NHS staff and social care workers are to receive a one-off £500 payment from the Scottish Government as a “thank you” for their hard work during the coronavirus pandemic.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the move during her address to the SNP virtual conference on Monday.
She said the applause and recognition shown to frontline workers earlier in the pandemic “was never enough”.
Negotiations are currently under way to increase pay for NHS staff, but they “deserve recognition now”, Sturgeon said.
She said: “I can announce today that, on behalf of us all, the Scottish Government will give every full-time NHS and adult social care worker £500 as a one-off thank-you payment for their extraordinary service in this toughest of years.”
Those who work part-time will receive a “proportionate share”.
Sturgeon said: “A payment like this can never ever come close to expressing our full admiration for those who have cared for us so heroically.
“But to our health and care workers, it is a demonstration of what we collectively owe you. And it is a heartfelt thank you for the sacrifices you have made.”
The First Minister added there were “no strings attached” to the payment, which will be paid during this financial year.
However, she highlighted that the Scottish Government did not have the power to make the payment tax-free.
Calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure the “NHS heroes” are not taxed on their payment, she said: “Please allow our health and care heroes to keep every penny of Scotland’s thank you to them.
“Do not take any of it away in tax.”
In response to the £500 payment, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “A one-off payment is no substitute at all for the significant increase in salary that all Scotland’s health and care workers deserve.
“This sum announced by Nicola Sturgeon will not make up for the years of pay restraint and austerity that staff in these sectors have had imposed on them by Tory and SNP ministers.
“Many care home workers are part-time, so the fear is that they will end up with a derisory payment.
“There must also be a commitment to a generous year-on-year increase in pay for all key workers, who are Scotland’s Covid heroes.”
Sturgeon also announced a £100m fund to help people struggling over winter.
Every family with children in receipt of free school meals will receive a cash grant of £100 to spend on what they wish.
Support will also be available to the homeless. In addition, some of the funding will be used for an initiative to teach digital skills to the elderly, as well as to help people pay their fuel bills.
Businesses are also to receive £5000 for each apprentice they employ.
Sturgeon announced the move for those between 16 and 24, and up to the age of 29 for those who are disabled, from minority communities or care leavers.
For apprentices over the age of 25, the First Minister pledged to pay £3500.
The First Minister also announced a £100 per week allowance along with work-based training for school leavers up to the age of 18.
During her statement, Sturgeon told those who say Scottish independence is a distraction that “they could not be more wrong”.
She said: “If we want to make sure the country we rebuild is the one we want it to be, with kindness, compassion, fairness, equality and enterprise at its heart, and not one built in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers, we must work to the right plan, with all the tools we need to do the job.”
She added: “Independence is not a distraction from the task of post-Covid reconstruction. It is essential to getting it right.”
The First Minister also said she doubted how many Scots would have trusted the UK Government to govern Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “In the depth of crisis, we have looked to and trusted our own government and Parliament to steer us through.”
In response to her statement, Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said the SNP is “relying on Rishi Sunak’s spending to make announcements that should have happened weeks ago”.
The UK Government has delivered nearly £10bn to the Scottish budget to tackle the pandemic.
The Tories claim analysis by the Fraser of Allander Institute shows around £1bn of the funding has not been spent with a lack of “transparency” over where the rest of the funds have gone.
Ross said: “This was a series of SNP promises brought to you by Rishi Sunak’s spending.
“It seems the SNP are finally getting around to using the vast sums of UK Government funding to fight the pandemic, although businesses and workers will be left wondering why they held off until the SNP conference to finally get the money out the door on announcements that should have been made weeks ago.
“The rank hypocrisy from the First Minister on all fronts was galling. She now bends the truth on a daily basis.
“Nicola Sturgeon grandstanded about ‘fundamentally undermining’ the Scottish Parliament – the same Parliament that she has disgracefully ignored twice in the last month.
“She grandstanded about social security when the only people tying the Scottish Government’s hands are the SNP. They’ve handed powers back to the UK Government because they can’t deliver.
“She grandstanded about putting ‘independence on hold’, which would be a lot more believable if she didn’t launch a new Referendum Bill in September as a second wave of Covid was beginning.
“And all weekend she’s been talking up another divisive referendum next year while we’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s completely out of touch with people across Scotland.
“Over the years a litany of SNP conference promises have flopped – from the Scottish Growth Scheme to the infamous Sturgeon Energy company – so I sincerely hope these new commitments materialise but I don’t have much faith that they actually will.”