It gives me great pleasure to speak in today’s debate. The devolution of welfare powers gives us the chance to shape the kind of society that we want to be, and to restore dignity and respect to the heart of the social security system.
However, we now know that the delay on the SNP’s part has only halted progress and has potentially affected benefit take-up in Scotland. Covid-19 has hit low-income families and the most vulnerable people disproportionately hard, and it has deepened poverty and dragged more families into financial insecurity. Today, half of families who are in poverty have a member who is a disabled person. Even before the pandemic, child poverty rates were high and were projected to rise further.
Over the next decade, Scotland must be bold and willing to use the full levers of power in order to transform, if we are to meet our target on child poverty and live up to our ambitions of being a nation that respects, protects and fulfils human rights, and one in which we can all achieve our potential.
We can start with the Scottish child payment, which has continued to be on the minds of members thanks to the efforts of my friend and colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy. Just over a quarter of children in Scotland live in poverty—260,000 children right now, in 2021. That should shame us all. We talk a lot, but Parliament needs to get seriously ambitious for Scotland’s children. Let us raise the Scottish child payment to £40 a week. Let us ensure that every kid in Scotland has a good quality of life without the people who love them having to worry about where the money is coming from.
Even with full roll-out, the Scottish Government is likely to miss its interim child poverty target by 6 per cent, thereby leaving an extra 50,000 children in poverty. From the end of furlough to the cruel cut to universal credit, thanks to the Tories and the Scottish Government’s delays in rolling out and increasing the Scottish child payment, Scottish families’ incomes have been squeezed when they are already having to deal with the economic shock of the pandemic. We can and must do better.
People who have lifelong conditions look at Parliament and ask how we are going to defend them. For example, people who have multiple sclerosis are looking for hope. The MS Society, Labour and many other organisations are all calling for removal of the 20m rule from the proposed adult disability payment assessment. The Scottish Government is replacing the personal independence payment with the ADP and has, for the new benefit, retained the PIP eligibility criteria, including the 20m rule, in its assessment criteria. In 2021, a Citizens Advice Scotland survey found that a majority of advisors working to help people with disabilities to navigate the social security system agreed that the distance should be extended to 50m.
Fatigue, both physical and mental, is one of the most debilitating symptoms of MS and other neurological conditions, and the rule does not consider the severity of the fatigue that many people experience after walking 20m. I would therefore be grateful if the Government could respond to the concerns that have been raised by people who have MS. Is the Government prepared to change the eligibility criteria? Those who claim the disability payment deserve dignity and respect.
The social security system that is shaped in Parliament must ensure that no one is held back by poverty and inequality. Scottish Labour would use the powers that we have in Scotland to make sure that people have the support that they need in order to participate fully in society. The social security system that Labour would build would secure the wellbeing and human rights of everyone, and it would seek to guarantee a minimum income standard that no one would fall below. Having a strong and adequate automated SSS would lead to a higher level of uptake. Scottish Labour would build a social security system based on the principles of adequacy, respect and simplicity.
Those are the principles that will guide me as we come together to shape our social security system for Scotland and ensure that it works for all.