Break down barriers to opportunity

Keir Starmer, Anas Sarwar and a girl putting shopping in a plastic bag

How Labour will break down barriers to opportunity:

  • Mortgage guarantee and support for first time buyers
  • Review of Universal Credit and a new strategy to tackle child poverty
  • Increased investment for Scotland’s education system
  • A modern curriculum so young people are ready for work and life
  • Reform apprenticeships so they work better for young people and Scotland’s economy

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, Scotland should be a country where hard work means you can get on in life. Under the Conservatives, this basic promise – that if you work hard, you will enjoy the rewards – has been broken. We are a country where who your parents are – and how much money they have – too often counts for more than your effort and enterprise. Too many people sense that success is something that happens to others. This is an appalling waste of talent as well as a huge injustice. So, breaking the pernicious link between background and success will be a defining mission for Labour.

First, we must recognise that greater opportunity requires greater security. Tackling economic insecurity – at work, at home, in our communities and public services – is the golden thread that runs through all of UK Labour’s missions.

The last Labour government lifted 120,000 children and 130,000 pensioners out of poverty in Scotland. That progress transformed life chances and ensured security in retirement. The next Labour government will build on that legacy of pursuing opportunity and social justice.

Good work will be the foundation of our approach to tackling poverty and inequality. We will create more good jobs, end insecure employment, and make work pay so that many more people benefit from the dignity and purpose of work.

Labour is committed to reviewing Universal Credit so that it makes work pay and tackles poverty. We want to end mass dependence on emergency food parcels, which is a moral scar on our society.

More than one in four children are living in poverty in Scotland. In the past decade, child poverty has increased by 50,000 and 70 per cent of children in poverty are living in working households. This not only harms children’s lives now, but it also damages their future prospects, and holds back our economic potential as a country. Labour will develop an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty. We will work with the voluntary sector, faith organisations, trade unions, business, devolved and local government, and communities to bring about change.

We will take initial steps to confront poverty, slashing fuel poverty, banning exploitative zero hours contracts, introducing a real living wage, and improving support to help people get into good work.

Our system of state, private, and workplace pensions provide the basis for security in retirement. A UK Labour government will retain the triple lock for the state pension. We will also adopt reforms to workplace pensions to deliver better outcomes for UK savers and pensioners. Our pensions review will consider what further steps are needed to improve security in retirement, as well as to increase productive investment in the UK economy.

Economic security also means having a secure roof over your head. Scottish Labour believes that everybody should have a home that is safe, secure and affordable, but this remains a far-off dream for too many Scots.

Despite the growing recognition that Scotland is facing a housing emergency, the SNP chose to cut the housing budget by almost £200 million in a single year. Tackling the housing crisis will require an increase to housing supply and, as well as reforming planning to unlock private investment and development, we need to tackle the shortage of affordable homes. Our reform of planning will strengthen the requirements for new affordable homes within new developments, and ensure that discounts for low-income buyers are retained when homes are subsequently sold on. Increasing the supply of affordable homes must be done in partnership with local authorities to ensure that communities have the housing they need.

Too many Scots are stuck in the private rented sector, unable to save up deposits or access social housing. Tenants should be protected from unaffordable rents and unscrupulous landlords, but rent regulations must be practical, workable, and reflect the intent of legislators. Scottish Labour also supports proposals to drive up standards in the rented sector in Scotland, improving the rights of tenants to make their house a proper home.

Scottish Labour is committed to improving levels of home ownership. Owning your own home should not be the privilege of the wealthy or for those who can rely on their families for financial support. Across the UK, a Labour government will introduce a permanent new comprehensive mortgage guarantee scheme to support first-time buyers who struggle to save for a large deposit with lower mortgage costs.

In Scotland, Scottish Labour would also reform the rules for existing support schemes so that they are available to more low-income first-time buyers. To help those struggling with the rising costs of mortgages, Scottish Labour has called for a relaunch of the Scottish Mortgage to Shared Equity Scheme to ensure nobody loses their home due to the Conservatives’ disastrous mini-budget.

While families struggle to get on the housing ladder, thousands of homes across Scotland are lying unused and empty. A Scottish Labour government would address this, working with local government to buy up neglected and empty homes, selling them on to future homeowners who will turn them back into homes that are lived in and loved.

