Cross party anti-poverty summit: First Minister’s opening remarks – 3 May 2023

Opening remarks given by First Minister Humza Yousaf at a cross party anti-poverty summit in Edinburgh on Wednesday 3 May 2023.

Good morning to you all.

I’m genuinely delighted that you have made the time - you have taken time out of your busy schedules - to come here to exchange ideas, and that is what is most important here; is that we in the government and indeed I am certain I can speak for colleagues from other political parties too - that we are here to of course exchange ideas with you but to listen.

Particularly to those with lived experience of poverty, and I’m delighted that those with lived experience are sharing that experience with us and with me in particular this morning.

So we are here absolutely to listen, but I made really clear in my very first speech as First Minister to the Scottish Parliament that substantially shifting the dial on poverty - and child poverty in particular - will be not only a defining mission of this Parliament, this government, but we have to absolutely ensure that we are making that change, that we are shifting that dial, because the rates of poverty and child poverty in this country are still far too high and I think all of us would accept that they are at unacceptable levels. The importance of that mission brought into sharp focus in recent months, in recent weeks, even in recent days - just news in the last 24 hours of course of food prices increasing by over 15% - the highest annual increase on record.

So I’m determined that the government I lead will do absolutely everything in its powers - in its limited powers, but we should be pushed to go further with those powers, in order to, as I keep saying, substantially shift that dial on child poverty in particular.

The public finances are under strain, I think everybody would accept that and I’m not going to stray into the politics of all that. I think everybody understands the reasons why those public finances are stretched and strained. But you as anti-poverty campaigners, those who have lived experience in relation to poverty, have every single right to put me and the government that I lead under really intense scrutiny and pressure to say what more can you do with the powers that you have.

And while we have taken absolutely important steps to address poverty, there is a recognition by me - and certainly all of us within government - that we can and should go further. The measures we have taken of course include for example those statutory targets on child poverty - we of course introduced the most progressive taxation system anywhere in the UK, so those that earn the most pay the most and we will reinvest that money into anti-poverty measures. We’ve introduced progressive changes in relation to our social security system, a system that is based on fairness, on dignity, on compassion, on respect. And of course we know that those in Scotland who take the five family payments, they are better off - they’ll be worth around £10,000 to each eligible child by the time they turn six - that is in comparison to £2,000 in England.

Now that is making a difference. But, as I keep saying, we must go further. And that is why we must look at taxation - what more can we do in relation to taxation within the powers that we have? And there have been some excellent ideas and suggestions from civic Scotland on how we might do more in that regard, and I give you an absolute promise that I am looking at that as First Minister of the government I lead; at exploring what more we can do. Of course we can’t make changes to taxation within year, but what can we do in relation to the next budget.

We must look at being targeted in terms of our investment, and we have demonstrations of that, examples of that – for example, the Scottish Child Payment, that game-changing Scottish Child Payment is an example of that targeting. And then there’s the, I suppose, third T, which is those tough decisions that absolutely have to be made. I could not have envisaged, when I stood for election in 2021, what would transpire in relation to, for example, the mini-budget that took place last year, and the impact of that. I could not have seen what would have happened in relation to some of the other global factors, and as I say, sky-high – rocketing – inflation.

So we must look to see what we can do – taxation, targeted investment, and those really tough decisions. So, although government of course needs to take a lead, and we must do that, I want to make sure that we are a government that is listening to civic Scotland. We won’t always agree – there will be points of disagreement. You will rightly push us to keep going further, that is absolutely your prerogative to do so – but I promised that when I was First Minister - the government that I lead, we will be a government that listens to those who have ideas. And that’s why I’m also pleased I’m joined by those from across the political spectrum – Douglas Ross, leader of the Conservative Party; Anas Sarwar, who is leader of the Scottish Labour Party; Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats; and Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens; as well as a number of my fellow Cabinet colleagues from government.

So I will end by, well, actually, where I started – which is, it is so important for a government to make sure that we are co-designing our policy with those with lived experience. That goes right across the board, but particularly when it comes to tackling poverty. While I will stand proudly on the track record that we do have in relation to tackling poverty, it is an absolute admission, in fact, that we must go further as a government. We have to go further, and therefore we have to use the devolved powers we have to the absolute maximum effect.

So the point of gathering you of course is to listen to that range of perspectives. I will be on the tables myself to be able to hear from you directly, we’ll get some of that feedback that every single table has that note taker, and those notes will be fed to me directly, let alone to the rest of my government colleagues as well.

So can I thank you again for coming, can I promise you that we are not just doing this one-off summit and then we all go home and then you don’t hear any more about it. It will directly inform my thinking, our policy thinking; but also I’ll be of course meeting with many of you in those bilateral discussions that I’m hoping to have in relation to tackling poverty.

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