Nicola Sturgeon pledges cost-of-living action as she sets out legislative plans in Programme for Government

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to take "every action" at the Scottish Government's disposal to help people through the cost-of-living crisis.

The First Minister made the commitment as she prepares to set out her legislative programme for the coming parliamentary year in Holyrood today.

The Programme for Government (PfG) will include plans to increase the Scottish Child Payment to £25 per week from November 14, when it will also be extended to under-16s.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross warned Ms Sturgeon not to be distracted by “self-serving” constitutional wrangling.

He said her bid to hold a second referendum next year was “the wrong priority at the worst possible time”.

Speaking ahead of a statement in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Child Payment is unique to Scotland, the most ambitious child poverty reduction measure in the UK and an important action to mitigate the growing cost emergency.

"We doubled the payment to £20 per week per child in April and the further increase to £25 from November means a rise of 150 per cent in less than eight months.

“Around 104,000 children currently in receipt of Scottish Child Payment will have it automatically increased to £25 per week.

"All new eligible under-16s will also benefit from the £25 rate, with all payments backdated to the date their application is received.

“Through this year’s PfG we will take every action, within the financial means and legislative powers at our disposal, to help people through this humanitarian crisis that will cost lives.”

The First Minister argued the most significant powers “rest squarely with the UK Government”.

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She said: “In the absence of a plan from the incoming Prime Minister, we have a clear set of actions which the UK Government could take now, and should have taken already, to begin to address the crisis.

"These include an immediate cancellation of the October price cap rise and an uprating of benefits.

“The last few months have made it abundantly clear Scotland cannot rely on the UK Government to support people in Scotland through this crisis. It is vital they have a choice over their future.”

Mr Ross said the First Minister should reallocate the £20 million earmarked for a referendum next year to those receiving the Scottish Child Payment.

He called for an extensive package of support to help Scots deal with soaring prices, as well as measures to grow the Scottish economy and tackle NHS treatment delays and court backlogs, among other moves.

The Scottish Tory leader said: “No one should be under any illusions about how tough the coming winter will be for people across the country, primarily because of soaring global energy costs.

“It’s essential that both the UK and Scottish governments work together to help ease the unprecedented burden on household budgets.

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“I know it will be the top priority of the new Prime Minister to add to the £37 billion in support already provided by the UK Government. But the Scottish Government must do its bit to help too and have a laser-like focus on the cost-of-living crisis.

“The last thing Scotland needs right now is for the SNP-Green government to waste time and money on a self-serving push for another divisive independence referendum next year. It is entirely the wrong priority at the worst possible time.

Nicola Sturgeon should drop this reckless plan and reallocate the £20m earmarked for it in the form of an extra £200 payment to families receiving for the Scottish Child Payment. That’s just one of several measures I’d like to see her government introduce to help vulnerable families and individuals.

“Businesses will also suffer from the financial squeeze, so Nicola Sturgeon should be reinstating business rates relief and freezing the rates poundage to provide pandemic-level assistance.”

Mr Ross said plans for a National Care Service should also be dropped, adding: “If the Scottish Conservatives were delivering this PfG, we would also empower local communities, by properly funding councils, and help the next generation by reversing the decline in education standards and protecting the environment.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the increase in the Scottish Child Payment was first announced months ago.

She said: “The people of Scotland are facing the greatest cost-of-living crisis in living memory, with thousands facing fuel poverty and hunger this winter.

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“But faced with the scale of this crisis, the best that this SNP-Green Government can do is trail social security policies that it announced months and months ago.

“This is deeply unambitious policy from a Government that puts commenting on this crisis before using the powers that they have to improve lives.

“Scots expect their Parliaments to be focused on the issues that matter and both their governments to work together and use every power they have – but both the SNP and the Tories are asleep at the wheel.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton insisted Holyrood should focus on the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS emergency and delays and cancellations on Scotland’s ferry network.

He said: “It continues to astonish me that the SNP have used this summer break to focus on their tone-deaf bid to break up the UK.

"Meanwhile, the Scottish public have been suffering in the face of sky-rocketing bills, drowning in a healthcare emergency and waiting on ferries that might never arrive.”

Andrew McRae, policy chair for Scotland at the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was “vitally important” the Scottish Government keep smaller firms in mind.

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He said: “This is a complex crisis which will have complex solutions – many of which are not in the gift of the Scottish Government.

"We want this PfG to deliver a series of measures to make sure that businesses don’t face further burdens in these already troubling times.

"At a minimum, Government must assess all upcoming plans to ensure that they don’t add undue cost or challenges to small business.”

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