Nicola Sturgeon: “With poverty, prevention is better than cure”

The Big Issue has challenged party leaders to put poverty prevention at the heart of government. All have agreed, and here Nicola Sturgeon explains how the SNP would act on this

The Big Issue believes that there must be a focus on ending poverty in Britain. And the only REAL way to break the poverty cycle is to work to prevent it taking hold. It’s why we need a real shift, to a new, systematic strategy of prevention. 

Led by Big Issue founder Lord John Bird, we’re pushing for a Poverty Prevention Unit to keep the spotlight on poverty. The £78bn plus that governments spend every year on the consequences of poverty would be much better targeted by prevention.

We’ve challenged every major party leader in Britain to back our call for a non-partisan unit, which would put poverty prevention right at the heart of national decision-making. A team of people who would keep ministers’ feet to the fire, and ensure this BIGGEST ISSUE can’t be kicked into the long grass.

All party leaders are in agreement on this. Here, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon responds to The Big Issue’s prevention plan


“It’s a great pleasure to be asked to write for The Big Issue in the midst of a crucial election campaign, where we have an opportunity to throw the spotlight on rising levels of poverty and inequality across the UK.

The UK is a rich country, and poverty levels should be falling.

The dismantling of the postwar welfare state is undoubtedly a significant factor in the increase and I fear that will pick up pace. It’s no longer even the case that work is the best route out of poverty.

The UK is a rich country, and poverty levels should be falling

So when I hear Big Issue founder Lord Bird claim that “poverty is stitched into the system”, it’s hard to disagree. All of us have a role in fixing it.

Let me tell you a bit about what we’re doing in Scotland.

We’re investing over £100m a year to prevent the worst of the welfare cuts hitting low-income households.

We’ve introduced a new Child Poverty Bill, following the Tory government’s decision to scrap income-based child poverty targets, which introduces new Scotland-wide targets to eradicate child poverty.

With some social security powers being devolved we are committed to building dignity and respect into our new system, and have already ruled out the use of private companies in benefits assessments.


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This means we’ll be able to do even more for people at risk of poverty – increasing Carer’s Allowance to the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance starting next year, and replacing the  Maternity Grant with an increased Best Start Grant for example.

But measures such as these, of course, only look at one half of the issue.

Prevention is better than cure – and I’m extremely sympathetic to calls for a prevention unit to work across the public sector and across the governments in these islands.

I’m extremely sympathetic to calls for a UK poverty prevention unit

If we want all our children and young people to get equal chances and choices to succeed in life, we must tackle barriers to their success and invest in actions which prevent poor outcomes.

From August, every newborn baby will receive a box of essential items such as clothes, nappies and books. We already provide 16 hours a week free early learning for vulnerable two-year-olds and all three and four-year-olds – this will double from 2020.

At school, P1-P3 pupils are entitled to a free, healthy meal and we’re putting extra money and teachers into schools in the poorest areas so children get the support they need to do well.

Young people should all leave school with real choices ahead of them. We provide over 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships every year – rising to 30,000 by 2020. We’re working to widen access to university and from this year, every suitably qualified young person with care experience will get a full grant and a guaranteed place at university.

And work must be fair. Scotland leads the UK nations with 80 per cent of employees now paid at least the living wage – and SNP MPs will push for the UK minimum wage to rise to the £10 real Living Wage.

Working to prevent people falling into poverty reaches into almost every area of government

Working to prevent people falling into poverty reaches into almost every area of government – whether it’s ensuring everyone is accessing the social security they’re entitled to, putting young low-level offenders back on track by investing in community-based punishments, or ensuring everyone has access to good-quality, and warm, housing.

Politicians must think smartly, be unafraid to challenge orthodoxy and be willing to share experiences.

Whatever the next Parliament looks like, let’s work together to seek long-term solutions to the social injustices that too many people in our society face.

Because ultimately, building a fairer society should be at the heart of everything we do.”

The Big Issue has asked for YOU to help us hold political leaders to account – to become part of our Activist Army and challenge MPs to back The Big Issue’s prevention manifesto.