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Scottish Government must ‘further prioritise’ tackling child poverty – committee

The committee pushed for the Scottish Government to lay out how its new poverty plan will tackle the problem (Ian West/PA)
The committee pushed for the Scottish Government to lay out how its new poverty plan will tackle the problem (Ian West/PA)

A Holyrood committee has urged the Scottish Government to prioritise tackling child poverty to help boost the wellbeing of young people.

During an inquiry, the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee at Holyrood heard about the correlation between poverty and poor health.

In a report released on Friday, the committee called on the Scottish Government to “further prioritise” the fight against poverty and provide “greater detail” on how its child poverty delivery plan – published in March – will “contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people” and how that improvement will be measured.

The report said: “The committee has been concerned to hear evidence that, irrespective of concerted action to tackle child poverty and to ensure interim and final targets on child poverty are met, rates of material deprivation are expected to continue to increase as a result of the current cost-of-living crisis.

“The committee is particularly concerned that the impacts of the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis will make those targets substantially harder to meet and that this will have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of children and young people currently living in poverty.

“Even if certain of these targets are technically met, evidence suggests that, without additional action, children and young people’s experience of poverty on the ground and the negative impact on their health and wellbeing are likely to continue to intensify in line with the intensifying impact of the cost-of-living crisis.”

Announcing the child poverty delivery plan, Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Child Payment – a weekly benefit provided to the most deprived families in Scotland – would rise to £25 a week by the end of the year, in addition to a jump to £20 in April.

Committee convener Gillian Martin said: “The aim is for Scotland to be the best place for children and young people to grow up, and we are clear that the government’s focus should be on making that a certainty.

“Our inquiry has gathered compelling evidence that poverty is a key driver of poor health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people.

“Our committee is united in its belief that the Scottish Government must further prioritise spending to tackle the adverse impact of poverty on the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

“The current cost-of-living crisis and UK-wide benefits cuts have made this an even more urgent priority.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are taking immediate steps to put cash in the pockets of families – tackling the cost-of-living crisis and helping to lift thousands of children out of poverty in Scotland.”

But the spokesman added that “many of the powers needed to address poverty remain reserved”, but it was “taking all the action we can with the powers currently available to us”.

“Our package of five family benefits for low income families, including the increased Scottish Child Payment, will be worth over £10,000 by the time a family’s first child turns six, and £9,700 for second and subsequent children,” the spokesman said.

“We will also build on our investment in employment support for parents, through new skills and training opportunities and key worker support to help reduce household costs and drive longer term change.”

The spokesman added the Scottish Government knew the pandemic “has been exceptionally difficult for the mental health and wellbeing of many children, young people and their families”.

“As well as investing an additional £40 million in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and an additional £5 million in Eating Disorder support last year, we funded local authorities to provide over 230 new and enhanced supports for children and young people in their communities. Counselling support is now available in every secondary school in Scotland,” the spokesman said.

“Play continues to be a high priority for the Scottish Government and this year alone we are investing just over £3 million, including £704,000 for PlayTalkRead, £1,7 million for the Bookbug programme and £210,000 for Play Scotland.”