Fri 8 Mar, 2019

Alison Johnstone MSP

Lothian
Health & Sport, Social Security, Children & Young People

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The Scottish Greens have gender balanced leadership roles throughout the party, and last weekend our Council agreed to adopt a Co-leadership model in the parliamentary Green group. I’m delighted that I will now be sharing this new role with Patrick Harvie, and this week, on the day we debate International Women’s Day, was my first opportunity to lead for the party at FMQs.

I am determined that the Green MSPs seek to use all of  our influence to make Scotland the best country in the world for children to grow up in. With that in mind I pressed the First Minister on an important opportunity that would save lives and make children safer across the country.

My colleague Mark Ruskell MSP’s Safer Streets Bill would reduce the national default speed limit in built-up areas from 30 to 20mph. It has the backing of experts from NHS Health Scotland to the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health because they know it will save lives. The Bill is now at a critical juncture. The Scottish Government need to get behind the bill now if it is to progress. I was encouraged by the First Minister’s comments, and hope that she will show the leadership that is now needed. Bold interventions like this, the smoking ban and minimum alcohol pricing are demonstrating that the Scottish Parliament can deliver on the hopes of the people of Scotland. Improving and protecting peoples’ lives whilst Westminster caves into corporate lobbying at every turn.

But Scotland’s children need us to do so much more. 1 in 4 children in relative poverty, meaning that they don’t have access to the living conditions and opportunities that are the norm for all other children, and shockingly the Scottish Government expect the situation to get even worse. They predict that 38% of Scots children will be experiencing relative poverty by the 2030s. This would mean that the new legal targets for child poverty reduction rightly set by the Child Poverty Scotland Act last year would be missed by quite some considerable distance.

Half of the income of our poorest families comes from social security, and the steps taken so far to boost income through the new Scottish social security system are encouraging. You may have noticed, as I have, the advertisements for the new Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment. Many of these have been cropping up on the outside of telephone boxes around Edinburgh, advertising the new £600 payment – £100 more than the predecessor UK benefit – with entirely new payments of £250 when the child reaches nursery and school ages coming in the summer.

The Pregnancy and Baby Payment paid out more in the first few months after its introduction than the UK equivalent did in a whole year, indicating that uptake is increasing. With billions of pounds worth of social security support going unclaimed every year, ensuring families are able to claim everything they are entitled to is absolutely vital, and I look forward to the Scottish Government’s strategy on raising take-up of devolved benefits, due later this year. The Scottish Parliament cannot mitigate all the ills imposed on those most in need, but I’m proud that we are taking a different path. Putting dignity and respect at the heart of social security, supporting people rather than punishing them. Imagine how much further we could go if the powers were available to us.

Another area where Scotland is forging its own path is protecting children. The UK is one of just three member states in Europe that still allows physical punishment, and I am delighted that it is the Greens that will bring an end to this practice in Scotland. My colleague John Finnie has brought forward the Children Equal Protection from Assault Scotland Bill, and this has already won support from the Scottish Government. Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson noted that the legislation would end the last acceptable use of violence in Scottish society. 54 countries around the world already prohibit physical punishment, and Mr Adamson noted the need for legislation to change attitudes, “Without the legislation you don’t get the culture change.”

We are making progress, but perhaps the biggest threat to our children’s future, and the area where we most urgently need radical change, is the climate crisis. It has been inspirational in recent weeks to watch the growing global movement of young people that will culminate next Friday as children across Scotland join a global climate strike, walking out of classrooms to demand bold action on the climate crisis. Politicians have a responsibility to ensure that children, the most vulnerable of our citizens, are protected and nurtured in order that they may realise their potential. I will be supporting them, and hope you will too.

In Scotland, the Greens are leading the change, and making Scotland the best country for children to grow up in.

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