In recent weeks, I’ve made the point about the importance of supporting families on low incomes. I’ve also highlighted inside and outside Westminster the importance of ‘digital equality’, so that people can not only connect to fast, reliable broadband but also have the devices necessary to access it too.
For that reason, I was very pleased to see a commitment from the SNP to increase the Scottish Child Payment over the course of the next Parliament if the party forms the next Scottish Government.
This payment of £10 per week for low-income families was introduced in February for families with children aged up to the age of six, to include young people up to the age of sixteen by next year. With that payment planned to increase to £20, it is a policy I am certain will have a significant, positive and targeted impact on reducing child poverty, which still blights many more families across the North East than official statistics manage to uncover.
The second issue of digital equality also encompasses – but is not restricted to – financial poverty. Throughout the pandemic, our reliance on technology has increased and, for those families unable to afford devices, access fast data or even both, the resulting inequalities have become wider than ever.
Recognising this, the Scottish Government arranged last year for 20,000 Chromebook devices to be shipped to local councils to assist pupils with home learning. In addition, £48 million has been allocated to the ‘Connecting Scotland’ programme, providing low-income households with digital devices, unlimited data and technical support.
The additional commitment to provide every primary school pupil in Scotland from P1 to P6 with a laptop, Chromebook or tablet, is one which I welcome wholeheartedly. The devices, which will come with free internet connection, are intended for use at school and at home.
In the digital age, having access to a suitable device should be as automatic as being given jotters and pencils was in years gone by - this commitment is an important step towards ensuring that it will be.
There are at least 60,000 homes across the North East with access to Superfast Broadband which wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for direct Scottish Government investment in a policy area which remains the responsibility of the UK Government to regulate and resource. I look forward to the £384 million of Scottish Government investment as part of the R100 programme for the North of Scotland dramatically increasing that figure in the months ahead.
In the news this week it was also unveiled that 97.4% of Scotland’s electricity consumption in 2020 was fulfilled by renewables. Putting it into perspective, in 2011, just 37% of Scotland’s electricity demands were met by renewables.
It highlights the exceptional progress that has been made. With a goal of achieving ‘net zero’ by 2045, it’s important to keep increasing our renewables capacity so that we can continue to reduce the amount of carbon we rely on in our daily lives.