Emma Roddick on the Scottish Government’s ‘progressive policy agenda’

Emma Roddick standing in Tankerness House Gardens

When Humza Yousaf became First Minister, I very much welcomed the pledge that his new Government would pursue a progressive policy agenda with an immediate priority to protect every Scot – as far as possible – from the harm inflicted by the cost-of-living crisis.

This has included the tripling of the Fuel Insecurity Fund to £30 million, which has already been helping Orkney households with their energy usage amid continued unsustainably high electricity prices. We are also now seeing the impact of the Scottish Child Payment being increased to £25 per week and extended to children and young people up to the age of 16.

With the first-ever payments for this benefit, which is unique to Scotland, having been made in February 2021, over £320,000 of payments have been made to families with children and young people in Orkney since its introduction.

It has been described as a game changer by charities, and evidence of the changes it is making are now appearing and being noted by some of these organisations that deliver vital support to many families across the country.

While no one can be complacent about the level of child poverty in this country, which currently sits at 24% – it is 20.1% in Orkney – the overall UK figure is 29%. As the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland recently stated, while Scotland remains on course to meet the interim target for child poverty of 18% by 2023-24, the figure in the UK as a whole is projected to climb to 32% by 2026-27. Scotland is mitigating some of the worst effects of damaging UK Tory government policies.

And just last week the Trussell Trust’s head in Scotland Polly Jones credited the Scottish Child Payment for having made an impact in reducing the need for food banks for families with children, saying ‘We know that when the Scottish Government does things differently, it makes a real difference’.

Her comments came as figures showed that there was a 17% increase in the number of food parcels provided for children in Scotland from November 2022 to March 2023 compared to a 42% increase in England, suggesting that the extension in the eligibility for the Scottish Child Payment from age 6 to 16, and the increase to £25 a week, has made an impact.

This is very heartening, although there is obviously much work still to do in the face of rocketing food costs and continued cost-of-living pressures for so many Scottish households.

And that is where the Scottish Government’s ambition for a Scotland without the need for food banks will play a vital part. I was pleased last week to see the launch of ‘Cash First’, a new report by the Scottish Government outlining the actions we will take in the remainder of this parliament to boost incomes, protect households against hardship and end the need for foodbanks in Scotland.

However, while we will do our best with this approach, the conclusion has to be that Scotland could do so much better if we had all the economic levers under our control, and not being forced to mitigate damaging UK Tory policies.

This is a regular column by SNP MSP Emma Roddick. All Highlands and Islands Regional MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their views.

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