7. Poverty and Welfare
The United Nations has acknowledged that “no social phenomenon is as comprehensive in its assault on human rights as poverty”. The Scottish Government’s aim is to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty, inequality, and deprivation that can so easily disrupt the enjoyment of core human rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.
The impacts of the current cost of living crisis will not be felt equally, and different groups will be more vulnerable to financial shocks. We are therefore using all of the powers and resources available to us to tackle poverty and help all those struggling to make ends meet. A better future for Scotland means a better future for everyone, underpinned by respect for equality, dignity and human rights.
A) Child Poverty
Tackling Child Poverty is a national mission for this government. The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 sets in statute the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackle child poverty in Scotland, requiring Scottish Ministers to publish Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plans outlining actions to drive progress against the targets set in the Act. The Act also commits Scottish Ministers to publishing annual reports on progress made towards meeting the Act’s child poverty targets and implementing the relevant Delivery Plan.
Over the life of our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-2022, Every Child, Every Chance, we invested an estimated £8.5 billion in supporting low income households, of which £3.3 billion benefitted children. The most recent annual progress report highlights that across 2021-2022 the Scottish Government invested around £2.6 billion to support low-income households, including over £1.1 billion to directly support children. The Scottish Government has introduced a wide range of additional support to protect people and communities, including:
- introducing the Scottish Child Payment for eligible children aged under 6 and doubling it to £20 per week per child as of April 2022, immediately benefiting around 104,000 children;
- expanding the universal provision of free school meals during school term-time for children in primaries 4 and 5 and funding provision in lieu of free school meals during school holidays for families in receipt of the eligible qualifying benefits;
- delivering 1,140 hours of free Early Learning and Childcare for all eligible children aged 2, 3 and 4.
Published in March 2022, the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-2026, Best Start, Bright Futures, sets out bold action to drive forward progress on the Scottish Government’s national mission to tackle child poverty, including through:
- further increasing the value of our Scottish Child Payment to £25, as we have committed to deliver on 14 November 2022, when the payment will also be expanded to eligible children under the age of 16 – this will be backed by investment of £428 million in the financial year 2023-2024, the first year of the expanded payment;
- providing investment over the lifetime of the plan through our No One Left Behind approach including holistic support from a dedicated keyworker, linking to the support that we know parents need;
- our commitment to develop a new Parental Transition Fund to tackle financial insecurity for families when parents and carers enter the labour market;
- mitigating the UK Government Benefit Cap as fully as possible for around 4,000 Scottish Households impacted, backed by up to £7.2 million investment this year;
- investing £50 million of Whole Family Wellbeing Funding this year, focused on ensuring families can access the support they need, where and when they need it.
Our approach to tackling child poverty focuses on six priority family types who are most at risk of poverty. This includes minority ethnic families, 38% of whom live in relative poverty. By focusing on the impact of all interventions through the lens of our priority families, we will be able to reduce child poverty levels while delivering significant progress on our wider equality and human rights ambitions, with particular reference to women, disabled people and minority ethnic people.
B) Social Security
In 2016 the Scottish Government was devolved the responsibility for 11 existing benefits as well as being given the power to top up reserved benefits and create new benefits, and in April 2018, the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.
The Act established the first social security system in the UK based on the statutory principle that social security is a human right. The overarching aim was to create a social security system that is based on dignity, fairness and respect, and these key principles are the foundation of all our work on social security. The Act also required the Scottish Government to reflect them in Our Charter, a document created collaboratively with people who have lived experience of the current benefits system, which sets out clearly and accessibly what people can expect from the new Scottish social security system, and how the principles in the Act will be upheld.
In September 2018, Social Security Scotland officially became an executive agency of the Scottish Government, and in the same month it delivered its first payment of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement. Since then we have introduced a further 12 benefits, including seven brand new benefits supporting the people of Scotland. This includes the “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment, which is a key part of our national mission to eradicate child poverty and provides vital financial support to low income families. We have also launched the first of our complex disability benefits, the Child Disability Payment, which rolled out across Scotland on in November 2021. Our twelfth benefit, the Adult Disability Payment, which replaces the UK Government’s Personal Independence Payment, launched nationally in August 2022.
In 2020 we launched a brand-new payment, the Self-Isolation Support Grant, which is administered as a form of crisis grant under the Scottish Welfare Fund, to support low-income workers who are asked to self-isolate because of COVID-19.
C) Welfare Reform Mitigation
The Scottish Government has limited legislative and fiscal powers to mitigate the impacts of welfare reform, as the majority of the policy responsibility and spending remains a reserved matter. Despite this, we have invested significant funds to mitigate the impacts with support targeted at the most vulnerable groups.