Regardless of tenure, Scottish Labour believes that every family in Scotland should have a home in which they feel safe and secure. It is essential that when safety issues are highlighted, action is taken swiftly to ensure that families are not at risk. We must never again see a repeat of the Grenfell fire disaster. In the seven years since, progress in removing dangerous cladding from homes across Scotland has been painfully slow. Scottish Labour believes the remediation process must be accelerated and treated with the urgency it deserves.

The last Labour government in Scotland oversaw a decrease in homelessness and all but abolished rough sleeping. That progress has since been undone, with rising numbers forced to sleep on the streets, or sofa surfing, and thousands of people stuck in temporary accommodation. Building on our past experience of progress, a Scottish Labour government will partner with local authorities to develop a cross-government strategy to reduce homelessness, increase housing supply, and end Scotland’s housing emergency.

Education can transform a child’s life chances and clear the way to opportunity for all. On the foundation of economic security, we can build an education system that prepares children for life, work and the future.

Labour will look after young people from cradle to career. No matter a child’s background, they should leave education equipped with the skills they need for work and life. We want our young people to leave school confident and resilient, with a high-quality education, core skills in literacy and numeracy, and learning in digital, STEM and creative studies.

Labour will spread opportunity at every age and every stage because every child should believe that success belongs to them.

The first years of a child’s life are critical for their development and setting them up for success. It is important that in these early stages of life children are supported to learn and grow, while parents and carers are supported in a way that suits their family and working life.

Scottish Labour recognises the value of high-quality early years care. It was under Scottish Labour that free early years provision was first introduced in Scotland in 2002, and we supported its extension. Yet, while the number of hours has increased, too often provision of nursery care is unavailable and many families are missing out.

A Scottish Labour government will make it a priority to work with the sector to look at how we can build greater flexibility into the system. This will ensure parents who work shifts or who need greater wraparound care are not excluded from provision. Scottish Labour also recognises the need to better support families with disabled children and to encourage more registered childminders to join and stay in the profession.

Supporting children in the early part of their life means giving parents the flexibility they need to care for their family. UK Labour will review the parental leave system, so it best supports working families, within our first year in government.

Scotland once had a world-renowned education system. Under the last Scottish Labour government, the performance of students in maths, literacy and science was among the best in the world. But after 17 years of an SNP government this is sadly no longer the case, with Scotland slipping down international standards on the core subjects of reading, maths and science. Scottish Labour wants to restore our education system and raise our school standards again.

High-quality teaching and support makes the biggest difference in education. Our teachers and education staff do an excellent job but are over-stretched in often difficult circumstances. We want to raise school standards for every child across the country, and that means prioritising the state sector for additional investment, rather than continuing to subsidise private schools. A UK Labour government will end the VAT exemption for private schools and invest this money into the state education system. The funding this will deliver for Scotland will be significant and could deliver more staff and support in Scotland’s schools. For example, it is the equivalent of over 1,800 more teachers in Scotland.

Raising attainment and improving standards is not just about more teachers; support staff who can work directly with pupils are also key. We therefore want to develop a proper workforce plan for schools so that our pupils and education workforce are properly supported for years to come.

There needs to be robust data collection within Scottish schools so that we have accurate information on what is happening in classrooms. This will enable effective responses to the needs within our education system, such as trends or gaps in additional support needs provision.

There have been numerous reviews and recommendations about how the curriculum and school education in Scotland can be reformed to deliver the best possible start for our young people. We want the curriculum to prepare young people for life and our modern economy. Poor implementation and a lack of support for teachers has undermined the Curriculum for Excellence. Many of the institutions involved in delivering education in Scotland have been deemed unfit for purpose, most recently with the exams scandal during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scottish Labour supports replacement of the SQA and Education Scotland with new bodies so that the system of curriculum development, accreditation, and assessments is fit for purpose, and Scotland once again has an independent inspectorate. The current assessment regime needs to capture the strengths of every child, to recognise attainment and achievement, and have the right balance of exams and assessment methods.

It is crucial that what children are taught in school equips them for life and work. Scottish Labour believes there must be a focus on raising standards in numeracy and literacy throughout all years. In many schools across Scotland, pupils have also faced a narrowing of the curriculum and a curtailing of the choices available to them, particularly in more deprived areas. Scottish Labour wants to see this reversed with greater equality of choice and opportunity provided in Scotland’s schools, learning from successful models where resources have been pooled across schools. It is also crucial that the curriculum keeps up with innovation and developments in wider society. There needs to be a greater focus within the curriculum on digital skills, and we have an ambition to make Scottish pupils among the most digitally literate within a decade.

