My overriding mission as First Minister will be to end poverty. Poverty is a moral issue: but it also holds us back as a country, weakens Scottish society and harms our economy because we need the talents of every single person in Scotland to reach their potential. Things must change – real change is required.
In Scotland today, over one million people are living below the poverty line. Last winter, fuel poverty was a blight on half of our pensioners. Unless urgent action is taken this winter will be the same: we owe our pensioners a huge debt, we must give them dignity in retirement. And food banks are alarmingly on the increase and child poverty is once again on the rise. An increasing number of children, up forty thousand from last year to 260,000 - more than a quarter of a million of our children - are living in poverty in Scotland in 2017.
Tens of thousands of these children live in families where at least one member of the family works. That’s over a quarter of a million of our young people - not a statistic or the word on a page - are growing up without the proper means to live a fulfilling life, their life chances diminished because of the economic circumstances they find themselves in, or all too often are born into. It is little wonder that educational attainment levels are so starkly different between those children who come from backgrounds at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Working with all agencies, including a re-empowered and better resourced local government, I will make the abolition of poverty in Scotland my number one priority
Tackling poverty requires a radical shift in our economy, politics and policy making. Fundamental and wholesale change, at the same time as very specific and targeted policies, is needed to uplift those communities, people, families and children who need help the most. Abolishing poverty demands that we confront the real and underlying causes of poverty and inequality. Poor housing, falling real wages, attacks on social security, bad employers, marketised and under-funded public services, under-investment in people, services and infrastructure, a rigged economy with widening inequality between millionaires and the rest of us are all factors that lead to poverty. Tackling these causes at their very root is why we are the party of the many, not the few.
In developing this radical agenda for Scottish Labour we will draw strength from the campaigning shift that Labour has taken under Jeremy Corbyn and the 2017 manifesto, which must be seen as an asset upon which we can build. I am proud that the majority of Labour’s new MPs are supporting me: the symbolism of their victory and the politics of the 2017 manifesto will be at the heart of our drive to end poverty. Over the coming days I intend to set out a wide range of measures across a number of key policy areas that will map out how I intend to tackle the scourge of poverty in Scotland. Today I will begin by setting out how I intend to increase the earnings of working people in Scotland.
Ending poverty means real change to deal with low pay and poverty. We need to use the powers of the Parliament to advance this agenda right now and not just wait for an election and a change of government. We need to use public procurement in Scotland to make work fairer. Every single public pound spent on private contractors must be used to make work better paid. This must mean no public contracts for companies who do not pay at least the living wage. The SNP Government said in 2016 that it was prevented by the EU from making contractors pay a living wage as a key criterion in tendering processes for public contracts. I on the other hand will not hide behind EU rules. Instead I will stand up for a living wage in all public supply and works contracts. It should also apply to all those companies seeking public grants and loans including Regional Selective Assistance. This is our money, we should lay down the rules.
It is clear to me that we need urgently to secure a living wage across Scotland, and we need to raise it to £10 an hour at the earliest opportunity. This will benefit nearly half a million working people in Scotland, it will benefit them in retirement too, and most of all it will also lift many of those children who today live in poverty.