This investment continues to support people affected by the UK Government’s welfare cuts in a range of different ways. For example, the Scottish Government is committed to using devolved social security powers to effectively abolish the bedroom tax. By the end of 2022-2023 the Scottish Government will have invested more than £438 million in Discretionary Housing Payments (“DHPs”) since 2017. This includes £68.1 million in 2022-2023 to fully mitigate the bedroom tax to help over 92,000 households in Scotland to sustain their tenancies. The Scottish Government is also committed to abolishing the bedroom tax at source as soon as possible using Universal Credit flexibility powers.
Furthermore, an additional £17.9 million mitigates against the damaging impact of other UK Government welfare cuts including the benefit cap and changes to the Local Housing Allowance rates, and, unlike in England, our single nation‑wide Council Tax Reduction Scheme (“CTRS”) has maintained support since the abolition of Council Tax Benefit in 2013, with our funding for the CTRS totalling £3.16 billion between 2013-2014 and 2021-2022.
The Scottish Government has also provided another £41 million in 2021-2022 for the Scottish Welfare Fund (“SWF”). From the launch of the SWF in April 2013 until March 2022, over 470,000 individual households have received awards totalling £341.4 million. A third of households receiving an award were families with children.
The Scottish Government has committed to investing up to £20.4 million over four years to fund the delivery of an independent advocacy service supporting disabled people to access Scottish social security payments. The service launched in January 2022 and is being delivered by VoiceAbility, a charity with 40 years’ experience of delivering advocacy services, and will be available at any stage of the application process to anyone identifying as disabled and who may need extra support to access and apply for Social Security Scotland benefits. The Scottish Government has also committed £10 million to the provision of welfare advice in accessible settings, including in health and education settings.
D) Housing and Homelessness
In Housing to 2040, our first long-term national housing strategy published in March 2021, we set out our commitment to taking specific action to realise the right to adequate housing in Scotland. This includes a new deal for tenants, which will be an important part of a new Rented Sector Strategy aiming to improve accessibility, to improve the affordability and quality of homes across the social and private rented sector, and to improve the fairness of how homes are rented in Scotland. A consultation on the draft strategy was undertaken between December 2021 and April 2022 with a view to introducing legislation through a Housing Bill in 2023. The analysis of responses to the consultation exercise was published in August 2022. Housing to 2040 also commits us to developing a new Housing Standard set in law. This will require that all homes meet the same standards and will be introduced later in the parliamentary session.
This work builds on a range of housing measures over recent years to increase affordable housing, improve our rented sectors, and prevent homelessness. Latest Quarterly Affordable Housing Supply Statistics show that the previous 50,000 affordable homes target was met during March 2022, and we have now started to deliver against the Programme for Government 2021-2022 commitment of delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which 70% will be available for social rent and 10% will be in our remote, rural and island communities.
We have also made significant changes to the private rental sector, helping to protect tenants and improve standards. The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced the “private residential tenancy” in December 2017. The tenancy is open-ended and will last until the tenant wishes to leave the let property or the landlord uses one or more of 18 grounds for eviction. This gives tenants greater security and allows tenants to assert their rights, for example to repairs, without fear of arbitrary eviction.
Through the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Act 2022, we are ensuring that further protections from eviction – introduced on a temporary basis during the pandemic – are made permanent from October 2022. This means private landlords should continue to follow the pre-action protocol, introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in respect of any rent arrears cases, and the First-Tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing & Property Chamber) will retain its discretion to decide whether an eviction case is reasonable or not.
We also launched a Tenant Grant Fund in September 2021 and provided £10 million in emergency funding to support tenants who were struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Fund supports people to reduce or pay off rent arrears accrued between 23 March 2020 and 9 August 2021, helping to sustain tenancies and prevent homelessness. Funding has been allocated to local authorities who are able to best target this funding to help the people who need it most. We are now extending eligibility criteria for the Tenant Grant Fund to provide help to those with more recent rent arrears.
The Programme for Government 2022-2023 has recognised the huge pressure that the cost crisis is placing on households, and in particular the issues that will be faced by many people who rent their home. In October 2022, our emergency Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) Bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament. The Bill gives Ministers temporary power to cap rents for private and social tenants, as well as for student accommodation. The Bill also introduces a moratorium on evictions. This cap, which applies to in-tenancy rent increases, has initially been set at 0% from 6 September 2022 until at least 31 March 2023. Ministers have the power to vary the rent cap while it is in force. The measures can be extended over two further six-month periods. Enforcement of eviction actions resulting from the cost crisis are prevented over the same period except in a number of specified circumstances, and damages for unlawful evictions have been increased to a maximum of 36 months’ worth of rent.
Our homelessness strategy, Ending Homelessness Together, was originally supported by a £50 million fund, which has enabled us to implement major improvements to homelessness policy in the last four years. An additional £50 million will be invested over this parliamentary term to carry out the next phase of our work with partners to end homelessness and rough sleeping. £10 million will be invested in 2022-2023 with a focus on homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing and Housing First.