Scotland needs better support for careers development in schools so that young people are inspired to undertake careers in the industries of the future and are equipped with the skills they need. To reform careers advice in schools, a Scottish Labour government would work in partnership with industry, as well as the public and third sectors, to develop a ‘Skills to School’ programme to encourage pupils to think about their future options and open up new opportunities with employers, sectors and industries they may not have considered.

Providing our children and young people with a quality education is dependent on the hard work and commitment of our teachers, support staff and the wider team of specialist professionals around them. The SNP promised to make education its priority, but schools have not been given the resources they need. Many teachers are unable to find permanent jobs, with cuts across the country and support staff forced to work from cupboards because they are not properly resourced.

Teachers and school staff are angry about the chaos that the education system is in. They are the experts and must be listened to if we want to improve the system. Scottish Labour believes collaboration should be central to education again, so that together with the expertise of teachers and school staff, changes are based on what is best for pupils.

Scottish Labour wants to see teachers properly supported. They should have sufficient non-contact time to prepare for classes, the teaching resources they need, and the staff teams required to educate and care for children. All staff should have the stability of secure contracts.

No teacher or pupil should feel unsafe in the classroom, but in recent years there have been widespread reports of rising violence and aggression in Scottish schools. This is unacceptable. Scottish Labour want to help headteachers and staff to take a zero-tolerance approach to violence, addressing the underlying conditions that have seen children’s needs go unmet and staff unsupported.

Too many children’s life chances are being scarred by rising poverty. The poverty-related attainment gap remains starkly wide in Scotland, and the most recent round of cuts risks making the situation worse. We will consider how wider use of free breakfasts and targeted nurture support in schools can help children from deprived areas. Labour’s plans to tackle poverty by reducing bills, making work pay and delivering a new child poverty strategy will also support families and help children come to school ready to learn.

Understanding the unique challenges for our care-experienced young people and empowering them to fully participate in education and wider life is a crucial part of delivering opportunity for all. Scottish Labour reaffirms its commitment to The Promise and recognises the importance of the ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

There has been a stark rise in school absences, but the records on attendance and monitoring of home-schooling provision is patchy across Scotland. Scottish Labour wants to ensure no child falls through the cracks. As well as measures to encourage attendance, we propose creating a national attendance register to monitor absence levels, improve attendance, and ensure support and alternative provision is targeted in the right places.

Poor mental health is also a barrier to learning and the struggle to access support is holding children and young people back. Every child and young person should be able to access specialist mental health services at school so they have access to early support to address problems before they escalate.

While schools are trying to do their best for all pupils, too often our education and wider health and social care systems do not meet the needs of everyone, including those with additional support needs. Mainstreaming has been a rightly celebrated approach which Scottish Labour supports, but its implementation has been undermined by a lack of proper resources. The number of pupils with additional support needs has increased rapidly in recent years, while the number of specialist teachers and specialist support services has declined. Scottish Labour will work with headteachers, schools and parents on how to implement the recommendations of the Morgan Review so that they no longer have to fight for support every day, and can deliver better outcomes for all.

Colleges are vital to supporting Scotland’s economy and their local communities. They deliver vital training and skills development, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and people who need or want to re-train.

Scottish Labour wants to restore colleges to their full potential. Our partnership approach will bring together colleges, communities, businesses and local training providers to provide young people with better job opportunities and deliver the highly trained workforce that local economies need.

Apprenticeships will also be a key component in Scottish Labour’s plans to grow the economy and develop the jobs of the future. We want to build on the success of the modern apprenticeship model, making it more flexible, easier to access, and better suited to the needs of individuals and industry. This includes the creation of sector-specific clearing systems so that people can find roles more easily and good candidates do not drop out of the system and miss out on opportunities. Scottish Labour will also work with colleges, training providers and businesses to explore options for more ‘modular’ apprenticeships that can be moulded to fit the need of individuals and businesses. These would allow apprentices to bolt-on additional modules that are more specific to their role and apprentices who are upskilling or re-skilling could bypass modules in which they already have proven skills.

