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Ministers challenged to display ‘urgency’ of Covid response on child poverty

A new report has challenged the Scottish Government to tackle child poverty with the same ‘urgency’ as it did Covid. (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)
A new report has challenged the Scottish Government to tackle child poverty with the same ‘urgency’ as it did Covid. (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

Ministers need to show the same urgency when tackling child poverty that they did in their response to the coronavirus pandemic, a new report has insisted.

A paper from campaigners at Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation demanded action, saying it was “impossible to ignore the immediate and crushing hardship” that some families are facing.

While it said the measures in the Scottish Government’s delivery plan would “likely drive a reduction in child poverty”, it insisted more needed to be done if the aim of reducing the number of children affected to 18% by 2023-24 is to be met.

The report cited analysis by economics experts at the Fraser of Allander Institute, which said the measures in the Government’s play may reduce child poverty rates to 19%.

“This will mean that there are significantly fewer children living in poverty due to the actions of the plan but that the policies in the plan by themselves are unlikely to lead to the interim poverty targets being met,” it said.

Ministers were praised for introducing the Scottish Child Payment, with the report hailing the weekly payment as a “crucial lifeline to many with young children”.

But the report insisted this payment needed to be increased by above the rate of inflation in 2023-24 to help “ease the cost of living for families” and ensure interim targets for tackling child poverty are met.

The report called for the Scottish Child Payment to be increased by above the rate of inflation in 2023-24 (Jane Barlow/PA)

It also called on ministers to “make restoring and improving mental health services a key plank of efforts to reduce poverty”.

Overall it challenged the Scottish Government to “bring the urgency of the response to the pandemic to the ‘national mission’ to end child poverty”.

This is needed “due to the urgent struggles that families face, many of which predate high inflation and Covid”.

The call came as the report said it was “impossible to ignore the immediate and crushing hardship that the parents who spoke with us face”.

Families can struggle to find work that pays “enough to get by”, the report said, with problems with childcare sometimes “locking parents away from job opportunities”.

Other difficulties can include a “social security system full of complexity, stigma and perverse incentives”, the report added.

Chris Birt, associate director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “The Scottish Government’s Plan to reduce child poverty will do just that but our discussions with parents and our analysis shows that it doesn’t go far enough.

“Not just in terms of its ability to meet the statutory child poverty targets but, more importantly, in taking the urgent action that parents and their children need to loosen the grip of poverty.

“Families in Scotland face a toxic mix of high inflation, low and insecure incomes (from work and social security) and poor mental wellbeing. They need the Scottish Government to take action now – they have got the diagnosis right, but the prescription needs to be much stronger.”

Claire Telfer, head of Save the Children in Scotland, stated: “If the Scottish Government are to meet their ambitious targets on reducing child poverty, they must continue to keep the work rooted in the experience and expertise of families.”

She added: “While the interim targets are within touching distance, building a society where every family has a decent secure income is still a distant horizon. Parents face barrier after barrier to make ends meet for them and their children.

“We need to raise the ambition in some areas and go further and faster to deliver for families to close the gap between their reality and the welcome policy ambitions in the government’s plan.”

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison accepted there was ‘much work to do’ in tackling child poverty, given the cost of living crisis and ‘UK Government welfare cuts’ (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: “Tackling child poverty is a national mission for this government. As a result of actions in our first delivery plan, and our new plan Best Start, Bright Futures – published in March – child poverty is set to fall to its lowest level in nearly 30 years.”

She told how the Scottish Government had “undertaken a range of actions to support families”, including the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, which will be rolled out to children under 16 by the end of this year.

Ms Robison added: “In addition to £1.8 billion in Scottish Child Payments, we have allocated £300 million to tackling child poverty over the next four years.

“This will help deliver on our further actions, including employment support for parents and support to reduce household costs.”

She accepted that “there is still much work to do, particularly in the face of UK Government welfare cuts and a cost-of-living crisis”.

However she said ministers were “determined” to continue with efforts to deliver “the change our children deserve”.

Commenting, Scottish Labour spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “This report proves what many feared all along – that the SNP are relying on one measure, failing to respond to the scale of the problem, and not delivering the bolder action needed to address the shameful levels of child poverty in Scotland.

“It’s clear that we need to make better use of the levers the Scottish Government has if we are to meet our legal and moral duty to drive down poverty and give every child a fair start in life.

“There can be no half measures when on this. The SNP government must respond, quickly, to the stark warnings in this report and set out a credible plan to lift children in Scotland out of poverty.”