When we published our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in 2018 we could never have predicted a worldwide pandemic with the scale of impact of COVID-19. Whilst the crisis necessitated the pause of a number of key activities, we mounted an unparalleled response to protect people and communities. This has accelerated work in a number of key areas and shown the capacity and capability to make significant change at pace. We will carry forward this momentum as we focus on our national mission to end child poverty once and for all.
Over the past year we made over £1 billion of additional investment through our Communities Funding Package, working across government to support people and communities and to protect the essential services on which they rely. Work on child poverty to date strongly grounded these efforts, both at a national and local level, and resulted in focused support to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on children and their families.
Together with our partners in local authorities we strengthened existing mechanisms, including the Scottish Welfare Fund, Council Tax Reduction scheme and Discretionary Housing Payments, and delivered enhanced support through Free School Meals to deliver alternate provision during holidays and school closures and to provide hardship payments to many of the lowest income families in the country. We also provided flexible funding for local authorities to take targeted approaches to tackle food and financial insecurity, supporting innovative action and enabling local needs to be met.
The third sector and community organisations played a key role. Backed by over £100 million of additional investment they worked tirelessly to provide a wide range of support to meet the needs of people across Scotland – supporting wellbeing and tackling both food and financial insecurity.
And, despite the impact of the pandemic, we continued to deliver upon commitments made within our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, including launching the Scottish Child Payment – which is already supporting thousands of families across Scotland.
However we know that the impacts of COVID-19 risk pushing more children into poverty in Scotland, especially given the UK Government’s planned removal of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit which threatens to undermine the benefit of the Scottish Child Payment for families. That is why we have committed strong action within the first 100 days of this new Parliament in order to drive progress at pace, and committed additional longer term action to support recovery and renewal and to help build a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.
These actions are focused across the drivers of poverty reduction – helping families increase their earnings, reduce their essential expenditure and providing increased support through social security – as well as supporting wider wellbeing for children and families.
New commitments reflected within this annual report include our plans to double the value of the Scottish Child Payment to £80 every four weeks by the end of this Parliamentary term, providing even greater support to more children, and to delivering bridging payments – building on the hardship payments made during the pandemic – to deliver support now to children not yet able to benefit.
We have set out our ambitions for the future of affordable housing in Scotland through Scotland’s first long-term housing strategy. This includes our commitment to deliver 100,000 affordable homes over the next decade, to tackle high rents and increase stability for those in the private sector and to end homelessness – all of which are supporting our action to tackle child poverty.
We have also set out ambitious plans to explore a new Minimum Income Guarantee and Universal Basic Services, which have the potential to revolutionise our public services and lift thousands of children out of poverty.
Over the coming year we will continue to work with the pace, passion and determination we have shown through our pandemic response in order to drive down levels of child poverty in Scotland.
We will also work closely with our partners, experts by experience and with children and young people themselves in order to prepare our next Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. We will build upon the action taken to date and upon the strong evidence base established, guided by the recommendations and challenge offered by the Poverty and Inequality Commission.
This year’s annual progress report highlights that all of the actions we have previously reported on are either in progress or delivered. It also highlights that the scale of our investment targeted at low income families with children continues to grow, rising to nearly £1 billion – including £118 million of targeted investment made through our response to COVID-19. This is part of almost £2.5 billion invested to support all low income households, including over £434 million of additional investment in social protections as a result of COVID-19.
Whilst there are uncertain times ahead, we will deliver upon our national mission to tackle child poverty. The pandemic has demonstrated that working together, with a united focus, we can deliver change at both the pace and scale required.