Emergency coronavirus legislation will see unpaid carers receive a cash boost – while at the same time ensuring companies based in tax havens will not receive bailouts from public funds.
MSPs unanimously approved new laws to help deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, which includes provisions to make an additional payment to around 83,000 Scots who receive the Carer’s Allowance.
They will get a supplementary payment of £230.20 in June, thanks to measures in the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill.
The legislation also ensures the Scottish Government will not provide financial support during the crisis to companies registered in tax havens – a move which the Scottish Greens had been pressing for.
It will also allow for Scottish ministers to temporarily intervene and take charge of care homes if there is “serious risk to the life, health or wellbeing” because of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, a social care support fund for care workers who suffer a loss of income because of the disease will be established.
Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon had suggested it, and she said: “I am pleased the Scottish Government have U-turned and will now support my proposed fund for social care staff to avoid them falling into hardship due to coronavirus.
“Care workers are unsung heroes of this crisis. They shouldn’t be at work if they have Covid-19 because of the risk to residents and other staff, however, they should not be pushed into poverty for missing a shift in these circumstances”
Housing minister Kevin Stewart, meanwhile, announced £5m additional investment to support tenants under financial pressure during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The money will go to local authorities to provide support to tenants through the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) scheme, he told MSPs.
The legislation also removes restrictions on freedom of information (FoI) requests – something the Scottish Government had included in its first emergency coronavirus legislation, passed at the start of April.
And it will mean those on benefits or with a low income will not be required to pay fees if they are forced into bankruptcy because of their debts – something Citizens Advice Scotland said was “very welcome”.
However, a bid by Green MSPs to introduce a two-year rent freeze for tenants was rejected by the Scottish Parliament after housing minister Kevin Stewart raised fears it could lead to landlords selling properties – adding this was “the last thing we need”.
Green MSP Andy Wightman, who had called for the change, said housing charity Shelter Scotland was concerned there would be a “tidal wave of evictions” as a result of the crisis.
Constitution secretary Mike Russell however told MSPs: “You cannot do everything in emergency legislation. It is important to recognise that and acknowledge that.”
He added: “Emergency legislation does what it says on the tin. It is things you require to do quickly, and as effectively as you possibly can.”
However the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) accused the Tories and SNP of having voted down “some really positive amendments put forward by members of different political parties”.
STUC general secretary designate Roz Foyer stated: “Today is a step backwards in the Scottish Government’s aspirations to support workers and tenants dealing with the fallout of coronavirus.”
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said the Bill had been “necessary because of the situation we are in” – adding that the measures in it were “proportionate and time limited”.
But Labour’s Alex Rowley argued “much more” could have been done to address inequalities, telling Holyrood: “The world can’t simply go back to the way it was before the virus.
“We need to create a fairer, more equal and more just society and it needs the political will to be able to deliver that society.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie agreed with the Labour MSP, saying: “The work of rebuilding absolutely gives us an opportunity to decide what kind of society and what kind of economy we want to build.”
Russell said: “Scotland remains in an unprecedented situation. This legislation provides time-limited measures that will further strengthen our ability to prioritise work tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and support those in Scotland facing real hardship as a result.
“In a spirit of co-operation and consensus we have worked across parliament and with all parties as much as possible as we take these important steps to tackle the impact of this ongoing crisis.”