Humza Yousaf outlines plans to tackle childcare issues in Scotland

Humza Yousaf said one of the biggest challenges to the industry is recruitment. Credit: PA

Humza Yousaf set his sights on tackling the "scourge of poverty" as he revealed the Scottish Government's priorities for the coming year.

There was a commitment of funding so staff working in both childcare and social care will receive a minimum of £12 an hour from April next year.

Much of his speech, made the day that Holyrood returned after its summer recess, was focused on efforts to tackle poverty, as Mr Yousaf insisted his government would "maximise every lever at our disposal to tackle the scourge of poverty in our country".

The First Minister told MSPs: "Tackling poverty is deeply personal to me. Growing up in the Islamic faith, I was always taught that you are not a true Muslim if you have a full stomach while your neighbour goes to bed hungry."

And while he accepted tackling the problem "isn't straightforward", particularly in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, he was clear it was "absolutely essential".

Mr Yousaf pledged more than £400 million would be invested in the Scottish Child Payment - a benefit paid out to low income families north of the border.

But there was no commitment to increasing the payment from its current level of £25 a week per child, as campaigners such as the Child Poverty Action Group have been calling for.

Humza Yousaf outlined his plans for childcare. Credit: PA

Mr Yousaf did, however, call on the UK Government to establish an "essentials guarantee", in a bid to ensure that those on Universal Credit always receive enough cash to cover basic needs, such as food, energy and transport.

And while the Scottish First Minister said his Government would work with councils to roll out free school meals to all children in P6 and P7, the Programme for Government document revealed this will not happen till 2026.

However, he did promise to remove the income threshold for the Best Start Foods programme, which provides some pregnant women and families with prepaid cards that they can use to buy healthy foods, such as fruit and milk.

This change will benefit about 20,000 mothers-to-be and children, Mr Yousaf said.

He also promised to "accelerate" the expansion of free childcare, saying that the Scottish Government would provide funding to six "early adopter" council areas, so they can provide childcare for youngsters from nine months of age through to the end of primary school.

With about a quarter of all two-year-olds already benefiting from 1,140 free hours of childcare a year, Mr Yousaf vowed to speed up the rollout of this policy to all two-year-olds.

To help with childcare provision, the Scottish Government wants to see 1,000 more childminders by the next Holyrood elections in 2026.

Cash will also be given so that private, voluntary and independent nurseries providing funded childcare can pay their staff a minimum of £12 an hour from April 2024.

Mr Yousaf described the provision of childcare as being "a perfect example of a policy that is both anti-poverty and pro-growth", insisting he was "proud that Scotland has the most generous childcare offer in the UK".

He also promised the Scottish Government would provide funding to boost pay for social care staff working in direct caring roles, so that they can be paid at least £12 an hour - with the First Minister saying this could see some workers receive a rise of up to £2,000 a year from April.

He pledged a Housing Bill will be introduced at Holyrood to "introduce long term rent controls and new tenants rights".

The Scottish Government will also provide £25 million to help provide homes for key workers in rural areas, with £60 million to be spent on acquiring empty properties which will be used for affordable housing.

Second home owners, meanwhile, face the prospct of higher council tax charges, with Mr Yousaf saying local authorities would be allowed to "apply a premium on council tax rates" for such properties.

Speaking about the "multiple miscarriages" he and his wife Nadia have suffered, he said there was "no doubt" that more could be done in support, as he promised improved care, including saying that women would "not have to wait until a third miscarriage to receive tailored support".

  • Parents share their views on childcare costs.

Parent Lauren Spaven-Donn told ITV Border about her difficulties affording childcare.

She said: “I will not be able to put her into full time nursery. That is just an absolute no go financially. I will be looking at probably doing mornings and afternoons divided up during the week and then relying on parents.

"I think it is around £300 a week full time. The cost of childcare is the biggest issue."

That view was echoed by fellow parent Nicky Seed, who is a co-founder of Duns Community Nursery, which was formed when the town's private nursery was threatened with closure.

She said: "I have been faced with two thousand pounds a month in childcare bills. That is a big pressure on any family’s budget.

"I also think that margins are incredibly tight in the childcare sector so it needs to be properly funded."

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