This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Scotland’s progress in tackling poverty appears to be going in reverse – with one of Humza Yousaf’s key pledges at risk of losing credibility before it has even started.

The First Minister, a passionate anti-poverty campaigner, is well aware of the action needed to combat inequality.

Speaking at his anti-poverty summit in May, Mr Yousaf starkly set out that “tackling poverty and inequality is the single biggest challenge facing Scotland”, adding that it “requires continued, urgent and sustained action”.

He added that a “collaborative approach” will allow Scotland to “secure real action on the biggest issues facing our country”.

Mr Yousaf claimed that in his first year of the job, almost £3bn has been allocated “to support policies which tackle poverty and protect people as far as possible during the cost-of-living crisis”.

But whatever funding the Scottish Government is throwing at tackling poverty, things are getting markedly worse.

Scotland’s drug deaths remain the worst in Europe, with 1,051 fatalities recorded in 2022.

In 2022, people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were almost 16 times as likely to die from drug misuse than in the least deprived areas.

The Scottish Government’s ‘national mission’ to tackle drug deaths acknowledges that “a key underlying factor for drug deaths is poverty”.

It adds that “while drug deaths are unacceptably high across the country some areas – particularly the cities and deindustrialised communities – have a particularly acute challenge”.

Those drugs deaths have now been overtaken by deaths caused by alcohol consumption – with Tuesday’s statistics the worst annual set of numbers in 14 years.

Death caused by alcohol consumption in 2022 was 4.3 times as high in Scotland’s most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas, but this gap has narrowed in the long-term.

In more grim news announced on Tuesday, those from deprived backgrounds are almost three times more likely to die from suicide than those in more affluent areas.

Figures showed people in Scotland’s most deprived areas were 2.7 times more likely to die by suicide between 2011 and 2021 than those in the most affluent areas, with 2,478 deaths in the poorest areas compared to 910 in the richest.

As well as those from more deprived households more likely to suffer through addiction and suicide, it is also starkly clear that these crucial issues will not and cannot be tackled without tackling poverty.

The Herald:

The attainment gap, the divide in progress between Scotland’s most affluent and least affluent children at school, is also worsening.

This year’s exam results revealed that the attainment gap between pupils obtaining an A to C grade at National 5 level stood at 15.6% – a widening of the figure seen in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

For Highers, the attainment gap for A-C has risen from 14.9% in 2022 to 16% this year.

Some limited progress has been made for some qualifications in reducing the attainment gap, and against 2019 figures, but the Scottish Government, under Nicola Sturgeon, promised to get rid of it completely by 2026.

Mr Yousaf’s leadership had little if nothing to do with these latest damning statistics – they fall at the feet of his predecessor.

Despite Mr Yousaf being viewed as the continuity candidate to take over power from Ms Sturgeon, her legacy has done the start of his administration no favours.

Whether it is the SNP finances probe or a long list of policy failings any party who has been in government for more than 15 years will face, Mr Yousaf has not had any sort of honeymoon period to bed into Bute House.

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Ms Sturgeon’s rhetoric wasn’t always matched by results and that legacy still hangs over Mr Yousaf’s leadership.

Unfortunately for him, it is likely to remain a problem until progress is made in a host of policy areas.

No-one can fault Mr Yousaf’s ambition to rid Scotland of inequality and poverty – it was part of his appeal to members in the SNP leadership contest.

Whatever your view may be of the Scottish Government and the First Minister, Mr Yousaf is skilled at emphasising and talking like a normal person – perhaps even more so than his predecessor.

But with the end of the Holyrood’s term before summer recess being dominated by policy U-turns including the controversial fishing ban plans, Mr Yousaf’s programme for government next week will be the first chance for him to set out how his ambitions will be achieved.

He will likely say that actions to tackle poverty are being hampered by the cost-of-living crisis and that is a fair point.

It will also be true for Mr Yousaf to point out that the Scottish Government only has so much money to bring forward new things with.

But what it does come down to is priority and if the First Minister is dedicated to ridding Scotland of inequality as he claims, next week is a chance to set out how that could happen.

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