Charities and campaigners welcomed some plans but underlined a lack of urgency from the government.
First Minister Humza Yousaf faced a mixed response to his first Programme for Government (PfG) after outlining his priorities for the upcoming year in the Scottish Parliament.
Tuesday’s PfG plans presented by the SNP leader put a commitment to reducing poverty, delivering growth, tackling climate change and providing high-quality public services at the forefront of the government’s plans for 2023-24.
The First Minister described it as “unashamedly anti-poverty and pro-growth”, saying the package of measures aims to help build a more equal society through concerted efforts to eradicate poverty, and tackle the cost of living crisis.
Commitments in the legislative agenda include expanding access to funded childcare, paying social care workers at least £12 an hour from April, speeding up renewable energy projects with a new deal for the onshore wind industry, delivering a £15million support package to “unleash entrepreneurial talent”, and an expansion of free school meals in primary schools.
Many of the proposals taken on by the Scottish Government follow campaigns which have been supported or led by members of Scotland’s Third Sector.
Mr Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government will always be on the side of the people we serve. Scotland is – certainly should be – a land of opportunity, but I know it doesn’t always feel like that to people bearing the brunt of the UK Government cost-of-living crisis, to families living in poverty, to struggling businesses, to those who still face consequences of discrimination and inequality. I get that.
“This Programme is an opportunity to be explicit about the driving mission of this government. So let me make it abundantly clear, we are a government who will maximise every lever at our disposal to tackle the scourge of poverty in our country.
“In the year ahead, we will support more than 300,000 children with more than £1,000 a year through the Scottish Child payment. We will expand the availability of high quality childcare – providing funding in six early adopter local authority areas to offer increased access to childcare from nine months through to the end of primary school. And we will invest in raising the pay of childcare and social care staff.
“We will also safeguard the rights of tenants, promote payment of the living wage, and provide help for disabled people with complex needs, so that they can live independent lives.
“We will do all of this – first and foremost because it is the right thing to do. And also, as I know well from my own family history, because providing people with support and security helps them to contribute to society and to create opportunities for others. This Programme for Government shows how we will make progress towards a fairer, wealthier and greener Scotland.”
The response from charities and voluntary organisations across Scotland was mixed, with some welcoming the priorities of the Scottish Government, while calling for the First Minister to go further.
ASH Scotland welcomed the First Minister’s Programme for Government announcement regarding consultation to ban the sale of disposable e-cigarettes, while Mary Glasgow, CEO Children 1st, underlined the importance of a commitment given to keep the Promise - urging public sector partners to ensure there is radical action and system change required to keep the Promise.
Alastair Davis, CEO, Social Investment Scotland and SIS Ventures broadly welcomed the First Minister's “bold” PfG, but added the government will not be able to deliver on its vision for a wellbeing economy without giving significantly more weight, and investment, to Scotland's 6,000 social enterprises.
Save the Children’s policy and public affairs manager, Fiona King, said it was “right that the First Minister has put tackling child poverty top of the agenda in his Programme for Government”, but added: “The stark reality is that right now there are 240,000 children living in poverty across Scotland and today’s announcements represent only a timid step forward to addressing that devastating injustice.”
Other groups, including green campaigners, criticised the lack of action or new policies in the Programme for Government.
Mike Robinson, chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) said: “While the First Minister’s general commitments to show ‘climate leadership’ and address the crisis were welcome, the Programme for Government offered few, if any, new measures to deliver emissions’ reductions.
“It failed to reflect the urgency that’s needed, and there is a stark risk that if we don’t take faster action now, we will struggle to get anywhere near our 2030 climate target.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland echoed that statement, claiming that “warm words won’t stop a warming planet”.
Climate and energy campaigner Caroline Rance said: “This is an underwhelming programme for more of the same when what is needed a radical change that can speed Scotland away from the damage being wrought by fossil fuel companies.
“The First Minister talked a good game about the importance of climate action and a just transition to net zero, but warm words won't stop a warming planet.”
Housing charities also said the plans outlined on Tuesday were inadequate, with Shelter Scotland saying the PfG fails to meet the challenge of ending Scotland’s housing emergency according.
The housing and homelessness charity said the First Minister’s promise to use every lever available to end poverty appeared hollow while funding cuts continue to stall social housing delivery and leave local homelessness services on their knees.
However, tenant’s union and campaign group Living Rent welcomed a commitment to long-term rent controls, following a near-decade of campaigning by activists.
The Child Poverty Action Group also highlighted the need for greater support to end child poverty, with John Dickie, chair of the group in Scotland, saying more direct cash support still needed to meet child poverty targets.
Mr Dickie outlined his “disappointment” at the lack of further detail on First Minister’s campaign commitment to increase Scottish child payment to £30.
Meanwhile, Poverty Alliance said Mr Yousaf had missed a crucial opportunity.
The charity’s acting director, David Reilly, said: “When he was elected, the First Minister said tackling poverty was to be his defining mission. But this Programme for Government is a critical missed opportunity to turn our shared values of justice and compassion into meaningful action.