Nicola Sturgeon announces ‘boldest anti-poverty measure’ in UK

·5-min read
Nicola Sturgeon used her SNP conference speech to announce the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment from April 2021 (Russell Cheyne/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon used her SNP conference speech to announce the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment from April 2021 (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Scotland will introduce the “boldest and most ambitious anti-poverty measure anywhere in the UK” when it doubles payments for low-income families with children from April next year, Nicola Sturgeon has pledged.

The First Minister announced the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment at the same time as she attacked Boris Johnson and his Conservative Government accusing them of “actively eroding” Holyrood’s powers and “trying to force Scottish democracy into reverse”.

This means Scotland faces with a choice between independence or the Tories continuing to attack the Scottish Parliament to “drag it backwards and make it weaker”, she argued.

Having already pledged to hold a second independence referendum before the end of 2023, Ms Sturgeon said next spring – Covid permitting – this campaign will “resume in earnest”.

The Prime Minister has so far refused to countenance Scotland having another vote on its future.

Here the SNP leader was clear: “My message to the Prime Minister is this – if you have any respect at all for democracy – and if you have any confidence whatsoever in your argument against independence – you too will let the people decide.”

Ms Sturgeon spoke out as she delivered the closing speech at the SNP annual conference – held virtually amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

She told her party’s supporters: “Next year, Covid permitting, as we emerge from winter into spring, the campaign to persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation will resume in earnest.”

She pledged: “In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023.”

She added “just as importantly” the SNP would also seek to “set out afresh the positive case for independence”.

She argued leaving the UK would give Scotland the “opportunity to repair the damage of Covid … in a way that aligns with our values and priorities as a nation”.

Throughout her speech the she stressed the importance of fairness and of “building for the future” but claimed the UK Government “too often hinders rather than helps our progress”.

She stated: “I defy anyone to look at the broken, corrupt, self-serving Westminster system that we are currently part of and conclude that it provides a secure basis for the future of Scotland.”

As part of this drive to establish a “more secure basis from which to move a country forward”, she announced from next April the Scottish Child Payment – a benefit unique in the UK to Scotland – will rise from £10 to £20 a week.

Increasing the payments – an SNP election manifesto commitment – will “involve hard choices” elsewhere in the Scottish Budget, Ms Sturgeon conceded.

But she said this was a choice the SNP, together with their junior partners in government in the Scottish Greens, had decided to make.

She said: “This is without doubt the boldest and most ambitious anti-poverty measure anywhere in the UK.”

She stated: “The doubled payments will reach over 100,000 children under the age of six in just four months’ time.

“And when we extend the Scottish Child Payment to all under-16s at the end of next year, over 400,000 children and their families will be eligible.”

Anti-poverty campaigners welcomed the move, with John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, hailing it as a “hugely welcome development on the path to meeting Scotland’s child poverty targets”.

He added: “This is a real lifeline for the families across Scotland who are facing a perfect storm of financial insecurity as the UK cut to universal credit bites, energy prices soar and the wider costs of living rise”.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said doubling the payment would help “loosen the grip of poverty on the lives of thousands of children in Scotland”.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie called for the payment to be upped to £40 a week.

Ms Baillie said: “As it stands, this welcome development will not be enough to ensure we meet the statutory child poverty targets that the Scottish Parliament has passed.”

She also claimed “SNP’s obsession with separation dominated” the speech, saying: “It is deeply disappointing and irresponsible, in the face of a deepening public health crisis, that the focus of the First Minister is once more on sowing division between Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said Scots “will have sighed with dismay – but not disbelief – that Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the serious new Covid strain is to reaffirm her commitment to holding another divisive independence referendum within two years”.

He said: “It’s a disgrace that on the same day as the First Minister is talking about the possibility of introducing new restrictions to combat the Omicron variant, her focus is once again on breaking up the UK.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s speech had almost twice as many references to independence as it did to the health service.”

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