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More planning needed to tackle rising child poverty, says Audit Scotland

Child poverty targets were set in 2017 (Ian West/PA)
Child poverty targets were set in 2017 (Ian West/PA)

More planning is needed to address child poverty in Scotland, which has increased since targets were set in 2017, a report has said.

Audit Scotland’s briefing paper said more than a quarter of children in Scotland were living in poverty before the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis will make the situation worse.

The report said policies and spending remain more focused on helping children out of poverty than on long-term measures to prevent it.

In 2017, the Scottish Parliament set statutory targets for the Scottish Government to significantly reduce four key indicators of child poverty by 2023/24, and then again by 2030/31.

The most commonly used indicator, relative child poverty, increased from an average of 21% across 2011-14 to 24% across 2017-20.

In 2019/20, pre-dating Covid-19, the latest single-year data available, indicates that 260,000 children (26%) were living in poverty.

Problems with data collection during the pandemic meant figures for 2020/21 were not published.

The target for 2023/24 is for relative child poverty to fall to 18%.

Stephen Boyle
Stephen Boyle said ministers should act now (Audit Scotland/PA)

The report recommends consistent use of the suite of child poverty indicators to reflect the impact of cost of living increases.

Audit Scotland noted that 10 years ago the Christie Commission recommended the Scottish Government and councils shift more focus to preventing poverty.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s wellbeing and life chances and has wider implications for society.

“The Scottish Government needs to work with its partners to quickly set out the detail of how the second child poverty plan will be delivered, monitored and evaluated.

Children playing in a street
The Scottish Government said tackling child poverty was a ‘national mission’ (Dave Thompson/PA)

“Government policy takes time to have an impact on child poverty and so it is essential ministers also act now to set out options for reaching their long-term targets in 2030.”

William Moyes, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Councils have a key role to play in tackling child poverty through measures such as housing, education, childcare and employability. But there is limited information available across councils about what they are doing and its impact.

“Better collection and sharing of information about councils’ child poverty work will help support learning and improvement across Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Tackling child poverty is a national mission.

“We invested an estimated £8.5 billion in supporting low income households between 2018-22, of which £3.3 billion directly benefitted children.

“Our second tackling child poverty delivery plan, ‘Best Start, Bright Futures’, sets out our actions to tackle child poverty still further, including our focus on long-term parental employment support, increased social security, and measures to reduce household costs.

“This includes increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £25 per eligible child per week from 14 November, a 150% increase within 8 months,  with the ‘game-changing’ anti-poverty benefit also opening to applications for eligible under-16s from that date.

“We welcome the Audit Scotland briefing paper and, together with our partners, will give it careful consideration.”

The Scottish Government said its latest progress report showed it had delivered on all 68 of its committed actions, including introducing the Scottish Child Payment.

Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2021
Miles Briggs said the government’s record was ‘dismal’ (Lesley Martin/PA)

Responding to the report, Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said: “Audit Scotland have delivered a damning, but fully justified, criticism of the SNP Government’s dismal record on child poverty.

“They point out that levels of child poverty have risen since SNP ministers set targets in 2017, and highlight the lack of long-term measures to prevent it and the need for more joint planning between the Scottish Government and local councils.”

He continued: “If the SNP’s latest child poverty plan is to have any chance of success, they must reverse years of local government funding cuts and give Scotland’s councils the resources required to tackle this issue.”