Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has written an open letter to the First Minister calling for one last positive act of consensus politics before the election campaign gets underway.
Following on from First Minister’s Questions this week I wanted to write to you regarding looked after children.
In a little under a week the fourth sitting of the Scottish Parliament will draw to a close, to give way to an election campaign where the difference between our parties will be magnified.
This sitting of the parliament has highlighted the divisions in Scotland perhaps more than any other.
But there are numerous things that we agree on, like the potential for education to transform the lives of our most vulnerable.
You said that education would be the driving and defining priority of your government. I have said that education is the most important economic investment we can make.
We both say we are committed to cutting the gap between the richest and the rest in our classrooms and we will debate the strength of our respective plans in the coming weeks.
The Scottish Parliament was established with consensual policy making in mind. We’ve worked together on education issues before. My party, during my time as Education spokesperson supported your government’s Children and Young People Act. Working together we vastly improved rights and services for looked after children through that bill. We can do so again one last time before dissolution.
This week the Widening Access Commission, chaired by Dame Ruth Silver published a slew of recommendations about improving access to higher education.
The Scottish Labour Party will sign up to those recommendations in full, but that isn’t the purpose of my letter today, instead it is one specific recommendation that I wish to discuss.
The report calls for looked after children to have student living cost loans replaced with a non-repayable bursary, amongst a number of other welcome recommendations that we accept wholesale.
The Commission states that our message to children with a care experience should be ‘we believe in you, we’ll do all we can to support you and if things don’t go to plan, we’ll help you to get back on track.’
I could not agree more. My belief is that we, not the politicians of Scotland but the people of Scotland, owe a duty of care to these children because they are our children.
The state is the parent and we pay the bills. I believe the system should work for them rather than against them.
A young person in care is more likely to end up in prison than at university. That needs to change. That’s why, last October, I announced Labour’s policy that every looked after child in Scotland that wants to go onto higher education would get full grant support, worth £6000 a year.
This is an issue that should be above the cut and thrust of party politics.
Before we pin on our rosettes, mount our soapboxes and deliver our leaflets I am asking that we find one more moment of common cause to remember this parliament. Will you join me in backing full grants for looked after children, so that no matter the makeup of the next Scottish Government, the background of these children is no barrier to their education?
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party