Two years since the publication of our first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, ‘Every Child, Every Chance’, we have made considerable progress right across government in delivering the actions committed. Our Plan, which continues to build on strong foundations in Scotland, is helping us to increase household incomes, reduce costs and support children to reach their full potential – this multi-faceted approach is the key to unlocking children from poverty and no one single policy holds the answer.
The need to tackle the damaging impacts of child poverty is in sharper focus during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This pandemic is primarily a public health emergency, but it is also having – and will continue to have - significant impacts on our economy, society, communities and lives.
In our response to coronavirus we were able to act quickly to develop and deliver significant new support at the scale required, in particular for low income families. We empowered the public sector, third sector and community organisations to act, with an initial £350 million Communities funding package, announced on 18 March a week ahead of lockdown. This investment scaled up our existing support, more than doubling our Scottish Welfare Fund budget, made over £120 million available to support third sector and community efforts and has supported investment of over £110 million to tackle food insecurity resulting from the impacts of the virus.
We also increased support with housing costs through a £5 million increase to Discretionary Housing Payment budgets and took action in the first emergency COVID-19 legislation to protect tenants from eviction for at least six months, which we will seek to extend. Through our devolved social security powers we have also provided an additional cash boost of £230.10 for around 83,000 unpaid carers through the coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement.
The wide reaching impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are yet to be fully understood and, in addition to uncertainty surrounding Brexit, alongside continuing UK Government welfare cuts, we are entering a challenging and largely unknown future. As we navigate our way through and out of the crisis it is clear that there are significant challenges ahead that will have an impact on household incomes and living standards. This will likely be most acutely felt by the most disadvantaged and we risk seeing rising levels of child poverty and inequality.
In spite of this uncertainty we remain fully committed to meeting our ambitious child poverty targets and will monitor the situation carefully to ensure we are delivering the correct interventions with the scale and speed required.
In the coming year we will deliver new support to families unparalleled across the UK, putting cash in the pockets of parents and taking steps to tackle the digital divide for children.
We will deliver our new Scottish Child Payment for households with an eligible child under 6 – called ‘game-changing’ when it comes to tackling child poverty and needed all the more now.
In this report we confirm our aim to open to applications in November 2020 and for the first payments to be made to eligible families from the end of February 2021. Together with the support already in place through Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, this offers families on low incomes over £5,200 of financial support by the time their first child turns six. Importantly, we have not placed arbitrary limits on the number of children who can be supported and will make up to £4,900 available for second and subsequent children.
We will also focus on the delivery of the second phase of our ambitious Connecting Scotland programme, providing devices, internet access, training and support to low income families with children and care leavers. In conjunction with Phase 1, and backed by a further £15 million of new investment, this will bring up to 30,000 households online – helping them to keep in touch with friends and family, and study or work.
This report on the second year of our four year plan shows that 56 of 58 actions reported on last year are either in progress or being delivered. It also highlights the scale of our investment targeted at low income families with children. In 2019-20 our investment increased to over £672 million - £144 million more than the previous year – and to all low income households increased to over £1.96 billion - £554 million more.
Whilst coronavirus has shaken the country, and the world to its very foundations, working together across Scotland we rose to the challenge to support those in need. It is in this resilience, partnership and quick action that we find renewed hope for the future.
To capture the essence of this response and help us to build back better, and close the damaging inequalities which the virus has highlighted, we formed a new Social Renewal Advisory Board. With membership spanning the third sector, local government, think tanks and our Poverty and Inequality Commission, the Board will challenge us and make recommendations about how we can lock in the gains made during the pandemic and allow us to achieve our goal of a fairer, more prosperous and greener Scotland.
I am proud of what we achieved by the end of 2019-20 and whilst there are new challenges ahead we will continue to be bold, ambitious and progressive in our pursuit of a Scotland free of child poverty.