Scotland politics

Fair Food Fund to be set up as part of welfare reforms

front bench
Image caption Angela Constance set out government plans to "tackle the causes and not just the symptoms of poverty"

The Scottish government is to establish a "Fair Food Fund" as part of efforts to tackle poverty and inequality.

New Communities Secretary Angela Constance said the government would establish the £1m a year fund to help lift people out of poverty.

She said this was part of work to "tackle the causes and not just the symptoms of poverty".

Labour attempted to press an amendment calling for a higher tax rate, but this was voted down by MSPs.

The Scottish government set out its plans to tackle poverty as part of a series of debates on "taking Scotland forward" in the early days of the new Holyrood term.

Ms Constance opened with strong words for the Conservatives, attacking the UK government's austerity programme and describing Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson as "David Cameron's best pal in Scotland".

She said the Scottish government had spent £104m in the past year alone mitigating the effects of Westminster welfare cuts.

'Empowering solutions'

She said "deep seated inequality and poverty" was holding Scottish people back, with 940,000 people affected after housing costs, including 210,000 children, which she said was "unacceptable" and "quite simply wrong".

In the week following World Hunger Day, Ms Constance said hunger was a growing element of poverty.

She said the government was working with experts to develop a sustainable food strategy, saying the £1m fund would enable communities across Scotland to "come together to develop empowering solutions to food poverty" and combat social isolation.

The government has also pledged to build 50,000 affordable homes over the full parliament, with 70% of them for social rent.

Image caption Adam Tomkins defended the Tories record at Westminster

Speaking for the Scottish Conservatives, new MSP Adam Tomkins said "finger pointing at Westminster" would not solve anything, and insisted the UK-wide Tory policies were working and had helped the poorest.

He said there could not be a welfare system without sanctions, but insisted his party would be supportive of those who could not work.

Mr Tomkins added: "The dignity of the pay packet is much to be preferred to the indignity of a system that assumes you are not fit for the workplace."

He also hit out at SNP "centralisation" of power, saying local people should have a say in the everyday working of services.

Image caption Deputy Labour leader Alex Rowley said the parliament's mission should be to "eradicate poverty"

Having secured victory with an amendment calling for a fracking ban the previous day, Labour pressed a new amendment calling on Holyrood to "recognise the need for a higher top rate of tax on the richest earners".

Alex Rowley said "eradicating poverty, inequality and deprivation" should be the mission of the Scottish Parliament and government.

He said: "We have a great opportunity to to bring about social justice for all of Scotland, let's make sure that we grasp it."

Alison Johnstone said the Greens looked forward to working with other parties across the chamber to make Scotland a fairer place to live with true equality of opportunity.

And Alex Cole-Hamilton, for the Lib Dems, said constituents looked to politicians to work together to solve inequality, saying it would do them a "profound disservice to trade blows" on the issue.

Amendments rejected

The debate centred around a motion from Ms Constance, which said parliament should "work together to create a fair and prosperous Scotland, where people flourish and have equality in opportunities".

Labour proposed an amendment which said Holyrood should "recognise the need for a higher top rate of tax for the richest earners, so this can be redistributed to tackle wider inequalities". However, members rejected this by 94 votes to 26.

Mr Tomkins also put forward an amendment calling for a broader housebuilding target of 100,000 houses, including 50,000 affordable ones, but this was rejected by 90 votes to 30.

The unamended motion was then passed by 100 votes to 20.

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