In March 2018 the Scottish Government published ‘Every Child, Every Chance’, the first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan due under the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act. It sets out the concrete actions we are taking to 2022 to deliver progress against our ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland. This first annual progress report (2018-19) shows we’ve been working hard to build the foundations for transformational change as part of our determination to tackle generations of deep-seated poverty.
I am delighted that, in just the first year of this four year plan, 48 of the 58 actions are already in progress or being delivered. Collectively, these powerful actions support families in key ways and are already making children’s lives better. This document demonstrates the great package of support this government provides for families across childhood – from birth to school, to further education, employment, and beyond – all helping to reduce costs for families.
From our Fair Start employment programme to our Best Start financial support for low income families; from increasing the value of school clothing grants to reducing the poverty premium through our new Financial Health Check Service, we have made major strides to tackle poverty and support people in Scotland.
In a new initiative, we are using this progress report to provide a first estimate of our direct spend to support low income families. We highlight here how we invested £0.5 billion in 2018-19 in direct support. But it is not the whole story. Taking into account the universal services we all enjoy and from which our society benefits; a multi-billion pound package of investment in key areas supports all children and all parents to realise their full potential.
I am very grateful to the Poverty and Inequality Commission, whose advice and challenge has helped shape our work from the start. They have rightly highlighted the scale of the challenge – and we are absolutely committed to rising to meet that challenge.
The Children’s Parliament have also played a key part in this process from the beginning. They contributed to the development of the Plan, they have engaged with Cabinet highlighting the issues they believe this Government should be focussing on, and have provided insightful feedback on the Progress Report setting out their reflections on progress made to date. This process has ensured that the voices of children are recognised and considered in the development and delivery of our commitments to tackle child poverty.
We are working together, across government and more widely, to deliver on this ambition and local authorities and NHS boards will shortly outline the action they have taken locally, and will take, to reduce child poverty. I’m grateful for all the activity taking place locally and look forward to hearing more about the best practice underway.
This year also saw a visit from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. His report makes clear families are bearing the brunt of disastrous UK Government policies which are driving increases in child poverty. Whilst he condemned the austerity and welfare cuts of the UK government, he praised the Scottish Government for mitigating against them, but also said it was ‘unsustainable’ for devolved administrations to mitigate everything. I agree. We cannot continue to soften the blows of another government at a scale that means we cannot use our resources on our other services.
And it is pursuing our own policies to tackle poverty that this government wants to do.
We do not yet have all the powers we need to tackle inequality, but we want to shift the curve of child poverty, and not see more pushed into poverty because of another government’s policies. Our ambitions therefore require bold actions and to use the powers we have to deliver on our commitment to tackle child poverty and to work towards introducing a regular payment for low income families within the lifetime of the delivery plan by 2022.
The Scottish Government has undertaken a thorough assessment of a range of options, and in line with the two tests we set have decided on a viable and robust route to introduce a brand new benefit to eligible low income families with children under 16 by the end of 2022.
This new financial support will be called the Scottish Child Payment and will be an application based benefit delivered by Social Security Scotland, paid monthly and uprated annually in line with inflation. And it will be available to all children in eligible families with qualifying benefits including Universal Credit, Jobseekers Allowance and Child Tax Credits.
When fully introduced, this new benefit has the potential to reach around 410,000 children and reduce the relative poverty rate by 3 percentage points. The Payment will also help prevent poverty for families on insecure incomes just above the poverty threshold, as well as children at risk of material deprivation, another of our targets.
We have also looked hard at what we can do to support families sooner, particularly for the almost 60% who live in a family where a child is under six years old.
Therefore we have decided to introduce the Scottish Child Payment early for all eligible children under six by the end of this Parliamentary term, much earlier than our original commitment.
The payment will be worth £10 per week: a major help to around 140,000 eligible households with 170,000 children and a substantial investment in families most in need in Scotland.
This is only possible through changes to our planned benefit delivery timetable. This has been a difficult decision but we firmly believe the change is worth it to introduce a benefit which has the potential to be transformative.
The Scottish Child Payment is one of the most progressive policy proposals put forward since devolution. I am proud this government has agreed on this bold, ambitious and progressive new benefit – guided by doing what we know is right to shift the curve on child poverty.
Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government