UK Labour will reform the Conservatives’ broken Apprenticeships Levy, replacing it with a Growth and Skills Levy. Decisions over how the levy funding that comes to Scotland is spent are for the Scottish Government, but Scottish Labour believes it could be better spent on skills development. With greater clarity over the funding available in Scotland, we will consider how this resource could be prioritised to meet the needs of communities, businesses and workers.

While increasing the quality and value of vocational skills, Scottish Labour will also continue to support the aspiration of every child who wants, and meets the requirements, to go to university. Scotland’s universities are among the best in the world and home to groundbreaking research. The sector creates jobs and contributes to local and national economies. Scottish Labour remains committed to free tuition for Scottish students attending Scottish universities and we want to ensure that the progress made on widening access continues.

With Labour, the arts and music will no longer be the preserve of a privileged few. Culture is an essential part of supporting children and young people to develop creativity and find their voice.

The creative industries make an important contribution to Scotland’s cultural life and to our economy. The sector is worth nearly £4.5 billion and it supports 80,000 jobs, but there remains huge potential for growth that can benefit every community in Scotland. We have identified the sector as a key component of our ‘Brand Scotland’ offer and believe there is a role for the Scottish Government to develop clearer career paths in the sector and take steps to encourage investment in Scottish creatives.

As part of our UK industrial strategy, a UK Labour government will implement our sector plan for the creative industries, creating good jobs and accelerating growth in film, music, gaming, and other creative sectors. UK Labour will also work with the BBC and our other public service broadcasters so they continue to inform, educate and entertain people, as well as support the creative economy by commissioning distinctive Scottish and UK content.

Access to music, drama, and sport has become difficult and expensive because of ticket touting. Labour will put fans back at the heart of events by introducing new UK-wide consumer protections on ticket resales.

The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe are globally-recognised platforms for creative excellence. Scottish Labour will ensure the Edinburgh festivals form part of our wider plan to treat our creative industries as an economic asset and to promote tourism so they can continue to attract investment and be enjoyed by generations to come.

Labour will deliver international events, such as the Men’s UEFA European Football Championship which will involve games staged in Scotland, with pride. We will seek new opportunities where we can, creating a legacy to inspire the next generation of talent while promoting exercise and healthy living.

All children, regardless of their background, should get to experience the arts, culture, sport and creative activities. As a first step, Scottish Labour wants to improve access to sport in schools and expand the provision of music tuition through a national online support platform so that all children have the chance to learn these skills.

In Scotland we acknowledge the fan-led review carried out by the Scottish Football Supporters Association. Scottish Labour wants to see fans have a greater say in the way football is run, and we would consult on the issue of football governance and the need for an independent regulator for Scottish football. We also support anti-racism education to stamp out racism in football and beyond.

Everyone in this country deserves governments that match their ambition. Labour will ensure no matter where you live in Scotland, and whatever your background, you can thrive. We will turn the page on policies that promote division and pitch communities against one another.

Women’s equality will be at the heart of UK Labour’s missions. Our Plan to Make Work Pay will transform the lives of working women, including by strengthening rights to equal pay and protections from maternity and menopause discrimination and sexual harassment. And Labour will take action to reduce the gender pay gap, building on the legacy of Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act.

A UK Labour government will introduce a landmark Race Equality Act, to enshrine in law the full right to equal pay for Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority people, strengthen protections against dual discrimination and root out other racial inequalities.

Labour is committed to championing the rights of disabled people and to the principle of working with them, so that their views and voices will be at the heart of all we do. UK Labour will introduce the full right to equal pay for disabled people. Building on gender pay gap reporting, we will introduce disability and ethnicity pay gap reporting for large employers. A UK Labour government will also tackle the Access to Work backlog in the UK system and make sure people can try out a job without fear of an immediate benefit reassessment if it does not work out.

Delivering opportunities for all means that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity. So-called conversion therapy is abuse – there is no other word for it – so Labour will finally deliver a full trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, while protecting the freedom for people to explore their sexual orientation and gender identity. Scottish Labour believe we must also modernise, simplify, and reform the intrusive and outdated gender recognition law. As this is devolved but also interacts with reserved legislation, Scottish Labour believes that any legislation in Scotland must provide dignity for transgender people and be consistent with the Equality Act.

Labour is proud of our Equality Act and the rights and protections it affords women; we will continue to support the implementation of its single-sex exceptions.