We are now two years into the four year period covered by our first delivery plan period and 56 of the 58 actions reported on last year are either in progress or being delivered. The impact of these measures is already being felt by families.
This progress report captures the range of activity taken forward in 2019-20, our plans for the coming year and the progress towards meeting the ambitious child poverty targets as of 2018-19. Whilst coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact across Scotland, this report focuses on the structures built up prior to the outbreak of the pandemic and provides insights into our areas of focus for the future.
In the reporting period we have established a range of new support measures and continued to deliver progress on existing programmes of work. Key achievements include:
- The work to develop and finalise the policy, including associated legislation, and the delivery mechanisms to pay the Scottish Child Payment (SCP) which will open to applications this year;
- Delivering both the nursey and school age payments of our Best Start Grant, providing enhanced support across the early years for low income families worth an additional £1,400 for families with two children, compared to the UK Government’s Sure Start Maternity Grant it replaces. Together with the Pregnancy and Baby Payment we made £21 million of awards in 2019-20;
- Launching our new Parental Employability Support Fund across all 32 local authority areas – offering holistic support for parents to progress towards and within work - and further developing proposals for specific support for disabled parents;
- Replacing Healthy Start Vouchers with the new Best Start Foods payment card from 12 August 2019, increasing the support available for low income parents to buy healthy and nutritious food through pregnancy and across their child’s early years;
- Successfully delivering a further 9,286 affordable homes, including 6,952 for social rent. Meaning that 34,791 affordable homes have now been delivered between April 2016 and March 2020, including over 23,000 for social rent;
- Over 49,000 children benefitting from the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare as of September 2019, including over 3,600 eligible two year olds and consulting on our draft out of school care framework setting out a vision for out of school care and considering the changes required to get there;
- Developing proposals for the new Job Start Payment, launched on 17 August, which provides a £400 cash payment to support young parents who have been out of paid work and receiving a low income benefit for six months to transition into employment.
- Publication of the first Benefit Take-up Strategy due under the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, setting out existing measures to support benefit take-up and a series of new activities and initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of, and access to, Scottish benefits and supporting those who are eligible to apply.
In the next year, whilst continuing to progress the actions committed in our Delivery Plan, we will focus on recovery and renewal from coronavirus – repairing the damage done and building back in a way which reduces the inequalities in our society. Guided by our Social Renewal Advisory Board, individuals with lived experience of poverty, our partners, and recommendations from other experts such as the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, we will take steps to ensure our programme of work delivers suitable interventions at the scale and pace required.
Particular areas of focus in 2020-21 include:
- Introducing the new Scottish Child Payment for under 6’s and making the first payments worth £10 per child per week to low income families from the end of February 2021;
- Further enhancing our employability support for parents with a strong focus on both young and disabled parents who are likely to face significant challenges in entering and progressing in the labour market;
- Moving to eradicate the inequality of digital access for children and young people in Scotland through our ambitious Connecting Scotland programme which will bring up to 30,000 more households on line in this financial year.
- Providing funding for Timewise to encourage flexible hiring by employers;
- Publishing a new Infrastructure Investment Plan later this year setting out our plan for investment in affordable housing beyond 2021.
Whilst considerable progress has been made to deliver the actions committed we continue to work hard and know this is even more necessary in light of the damaging impacts of coronavirus. Working together with our partners across Scotland we will continue to make the changes needed to tackle and reduce child poverty.