The independence referendum: what does it mean for child poverty?

With just a few days to go before the Scottish independence referendum John Dickie, Director of CPAG in Scotland, highlights how CPAG has informed the terms of debate and argues that the challenge now for anti-poverty campaigners is to ensure that heightened public engagement and concern with child poverty in campaign debates is harnessed for real change, wherever powers end up lying after September 18th.

As the contributions from our guest bloggers last week demonstrated there are strong arguments from both sides of the constitutional debate as to whether a Yes or No vote is in the best interests of children living in poverty. However, as child poverty campaigners we at CPAG have focussed more on how the powers of government are used rather than with where those powers should lie.

From the day the referendum was announced we have argued that, whatever the outcome, the big prize come September 19th would be a heightened level of public support and political will to tackle child poverty and the low pay, poor quality employment, inadequate social security, lack of childcare and regressive taxation that underpins it.

With that prize in mind we have sought to inform the terms of debate and put ending child poverty at the heart of the competing visions for Scotland's future. Central to this has been publishing Poverty in Scotland 2014 a book providing a comprehensive account of the poverty that forms the backdrop to the independence debate, setting out principles for a fairer Scotland and exploring the ways other countries and regions have tackled poverty within a variety of constitutional settlements and demands for further autonomy. Amongst other activity we have also contributed to the Five Million Questions debate and, working with our partners in the End Child Poverty coalition, helped organise events where Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and shadow Social justice Secretary Jackie Baillie have been quizzed on the child poverty implications of a Yes or No vote.

And the good news is that ending child poverty has become key issue within campaign debates. The stark statistic that under current UK government policy up to 100,000 more children will be pushed into poverty by 2020 in Scotland alone has been a recurring debating point, as has, to a perhaps surprisingly lesser extent, the progress made to reduce child poverty by the previous UK government . There have been positive messages about the future of social security, whether in the language of ‘social protection’ in the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence or the idea of constitutionally enshrined ‘social and economic rights’ recently promoted by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This is all a far cry and a refreshing change from the prevailing UK discourse of welfare dependency, scroungers and benefit cuts.

Come Thursday it will be up to the people of Scotland to decide which constitutional option they judge is most likely to respond to their concerns and aspirations. But whatever we decide it has been hugely encouraging to see how highly child poverty figures within those concerns, and to see the increasing political support there appears to be for an alternative more positive approach to social security. But campaign debates and rhetoric is one thing; making hard political, social and economic choices another. The challenge now for anti-poverty campaigners is to harness the public mood, build on the heightened level of civic engagement and hold the politicians to account for the commitments they have made. The one in five of Scotland’s children still living in poverty deserve nothing less.


Poverty in Scotland 2014 is published in association with The Open University in Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Poverty Alliance, with contributions from academics, policy experts and campaigners. Both arguments are set out in an anti-poverty context by leading advocates of the Yes and Better Together campaigns, as well as covering perspectives from Europe and beyond. It also looks to the future in setting out principles for a more equitable Scotland – whatever the outcome of the referendum.