13. We have made eradicating poverty a national mission. In 2020-21 we invested £2.5 billion in support to low income households, including nearly £1 billion to directly support children. The below summarises action underway to prevent poverty and respond to food insecurity.
Prevention – Fair work
Our Fair Work Plan outlines our approach to improving incomes through work and includes our commitment to promote the real Living Wage. Our Gender Pay Gap Action Plan has over 60 actions to tackle the root causes of the gender pay gap and advance economic equality for women. Through our new Parental Employability Support Fund we are supporting parents to access and progress in work and increase their incomes.
In June 2021 we wrote to the UK Government requesting that they transfer employment powers to the Scottish Parliament to enable us to make the changes required to transform workplaces and tackle poverty. Powers over employment law would enable us to create fairer workplaces, increase wages, reduce insecure work and therefore shift the curve on poverty.
Prevention – Social security
We are continuing to use the powers we have to maximise income from social security through our new social security system that is founded on the principles of dignity, respect and the recognition of social security as a human right.
This includes our Scottish Child Payment, which provides £40 ever four weeks for every eligible child under 6 and will be rolled out to under 16s by the end of 2022. We have committed to doubling the Scottish Child Payment and introducing £520 bridging payments in both 2021 and 2022 for those eligible for free school meals on the basis of low income.
We have introduced the Best Start Grant to provide early years assistance, replacing and expanding the UK Government's Sure Start scheme in Scotland. For a first child, this provides over £600 more support over 3 payments than Sure Start and we do not put a cap on the number of children that are eligible. We have also increased the value of Best Start Foods payments to £4.50 a week, and eligibility will be increased later in this Parliamentary term. Together, the Scottish Child Payment, Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods will provide more than £5,300 of financial support to families by the time their first child turns 6.
Nearly 700,000 existing disability and carer benefit clients are being moved from the Department of Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland, this includes Child Disability Payment which was piloted in July and will be rolled out in November 2021. It has been co-designed with stakeholders and people with lived experience of the social security system to ensure the values of dignity, fairness and respect are embedded. Adult Disability Payment will replace Personal Independence Payments in Scotland and will be rolled out by Summer 2022. We have proposed a new way of making entitlement decisions to ensure that the criteria are fairly applied, this will mean decisions about entitlement will be holistic and person-centred.
The Scottish Government continues to raise serious concerns with the UK Government regarding welfare cuts, policies that are making people poorer and causing hardship, the failures of Universal Credit to provide an adequate safety net and the No Recourse to Public Funds policy. Eighty-five percent of benefit spending remains with the UK Government including income based benefits and state pensions. We have mitigated the impact where we can, including through Discretionary Housing Payments to help people affected by the Bedroom Tax. Where possible, we have worked with the Home Office to ensure that some access to devolved benefits has been permitted for those restricted by No Recourse to Public Funds.
Prevention – Reducing the cost of living
Access to advice services such as our Money Talk Team maximise household incomes and help people to get the best value on goods and services. In the first two and half years of operation, the service has helped put over £31 million into the pockets of more than 16,000 low income households, averaging £1,900. We intend to develop an Advice Services Strategy that will identify how advice funding can best be used to support priority groups, such as low income families and to support the advice sector with high quality specialist advice and training. This includes supporting models which embed advisers in non-traditional settings – such as GP surgeries and schools. We have already committed to expand holistic support in these settings over the next 2 years. We have also invested £1 million in the Affordable Credit Fund to help enable social lenders, such as Community Development Finance Institutions and Credit Unions, provide access to affordable credit for low income households.
The universal expansion of Early Learning and Childcare to 1,140 hours for all 3 and 4 year olds, and for 2 year olds who stand to benefit most is freeing up household income for other expenditure and helping parents to access employment.
Free school meals provide an average saving of £400 a year for each child, and we have committed to expanding eligibility to all primary pupils. As part of this we have already ensured that during the holidays households eligible on the basis of low income receive a direct payment, voucher or meal – this is in addition to providing two further £100 Pandemic Support Payments to eligible households in Summer and Winter 2021. We have also rolled out our £20 million Get into Summer activities programme, ensuring that children and young people have opportunities to socialise and reconnect. Our support to Young Scot provides further activities and discounts through their National Entitlement Card. We are also increasing the School Clothing Grant to at least £120 per primary school child and £150 per secondary school child. The Student Awards Agency Scotland provide free tuition fees and bursaries to help with living costs, for those students studying higher education in colleges and universities in Scotland.
