Peter KellyDirector, The Poverty Alliance
Scotland is a place that believes every child should thrive and not just survive.
But far too many of our children have their life chances restricted and restrained just because they’re unlucky enough to be growing up in households that are struggling in a tidal wave of poverty.
That’s an injustice that we can put right.
The Scottish Government has set ambitious targets to end child poverty, accompanied by a Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan to make those targets a reality. Targets include bringing child poverty levels below 10 per cent by 2030.
But the Scottish Government’s latest progress report, published this week, shows that we need to do much more if those targets are to be met. When assessing the Government’s progress against Best Start, Bright Futures and our statutory targets there emerges a clear implementation gap.
The latest statistics show that 250,000 children are living in poverty in Scotland, which is around one in four children. Worryingly, these numbers don’t reflect the full impact of the cost of living crisis because they don’t cover last winter when energy bills were at their highest. The Poverty & Inequality Commission was clear: “there is a very high likelihood that the Scottish Government will miss the 2030 child poverty targets, unless it substantially increases the pace and scale of delivery.”
That crisis is far from over and is continuing to have far-reaching implications for households across Scotland. Stubbornly high energy and food costs coupled with a growing debt crisis threatens to undo much of the positive work that has been done in recent years.
Child poverty can only be eradicated if the Scottish Government uses all its available policy levers across housing, social security, childcare, and equal access to employment. The Scottish Government has projected that child poverty will fall by 90,000 this year, and if that is correct it is to be very much welcomed. Actions are being taken in Scotland that mean we have lower rates here than elsewhere in the UK, but that is little comfort to anyone struggling to feed their family in Glasgow, Dundee or Inverness.
When we spoke with people with lived experience of poverty about the Scottish Government’s plans, one participant said: “The key is putting money in people’s pockets. People will make the best choices for their families.”
We agree, and in our briefing for MSPs and Ministers this week we called on the Scottish Government to increase the Scottish Child Payment to at least £40 per week. We haven’t picked that figure out of the air – it’s based on analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looking at what level of investment was needed to actually meet the child poverty targets.
And we must meet those targets. We have to remember that we previously had legal targets to end child poverty across the UK by three years ago in 2020, but they were scrapped by the UK Government in 2016. Our children can no longer wait.
The Poverty and Inequality Commission’s report places focus on employability support as a key area of Best Start, Bright Futures where the Scottish Government’s ambition has not been realised. They stated that “the in-year cut to employability funding in 2022-23 was a blow to the delivery of a significant element of the Delivery Plan’s strand to raise income from employment”. We agree.
It’s clear that employability is an area of the plan where the implementation gap is most acute, and there is insufficient clarity as to how the Scottish Government will rectify this.
As well as boosting the Scottish Child Payment and introducing employability support that meets the needs of priority families, we called on the Scottish Government to commit to further concrete actions to help households with children.
We can pause collections on public sector debt recovery for at least six months, to give people time to deal with the impact of the costs crisis.
We can deliver funded childcare to 50 hours per week, helping parents, particularly mothers, to get access to education, training, and better job opportunities.
We can make sure that Fair Work becomes the norm in Scotland, making life easier for parents who are in employment, raising their incomes and making it easier for them to fit work around family life.
And we can take action to address Scotland’s housing crisis, by building at least 38,500 social homes by 2026 to meet housing need and provide homes with affordable rents for households with children.
One of the key messages emerging from the First Minister’s anti-poverty summit last month was that the Scottish Government must shift its emphasis to delivery. The latest progress report has again underscored that point. It’s time to close the implementation gap and ensure that the Government’s positive rhetoric on tackling child poverty is accompanied by concrete action and adequate funding.