Child poverty, economic modelling: First Minister - 28 February 2024

Speech delivered by First Minister Humza Yousaf at Drumbrae Library.

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Good morning, and thank you for coming.

It has been a genuine joy and privilege to spend my morning at this Book Bug session. It makes a change from reading “Never Tickle A Tiger” at bedtime for my daughter, but equally as much fun.

Before I take questions from you, I want to talk about the modelling that we’ve published today. That modelling highlighting the real impact that Scottish Government policies are having on child poverty.

It is utterly unacceptable that, in 2024, children continue to live in poverty in Scotland.

And there is no hiding from the fact that we all – my government and I included – must do more to ensure that children across Scotland do not continue to have their lives and opportunities impacted by the blight of poverty.

Tackling poverty is the driving mission of the Government I lead.

It’s why addressing child poverty is at the very heart of my priorities as First Minister.  

It’s why we are taking action now.

Our financial constraints compounded by Westminster austerity, cuts from the UK Government and high inflation, are arguably the most difficult financial constraints in the devolution era.

We have very deliberately chosen to invest in our public services, and the social contract which binds the Scottish Government to the people we serve.

From the introduction of the innovative and transformative Scottish Child Payment – described as “game-changing by frontline organisations and already improving the lives of so many children and families across Scotland in real and immediate ways – right the way through to investing £1 billion to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap,

Continuing delivery of the Whole Family Wellbeing programme, providing £50 million to develop and scale up holistic family support, and investing around £1 billion every year in high quality early learning and childcare, ensuring Scotland has the most generous funded childcare offer in the UK.

The economic modelling published today estimates that the actions we’re taking will mean the relative and absolute child poverty rates will be 10 and seven percentage points lower than they would’ve otherwise been.

These aren’t just numbers on a page, or faceless government statistics. That’s 100,000 children kept out of relative poverty and 70,000 kept out of absolute poverty next year.

These are the lives of children across Scotland, in every single community, being improved by the action we are taking.

I have heard some media and political commentators suggest that our budget doesn’t show enough commitment to tackling child poverty. They could not be more wrong. This latest modelling suggests that the Scottish Government’s interim targets on reducing child poverty are within reach.

All of this in the face of 14 years of UK Government austerity, a Brexit that has done extensive damage to our economy, and a Westminster cost of living crisis, creating misery for so many households across Scotland and right across the UK.

And while we all know the challenging financial situation Scotland faces, the Scottish Budget continues to prioritise tackling and reducing child poverty.

Against a backdrop of the UK Government’s two-child limit and continued austerity, we are taking real action to lift children out of poverty and improve their chances in life.

Academics have said that “levels of child poverty in Scotland will drop faster [and] further than they will in the rest of the UK, particularly England, because of the Scottish Child Payment.

And its ‘pioneering’ and ‘transformative’ impact has been praised by commentators, academics and journalists and others.

This year, we will invest a record £6.3 billion in social security benefits to support the most vulnerable in our society - a full £1.1 billion more than the UK Government gives to the Scottish Government for social security.

Taken together with our three Best Start Grant payments and Best Start Foods, our Five Family Payments could be worth over £10,000 by the time an eligible child turns six, and around £25,000 by the time they turn 16.

In England and Wales the comparable figure is less than £2,000.

It’s another example of the different choices that we are making in Scotland.

Choices that unashamedly prioritise the most vulnerable in our society.

But is only with the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation that Ministers will be able to use all the levers that other governments have to tackle inequality in their society.

Until that time comes, I am open to working with anyone and everyone to help break the cycle of poverty faced by too many families in Scotland.

It’s why I wrote to Keir Starmer last month.

I want to find new ways of working together to tackle poverty with the next UK Government – including scrapping the damaging two-child limit, getting rid of the “rape clause”, and replicating our “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment in other parts of the UK.

I’m disappointed that I am still waiting on a reply, but I live in hope.

Because we know that the UK Government could lift a further 40,000 children out of poverty in Scotland this year if they made key changes to Universal Credit. That includes introducing an Essential’s Guarantee and scrapping the two child limit.

The UK Budget is just around the corner, but I’m not holding my breath.

Because we’ve already had to spend £733 million over six years to directly mitigate the negative impacts UK Government policies like the bedroom tax, like the benefit cap. 

This money could – and frankly should - have been spent on services like health, education and transport, or on further ambitious anti-poverty measures if we did not need to mitigate.

This is the economic context in which we must deliver.

My government will continue to protect people as far as we possibly can from the harm inflicted by the UK Government austerity and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

We will keep developing and building our social security system.

We will expand the provision of free school meals.

We’ll be bolder where we can on taxation and the redistribution of wealth.

We will continue to expand access to funded school age childcare for families who need it most.

We will continue to focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap in schools – while raising attainment for all.

And, despite the financial challenges we face – and they are significant - , we will invest a further £1.4 billion in our game-changing Scottish Child Payment over the next three years.

Because today’s modelling, today’s report is further evidence as to how it, in combination with other Scottish Government policies, is changing children’s lives for the better.

That is something I’m immensely proud of. Something this government is immensely proud of.

Every child in Scotland deserves a life free of poverty.

And I will continue to do everything in my power to make that a reality.  

Thank you.

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