The Scottish Government have now delivered 100,000 affordable homes since 2007. We have a new commitment to deliver 100,000 more affordable homes with at least 70,000 in the social rented sector by 2032. Our Council Tax Reduction scheme can reduce liability by up to 100% and has on average saved around 500,000 recipients over £700 a year. We will provide an additional £130 Pandemic Support Payment by the end of October for every household who received Council Tax Reduction in the month of April – an investment of up to £65m, expected to benefit over 500,000 households.
Our commitment to tackling fuel poverty is underlined by legislation, and by the end of 2021 we will have allocated over £1 billion since 2009 through energy efficiency programmes to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat. We are delivering over 36,000 devices through our Connecting Scotland programme which aims to eradicate digital exclusion in Scotland, with over 17,000 families with children and 4,000 young care leavers supported to date.
Response – The Scottish Welfare Fund and other discretionary supports
The Scottish Welfare Fund provides discretionary local welfare assistance to households experiencing financial hardship. Food continues to be the most commonly awarded Crisis Grant item, with nearly 160,000 awards made in 2020-21 totalling £12.6 million. We have guaranteed the budget for the Scottish Welfare Fund and committed to reviewing its purpose and operation to make sure it works as well as possible in all parts of the country. This review will include examining the funding, promotion, take-up and accessibility of the Fund.
Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support tenants, including those who are affected by the UK Governments welfare cuts, who are struggling with their housing costs where Universal Credit or Housing Benefit does not cover the cost of their rent and living expenses. Around £82 million support has been provided in 2021-22 – up from £73 million budgeted at the beginning of 2020-21.
£10.9 million of this budget is used to mitigate against the damaging impact of UK Government welfare cuts including the Benefit Cap and changes to the Local Housing Allowance rates. The other £71 million is used to mitigate the Bedroom Tax helping over 70,000 households in Scotland to sustain their tenancies.
This is an important tool used by councils to safeguard tenancies and prevent homelessness and poverty.
People with No Recourse to Public Funds are excluded from many mainstream supports in place to respond to financial hardship and can subsequently be at greater risk of destitution. We have provided funding to the British Red Cross to provide vital crisis cash support, as well as advice and advocacy through a network of partners to those most at risk of destitution in Scotland, including those who may be otherwise ineligible for government support due to hostile Home Office policy. This links to the commitments outlined in our strategy, Ending Destitution Together.
Local authorities were allocated over £70 million flexible funding during the pandemic to tackle food and financial insecurity, which bolstered existing supports and provided further discretionary financial assistance. This was underpinned by national guidance which provided a strong steer in favour of cash-first and wrap around support to meet whole needs. Activities delivered include emergency income, emergency food, emergency fuel, income maximisation, other activities to support wellbeing targeted support to marginalised groups and the strengthening of partnership approaches. The learning from this work is shaping the further action we plan to take, as detailed below
Response – Welfare and Debt advice
The Scottish Government continues to support the free welfare advice sector with over £3 million allocated to front-line projects based in Citizens Advice Bureaux and to agencies such as Shelter and Child Poverty Action Group which support front-line advisers dealing with complex housing, benefits and money issues.
This year we will also distribute over £7 million to providers of free debt advice through Scotland's share of the debt advice levy. Alongside funding for the Money Talk Team, this provides a total of £12 million support for money advice services.
We have provided funding to the Improvement Service to explore the option of a future advice funding model based on national/local partnerships, and learning from this work will be incorporated into a future advice strategy for Scotland.
Response – Cash-first referral leaflets
In order to make it easier for frontline workers to refer someone experiencing hardship to income-strengthening support rather than a food bank, the Scottish Government have provided funding to the Independent Food Aid Network to develop cash-first referral leaflets. This approach was championed in Scotland by the A Menu for Change Partnership Project and has now been rolled out in 17 areas with plans to cover a further 8 local authorities over 2021-22. We are working with partners to maximise the impact of the tool through earlier intervention points, including through Jobcentres.
Response – Dignified food access
The Scottish Government has funded Nourish Scotland and the Poverty Truth Community over the last 5 years to facilitate a Dignity Peer Network, deliver workshops and develop tools and resources on how to engage with the Independent Working Group's Dignity Principles on a practical level. This has supported hundreds of organisations to evolve their practice and to adapt to the public health restrictions in place during the pandemic. Through funding to FareShare Scotland, we have also supported hundreds of community organisations to access high quality surplus food with an emphasis on community development and access to wider services.
We provide direct funding to community and third sector organisations responding to food insecurity through our Investing in Communities Fund and COVID response and recovery funding streams. We also provide funding for wider support and representation through community food networks and Public Health Scotland who run Community Food and Health Scotland.
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