Budgeting for a kinder, fairer Scottish future - Lorna Slater
Despite tough times, it was a positive statement of intent and a sign of the fairer, greener and more compassionate Scotland that we are building.
2021 has been a hard year for everyone. We have been in and out of lockdowns, and, with the emergence of the omicron variant, it is likely to be a difficult Christmas for a lot of us.
The pandemic has exacerbated inequality throughout our society. Yet, despite the tragedy and the hurt, there have also been stories of hope and generosity. All across our city there are people and communities that have made huge sacrifices and helped one another to get through it.
When I think of what so many have been through, I know that we must build a future that is better for everyone. It’s not just an economic recovery that’s needed, it’s a social one too that recognises the hardship we have been through.
Last week’s budget was a big step towards that recovery. Despite the backdrop of COVID, it was a positive and ambitious budget that focused on tackling poverty and the climate crisis.
One of the steps I am most proud of is the commitment to double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 per week. This will be worth an additional £500 a year to parents and will help to mitigate some of the damage done by Westminster’s cruel Universal Credit cut.
We want young people to have the best possible start, which is why we have secured over £145 million for teachers and classroom assistants. This is enough to employ around 2,500 teachers and 500 support staff across the county, including many here in Edinburgh.
We are also investing in infrastructure and public transport, with record spending on active travel and rail, as well as free bus travel for everyone under 22. These changes will open-up our country while helping household budgets and the environment.
A lot of us have struggled with our physical and mental health over the course of the pandemic, with many experiencing bereavements, isolation and personal and financial anxiety.
This budget recognises the difficulty that so many have had and are currently having. We are investing a record £1.2 billion in mental health services as well as providing a pay rise for the social care workers who have done so much for us.
This virus may be with us for a long time, and it will continue to pile pressure on to families and services in Scotland and beyond. But it will eventually pass. And the country, and the world, that we rebuild from it must be one that lives up to the hardships and difficulties that so many have been through.
In my first speech as an MSP, I called for a national conversation about the country we want to be. Politics is about choices and priorities, and I expressed my hope that the most diverse parliament to date will work together to make the changes that we need.
I still have that hope, and believe in it more than ever. Learning from the pandemic is important, and so is ensuring that kindness and resilience are at the heart of our services and systems. We need to build a better society that is as well prepared as possible for if anything like it happens again.
Last week’s budget was a budget for the challenging times we are living through, and a vital step towards the better Scotland that I know we can be.
Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity