Ministers unveiled a swathe of measures designed to alleviate the cost of living crisis.
Charities and campaigners have said the Scottish Government must provide more support now despite a number of “welcome” proposals to tackle the ongoing cost of living crisis engulfing the country.
On Tuesday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the forthcoming Programme for Government, outlining 18 new bills to be brought to Holyrood.
The programme outlines emergency legislation which will be introduced to put in place a rent freeze until at least April next year and a moratorium on evictions, and confirms the Scottish Child Payment will increase to £25 per week per eligible child from November 14 when it also opens to all under-16s.
In addition, the programme includes the roll out of free school meals across all primary school age groups, doubles the Fuel Insecurity Fund to £20 million to help households at risk of self-disconnection or self-rationing of energy, confirms rail fares will be frozen until March 2023 and widens the Warmer Homes Fuel Poverty Programme.
The programme’s 18 bills include legislation on an independence referendum and major reforms in the justice system, including a Criminal Justice Reform Bill that will propose the end of the Not Proven verdict in Scots Law and provide anonymity for complainers in sexual offence cases.
A Bill for the creation of the new National Care Service will also go through parliament this year.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland said the Scottish Child Payment would be “welcomed by families grappling with immense costs of living pressures”, but called for take-up to be maximised and resources prioritised to ensure the payment holds its real terms value for families as inflation continues to rise next year.
He added: “To prevent crisis turning to catastrophe more support for families is needed now. It’s disappointing there was no immediate commitment to doubling the bridging payments being made to school aged children until the child payment is fully rolled out, but the First Minister’s promise that this will be given priority consideration in the imminent emergency budget review is welcome.
“Our children need protected from poverty and the damage it wreaks in the longer term too. That’s why the First Minister is right to double down on her child poverty commitments.
“She needs to ensure that even when the Holyrood budget is squeezed the resources needed to deliver high quality funded childcare, remove barriers to decent work and cut the cost of the school day are protected, enhanced and sustained.
“When children’s life chances are on the line we need to harness our collective wealth and income to protect and support them. Looking ahead, the Scottish Government needs to review all the tax powers it has and make progressive use of devolved taxes to fund the social infrastructure needed, not just to prevent more children being pushed into poverty, but to help end that poverty for good.”
This feeling was echoed by other anti-poverty charities, with the Poverty Alliance calling for more to be done in the coming budget review to further protect households.
Director Peter Kelly said: “The First Minister outlined many important measures today. The increase in the value and availability of the Scottish Child Payment will help thousands of households with rising living costs. Rent freezes will help tenants across the country.
“But we could do more. The First Minister said that it is not a lack of political will that prevents us from further action to help people with this cost crisis - it is a lack of money. So, the upcoming emergency budget review must focus on getting additional cash into the pockets of people on low incomes.
“One way we can raise money in Scotland, is through devolved taxes. Previous changes to the Scottish Income Tax have raised hundreds of millions of pounds for public services. We can go further. There are also opportunities to reform local council taxes, to make them fairer and raise much-needed revenue for overstretched services in our communities. There was no mention of any new wealth taxes in this programme for government.
“The First Minister talked about creating a culture of solidarity in Scotland. People in Scotland already believe in holding out a hand to others when we need help. We can use our tax system to support each other in this time of crisis, and reflect the values of compassion and justice that we all share.”
Environmental groups also recognised what they saw as progress in the Programme, but WWF warned more transformative action across every sector will be necessary if we are to deliver a fair transition to a resilient and low-carbon economy in the longer term.
Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns, Mary Church, added: “The Scottish Government must use its forthcoming energy strategy to spell out how it will secure a rapid and fair transition away from the fossil fuels which are driving both crises within the next decade.
“By transforming our energy system to run on reliable, affordable renewable energy we can future proof our lives against further damage from volatile fossil fuels.”
Others in civic society praised the work of campaigners who have driven change at Holyrood.
Rape Crisis Scotland also welcomed the removal of the Not Proven verdict in the Scottish justice system, praising the work of campaigners and survivors of sexual assault.
Ahead of a planned protest outside the Scottish Parliament this week, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “Today’s Programme for Government shows what can be achieved through industrial action and collective campaigning.
“The Scottish Government is to be commended for freezing rents. If implemented correctly – and we are pressing for further answers - this will help thousands of households across Scotland when they need it most.
“When used, the powers of our Parliament can bring positive change.
“In a cost-of-living emergency, we need strides – not steps. The Scottish Government could have coupled the welcome increase in the Scottish Child Payment with expanding universal free school meals to all. It’s a political choice not to feed hungry children; a choice we’re unwilling to accept.
“On Thursday we will make that clear as we march on the Scottish Parliament for better public sector pay in addition to wider action on the cost-of-living crisis.”