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Progress made on child poverty but ‘urgent action needed to meet 2030 targets’

(Dominic Lipinski/PA)
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Commitments to tackle child poverty in Scotland will not be enough to reach 2030 targets despite positive progress, experts have said.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison told MSPs almost £3.3 billion has been spent on tackling child poverty between 2018 and 2022, as part of £8.5 billion to support low-income families.

Outlining the fourth annual progress report on child poverty, published on Wednesday, Ms Robison said all the actions pledged as part of the delivery plan had been achieved.

Scottish Parliament
Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

It focused on three drivers of potential poverty reduction: work and earnings, social security and household costs.

In her statement to MSPs, Ms Robison hailed the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, with more than 1.2 million payments issued between February 2021 and March 2022.

Funding hours for early learning and childcare were increased from 600 in 2018 to 1,140 in August 2021, saving families up to £4,900 per eligible child, she said.

“We have made progress despite significant challenges,” she said.

“The pandemic and the continued impact of UK Government welfare reforms has disproportionately impacted the most disadvantaged and been severe.

“And, of course, households are now all facing the current cost-of-living crisis.

“That is why we remain determined to continue with our national mission to tackle child poverty.”

The Poverty and Inequality Commission, which gives ministers independent advice, released its scrutiny report on Wednesday which called for urgent action to prevent key targets being missed.

By the end of 2030, less than 10% of children should be living in relative poverty – based on the number of families on low incomes compared with middle income households.

Less than 5% should be living in absolute poverty, where low-income families see no improvement in their living standards, and material deprivation means basic necessities are unaffordable.

The Scottish Government’s progress was noted in the commission’s report, but it found that actions taken so far were “very unlikely” to be enough.

Measures such as increasing the Scottish Child Payment from £20 to £25 would have the “biggest impact”, it said.

Bill Scott, the group’s chairman, said: “Despite clear commitments made, and significant new investment in the Scottish Child Payment and childcare, the action taken by the Scottish Government so far is proving inadequate and progress is currently not enough to meet targets.

“The cost-of-living crisis will make it much harder to meet the absolute poverty, low income and material deprivation interim targets, and further action is needed now if the 2030 targets are to be met.

“Although the Scottish Government acknowledges that meeting the 2030 targets will require an unprecedented reduction in child poverty, it is unlikely to occur without considerable changes to the drivers of poverty. ”

Scottish Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy said Ms Robison’s statement was “celebratory” despite concerns over the target.

Ms Robison replied she did not “accept” that her statement was “celebratory”.

“There’s always more to do and I’ll never disagree with Pam Duncan-Glancy on that,” she said.

“But just occasionally it would be good for some acknowledgement of the action that has been taken – that has not been taken anywhere else on these islands.”

Further achievements included expanding free school meals to children in P4 and P5, and increasing the clothing grant.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said “strong foundations have been laid” in Scotland to tackle the issue.

But he said rolling out the Scottish Child Payment “can’t come soon enough” to help families facing pressure.

He added: “In the meantime we would urge the Scottish Government to double the remaining bridging payments being made for school-aged children on the lowest incomes so that they match the value of the extra support being provided through the Scottish Child Payment.”

An estimated 260,000 children in Scotland are living in poverty.