It has been a time of firsts for me in my ministerial role, with last week seeing my first speech as a minister as I closed the debate on the UK Government’s so-called Illegal Migration Bill. The Parliament overwhelmingly rejected the aims of this legislation and the harm it seeks to cause to the most marginalised people.
Scotland is an open and welcoming country, in total contrast to the hostile environment that characterises the UK Government’s approach through its immigration and asylum systems. I am proud that Scotland has become home to people from all over the world seeking safety, and I know that Orkney has been able to play its part in welcoming refugees from Syria and more recently Ukraine. I want to make clear to anyone who has sought refuge in Scotland that, regardless of where they are from or how they got here, they are welcome here.
And, this Tuesday, I led my first debate as Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, on the topic of tackling social isolation and loneliness.
There is increasing recognition of social isolation and loneliness as major public health issues that can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being.
That is why the £3.8 million Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund aims to reduce inequality by bringing people from communities across Scotland together.
The Tory cost-of-living crisis means the poorest and most marginalised in our society are more likely to experience poorer mental and physical well-being, lower life satisfaction, and feelings of loneliness.
It is only with the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation that I and my fellow Scottish Ministers can use all levers other governments have to tackle this public health emergency.
Meanwhile, it is a little over a month since Humza Yousaf became First Minister, and he has already delivered in many key areas, from fuel poverty to support for families and local housing.
In a country as energy-rich as Scotland, it is unacceptable that we see as much fuel poverty as we do, that’s why we’re working flat out to tackle fuel poverty, which is particularly high in off-gas communities such as Orkney. This includes tripling support for people struggling with energy bills – by going beyond the SNP Scottish Government’s commitment to double the Fuel Insecurity Fund and increasing it to £30 million.
The announcement of extra funding of £15 million to expand school-age childcare means thousands more low-income families will benefit from free school-age childcare.
The extra cash will fund more after-school activities and holiday clubs, with new services being set up in communities across Scotland.
Our local authorities, including Orkney Islands Council, will be supported by the Scottish Government to acquire or lease properties which can be used to provide homes for those working in the public sector and emergency services.
And councils, including Orkney Islands Council, have been empowered to raise council tax on empty and second homes – prioritising homes for living in.
This is a regular column by local MSP Emma Roddick, SNP. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their own views.