Sturgeon pledges to tackle child poverty ‘scandal’ after failing to make progress over past 14 years

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, rehearses her SNP campaign speech -  Russell Cheyne/PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, rehearses her SNP campaign speech – Russell Cheyne/PA

Nicola Sturgeon has claimed that ending child poverty will become her latest “driving mission”, despite failing to reduce it during her previous 14 years in Government.

In a speech to party activists on Monday, the SNP leader claimed that if she wins re-election, she would introduce new policies aimed at ending the “scandal” and lift tens of thousands of children out of privation.

However, opponents accused her of a “record of shame” over almost a decade-and-a-half in power, which includes five years as the SNP health secretary and seven as First Minister.

According to a Scottish Government report published last week, relative child poverty north of the border has been “gradually increasing” over the past decade while absolute child poverty “has remained largely stable”.

The analysis added: “Persistent poverty has started to gradually increase.”

Rates of child poverty in Ms Sturgeon’s own Glasgow Southside constituency are also the highest in Scotland, according to a study published in 2019.

Ms Sturgeon announced that a new benefit payment directed at low income families, currently available to those with children aged up to six but being expanded to those with children under 16 by the end of next year, would be increased from £10 to £20 per week by 2026.

She claimed the changes would eventually help 400,000 children in 250,000 households.

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, welcomed the increase, a policy he asked Ms Sturgeon to introduce last month.

However, he attacked Ms Sturgeon’s record since the SNP was elected in 2007.

After the SNP won the election in 2016, the First Minister pledged to make closing the educational attainment gap between rich and poor her “defining mission” but failed to deliver.

“It’s one thing to say fighting child poverty is going to be your national mission when you’re coming new to government,” Mr Sarwar said.

“But having been in government for 14 years, having been First Minister for seven years, Nicola Sturgeon has presided over a quarter of our children across this country living in poverty, and in her constituency of Glasgow Southside almost 50 per cent of children live in poverty. That’s a record of shame, and frankly Scotland deserves it better than that.”

Nicola Sturgeon in her deprived Glasgow Southside constituency - Pool/GettyNicola Sturgeon in her deprived Glasgow Southside constituency - Pool/Getty

Nicola Sturgeon in her deprived Glasgow Southside constituency – Pool/Getty

In what was billed as another flagship pledge, Ms Sturgeon also told an SNP campaign conference that new cancer diagnostic centres would be set up across Scotland, as part of an effort to help the NHS deal with a major backlog caused by the suspension of testing during the pandemic.

However, it emerged that the policy had already been announced, having been included in the Scottish Government’s cancer strategy, published four months ago.

Andy Glyde, Cancer Research UK’s senior external affairs manager for Scotland, said: “The establishment of Early Cancer Diagnostic Centres was an initiative outlined in the Scottish Government’s Cancer Recovery Plan which was published last year. These centres will create a fast-track service for those with a range of serious but non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss and nausea, and will help to ensure patients receive a diagnosis as early as possible.

“At a time when there’s a backlog of people waiting for tests and diagnosis, something which has been made worse by the pandemic, these centres would be a positive step. But it’s crucial the staff are in place to make them work.

“Staff shortages need to be addressed to ensure everyone gets the tests they need, when they need them. Long term plans are also required to make sure Scotland’s NHS has a workforce that’s fit for the future.”