Humza Yousaf set his sights on tackling the “scourge of poverty” as he revealed the Scottish Government’s priorities for the coming year.
In a wide ranging speech, the Scottish First Minister promised a consultation on banning the sale of single use vapes, as well as more help for those who suffer the “loss and trauma” of miscarriage.
There was also a commitment of funding so staff working in both childcare and social care will receive a minimum of £12 an hour from April next year.
Much of his speech, made the day that Holyrood returned after its summer recess, was focused on efforts to tackle poverty, as Mr Yousaf insisted his Government would “maximise every lever at our disposal to tackle the scourge of poverty in our country”.
Mr Yousaf told MSPs: “Tackling poverty is deeply personal to me. Growing up in the Islamic faith, I was always taught that you are not a true Muslim if you have a full stomach while your neighbour goes to bed hungry.”
And while he accepted tackling the problem “isn’t straightforward”, particularly in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, he was clear it was “absolutely essential”.
Mr Yousaf pledged more than £400 million would be invested in the Scottish Child Payment – a benefit paid out to low income families north of the border.
But there was no commitment to increasing the payment from its current level of £25 a week per child, as campaigners such as the Child Poverty Action Group have been calling for.
Mr Yousaf did, however, call on the UK Government to establish an “essentials guarantee”, in a bid to ensure that those on Universal Credit always receive enough cash to cover basic needs, such as food, energy and transport.
And while the Scottish First Minister said his Government would work with councils to roll out free school meals to all children in P6 and P7, the Programme for Government document revealed this will not happen till 2026.
However, he did promise to remove the income threshold for the Best Start Foods programme, which provides some pregnant women and families with prepaid cards that they can use to buy healthy foods, such as fruit and milk.
This change will benefit about 20,000 mothers-to-be and children, Mr Yousaf said.
Childcare provision will be expanded to increase access for more families across Scotland. Ahead of the Programme for Government – which will focus on reducing poverty and supporting families – First Minister @HumzaYousaf visited Rowantree Primary Early Years Centre in Dundee. pic.twitter.com/74qzej9V9p
— First Minister (@ScotGovFM) September 5, 2023
He also promised to “accelerate” the expansion of free childcare, saying that the Scottish Government would provide funding to six “early adopter” council areas, so they can provide childcare for youngsters from nine months of age through to the end of primary school.
With about a quarter of all two-year-olds already benefiting from 1,140 free hours of childcare a year, Mr Yousaf vowed to speed up the rollout of this policy to all two-year-olds.
To help with childcare provision, the Scottish Government wants to see 1,000 more childminders by the next Holyrood elections in 2026.
Cash will also be given so that private, voluntary and independent nurseries providing funded childcare can pay their staff a minimum of £12 an hour from April 2024.
Mr Yousaf described the provision of childcare as being “a perfect example of a policy that is both anti-poverty and pro-growth”, insisting he was “proud that Scotland has the most generous childcare offer in the UK”.
First Minister @HumzaYousaf’s first Programme for Government will be published this week.
It will outline plans to reduce poverty, deliver economic growth, tackle climate change, and provide high-quality public services.
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) September 3, 2023
He also promised the Scottish Government would provide funding to boost pay for social care staff working in direct caring roles, so that they can be paid at least £12 an hour – with the First Minister saying this could see some workers receive a rise of up to £2,000 a year from April.
He pledged a Housing Bill will be introduced at Holyrood to “introduce long term rent controls and new tenants rights”.
The Scottish Government will also provide £25 million to help provide homes for key workers in rural areas, with £60 million to be spent on acquiring empty properties which will be used for affordable housing.
Second home owners, meanwhile, face the prospect of higher council tax charges, with Mr Yousaf saying local authorities would be allowed to “apply a premium on council tax rates” for such properties.
Speaking about the “multiple miscarriages” he and his wife Nadia have suffered, he said there was “no doubt” that more could be done in support, as he promised improved care, including saying that women would “not have to wait until a third miscarriage to receive tailored support”.
And on vapes he said the Scottish Government would “consult on curbing the sale of disposable vapes, including consulting on an outright ban”.
The consultation comes as Mr Yousaf pledged: “In the next year, we will take action to reduce vaping and particularly amongst children.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said he had previously urged the First Minister to “be his own man”, adding: “Yet what we’ve heard today is very much the same as before.
“Far from the bold programme for Scotland we were promised, we’re getting the same tinkering around the edges on our public services – consultations and trials rather than promises and delivery, extreme Green policies that will devastate our economy and rural communities, and of course, very predictably, the overwhelming focus on the SNP’s obsession with independence.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the Government has “lost its way, has no clear direction, no sense of purpose and no central mission”.
He added: “It is just another tired and rehashed programme from a party that has clearly run out of ideas.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Many people across Scotland are still struggling to make ends meet – it is baffling, then, that the SNP/Green administration seems determined to make things harder.”