis in Scotland, including ending rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament by expanding the Housing First programme across the country. Our housebuilding pledge would deliver the biggest social housing drive in the history of devolution – supporting families into safe and affordable homes.
Scotland must also have a robust safety net for people who need to access the welfare system. The Scotland Act 2016 devolved substantial welfare powers, including control over benefits worth £3.6 billion, to the Scottish Parliament. On the current trajectory, it will take the SNP Government nearly a decade to accept the full transfer of devolved benefits and the costs of setting up their new social security agency have already doubled to £651 million – money being used for administration instead of helping claimants.
I was pleased that the UK Government listened to our calls to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. The Scottish Conservative approach to our social security system will build on this by targeting the use of our devolved powers to help specific groups within our society. We will deliver a distinctive ‘Scottish approach’ to social security underpinned by the broad shoulders of the UK welfare state. This, coupled with our ambitious programme for Scotland’s economic recovery, will reduce poverty.
But the Scottish Parliament cannot focus on this vital agenda if it is distracted by constitutional wrangling. That’s why we must stop an SNP majority pushing for a second independence referendum to enable the Scottish Parliament to be focussed on rebuilding Scotland.