Kate Forbes seeks to tackle child poverty and climate change in 2022-23 Budget
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Scotland’s under pressure health and social care sectors are to receive a record £18 billion next year, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes confirmed.
Ms Forbes unveiled her draft Budget for 2022-23, saying cash spending here would help “address immediate pressures across the NHS”.
But with Holyrood’s Finance Secretary revealing her tax and spending plans less than a month after the global Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow – and with the SNP now in partnership with the Scottish Greens in government – she pledged almost £2 billion would go towards decarbonising Scotland’s homes, buildings, transport and industry.
Tackling climate change must be the “defining mission of our generation,” Ms Forbes said.
She confirmed plans already announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to double the Scottish Child Payment – a weekly benefit paid to low income families with children – to £20 a week from April.
This will see “nearly £200 million in next year’s Budget going directly to lift children across Scotland out of poverty”, she told MSPs.
Here she contrasted the actions of the Scottish Government with those of the Conservatives in Westminster, saying Holyrood was funding the “most ambitious anti-poverty measure anywhere in the UK” while the UK Government had cut £20 a week from Universal Credit.
Overall, more than £4 billion has been set aside for social security and welfare payments – with £1.95 billion of this going to fund the new Adult Disability Payment in 2022-23.
Meanwhile £110 million will be used to fund the introduction of free bus travel for those aged under 22 from January, with £72 million being used to expand free school lunches to all children in the first five years of primary school.
Another pledge will see £831 million going to affordable housing, with Ms Forbes insisting that this and other measures will “make a big difference”.
While Ms Forbes said her Budget would address the “key priorities” of tackling poverty, supporting the economy and dealing with climate change, she conceded it was a “Budget of choices” – adding there were some areas where she would have wished to spend more.
With Covid funding having been removed, our day-to-day funding next year is significantly less compared to the current year.
Despite the Scottish Government having been awarded the largest ever block grant from Westminster, the loss of specific Covid funding means Holyrood ministers have less to spend next year.
Ms Forbes said: “With Covid funding having been removed, our day-to-day funding next year is significantly less compared to the current year, at a time when we undeniably need to invest in the economy and help public services recover.”
She also told MSPs Brexit had had an impact too, saying: “The Budget I’m presenting today is smaller than it would be if it wasn’t for the impact of Brexit on our economy – a Brexit that has been imposed on Scotland against the express wish of the people that live here.”
But with the last two Budgets having been drawn up to deal with the “immediate experiences” of Covid, Ms Forbes said with this package of measures she was looking to “lift our eyes to the future, while of course remaining vigilant to the effects of new variants”.
She said: “This is a transitional Budget, as people, businesses and services get back on their feet.”
To help hard-pressed families dealing with rising costs, she made little change to income tax rates in Scotland.
The thresholds for the lowest two tax bands – the starter rate and the basic rate – will be increased in line inflation, with the amount people have to earn before starting to pay the intermediate, higher and top rates frozen.
“Our progressive Scottish income tax policy means the majority of Scottish tax payers will continue to pay less income tax than if they lived elsewhere in the UK, while those who earn more will pay more,” the Finance Secretary said
Speaking about the Budget package overall, Ms Forbes said: “Today’s Budget is a Budget of choices, and we have chosen to tackle child poverty, to invest in the transition to net zero and to boost economic prosperity.
“It delivers on our manifesto promises – more teachers, more funding for our police and record investment in our health and social care services, as we stand united against the impacts of Covid 19.
“It is a Budget for households facing a cost of living crisis, targeting resources at low income families and making bold choices to address the devastating impact of child poverty.
“It is a Budget for a net zero future, that once again shows Scotland leading from the front, in the defining mission of our generation.”
Scottish Conservative finance spokeswoman Liz Smith highlighted the “record block grant funding” Ms Forbes had received from Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the UK Government.
Saying this was up by 10.6%, she added it proved “the benefits of Scotland being part of a strong United Kingdom” – something which she said was “needed now more than ever”.
Labour finance spokesman Daniel Johnson said it was “right” for the NHS to get the “bulk” of the funding, but he called on the Scottish Government to pay social care staff £15 an hour.
Mr Johnson said: “Challenging times require bold action. But rather than rising to the challenge this Budget is just more managed decline under the SNP.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also argued the pay increase for care staff would not deliver “the transformational change we need”.
With Ms Forbes also having pledged public sector wage rises of £775 for those earning less than £25,000 a year, £700 for those on £25,000 to £400,000 and £500 for those earning more than this, the Lib Dem added this would be a real terms pay cut for “teachers, nurses and many thousands of public sector workers”.