During the last 18 months there has been remarkable progress towards our goal of ending homelessness. We have demonstrated that, with the right approach and funding, local authorities and their third sector partners have the means to end rough sleeping in Scotland. For example, we:
- kept night shelters closed by providing better-quality emergency accommodation;
- helped people with no recourse to public funds to avoid destitution;
- amended legislation so that no homeless household should stay in unsuitable accommodation for more than seven days;
- saw our Housing First pathfinder programme sail past the milestone of 500 tenancies, and now across Scotland a total of 1,224 Housing First tenancies have been started;
- allocated £81.9 million to enable local authorities to make DHPs in 2021-2022 and are increasing our investment in 2022-2023 to £88.2 million (see Section 7(C));
- have amplified the voice of lived experience by offering a secondment to someone with lived experience of homelessness;
- published a joint consultation with COSLA in December 2021 to inform our plans to introduce new prevention of homelessness duties through legislation in 2023.
E) Food Insecurity
The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 requires the Scottish Government, local authorities and other public bodies to publish plans which set out the food-related outcomes that they want to be achieved in relation to Scotland and how they will achieve them. These plans must be prepared having regard to the right to adequate food. Our aim is that these plans will set out what the Scottish Government, local authorities and other public bodies are doing to give effect to people having a right to adequate food, and to ensure that reliable access to nutritious, locally-sourced, locally-produced, good-quality food is a practical everyday reality for everyone in Scotland.
Launched in February 2022, Eat Well Your Way is an online resource developed by Food Standards Scotland and helps consumers understand what a healthy balanced diet looks like.
The Scottish Government has adopted a human rights-based approach to tackling household food insecurity, as set out in our Position Statement on Food Insecurity and Poverty. We are measuring food insecurity through the Scottish Health Survey, following recommendations from the Independent Working Group on Food Poverty, and through the UK-wide Family Resources Survey.
We prioritise action that prevents poverty, through fair work, social security and reducing the cost of living. Where financial hardship occurs, the SWF and other holistic support services seek to ensure that households have emergency income to choose the food that meets their needs and preferences and that they receive money advice to prevent future hardship. In 2020-2021 we invested around £2.5 billion to support low-income households, including nearly £1 billion to directly support children.
In October 2021, we published a consultation on a draft national action plan to end the need for food banks as a primary response to hardship. We will continue to work urgently with partners to strengthen cash-first supports so that people are able to access food with dignity and choice.
We are committed to funding the expansion of universal free school lunches to all children in primary and special schools over the course of this parliamentary term. We will continue to work with our partners in local authorities to plan for the continued expansion of free school lunch provision over the 2022-2023 academic year. This work will ensure the expansion can be delivered equitably across all schools, in all areas, whilst maintaining high-quality lunch provision for pupils. The policy of providing universal free school meals saves families an average of £400 per child per year.
The Scottish Government replaced the UK Healthy Start Voucher scheme in Scotland with Best Start Foods in August 2019. Best Start Foods provides pregnant women and families with children under the age of three, who receive certain benefits under a certain amount, with a minimum of £4.50 a week via a payment card to purchase healthy foods. Compared with the Healthy Start Voucher scheme, Best Start Foods offers more choice by including a wider range of healthy foods for families to purchase and access to a wider range of retailers. Eligibility is being extended to British children whose parent or guardian has no recourse to public funds but who meet the financial eligibility criteria. In 2022-2023 we expect 40,000 people will receive £12 million of support through Best Start Foods. We will legislate to remove all income thresholds from Best Start Foods in 2023-2024, supporting an additional 20,000 people. At the same time, we will also move to a cash payment instead of a payment card. Moving to a cash payment will promote a more dignified approach to tackling food poverty and promoting healthy eating, and give parents greater flexibility and choice in how they use this financial support.
The Human Rights Bill will incorporate the ICESCR, which includes a right to adequate food as an essential part of the overall right to an adequate standard of living, into Scots law as far as possible within devolved competence (see Section 1(A)).
F) COVID-19 Recovery Strategy
The Covid Recovery Strategy: for a Fairer Future was published in October 2021 and sets out an ambitious vision and plan for Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, focused on bringing about a fairer future for all, and in particular those most affected during the pandemic. The Strategy sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for addressing systemic inequalities, making progress towards a wellbeing economy, and promoting person-centred public services. The Strategy has three outcomes that are central to achieving this vision of a fairer future: increasing financial security for low-income households, enhancing the wellbeing of children and young people, and creating good, green jobs and fair work.
Our shared vision and outcomes for Covid Recovery have been agreed with local government, and the Covid Recovery Strategy Programme Board is co-chaired by the Deputy First Minister and the President of COSLA. The Board brings together senior representatives from the Scottish Government, local government, business organisations and the third sector, and is responsible for overseeing the work of the programme and promoting outcome-focused and person-centred activity.
We are also working closely with Glasgow City Council, COSLA and the Improvement Service to develop a pathfinder project that will integrate child poverty interventions and bring together services that are focused around individuals and families. We will share learnings and promote these through the Covid Recovery Strategy Programme Board.
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