The new £10 a week Scottish Child Payment for each child in low income families, announced by the Scottish Government last week, is a game-changer in the fight to end child poverty in Scotland - and a pointer to what is possible, and so badly needed, at UK level.
It’s also an inspiring reminder of what can be achieved when child poverty campaigners bring together partners across civic society at the same time where there is a political will, and a government with a statutory obligation, to end child poverty.
A desperately needed and significant boost for families
The new £10 payment will not only give a desperately needed and significant boost to individual families struggling to stay afloat, but will also make a substantive impact on overall levels of child poverty. The landmark announcement means that, for the first time, a devolved social security policy is forecast to have a demonstrable impact on measured levels of child poverty in Scotland.
But the announcement also offers a beacon for anti-poverty campaigning across the UK, and a challenge to the UK government to start to use its social security powers in an equally positive way. If child poverty is to be eradicated, every level of government needs to work together – in short, we need a strategy to end child poverty across the UK.
A child poverty campaigning success
The announcement followed four years of concerted campaigning and influencing activity led by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). From the moment it became clear that the Scottish Parliament would get new powers to top up and create new benefitsCPAG in Scotland was highlighting how those powers needed to be used to directly tackle child poverty. The issue became our number one priority in our manifesto for Government ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections, alongside our call for a Scottish Child Poverty Act. We brought together a collation of faith groups, trade unions, anti-poverty campaigners, the children’s commissioner and children’s charities to launch the Give me Five campaign, focusing on a £5 child benefit top as one way of using new powers to significantly boost family incomes. The campaign was underpinned by 2016 analysis (updated in 2017) from Jonathan Bradshaw and Antonia Keung at the University of York that modelled how such an investment could lift up to 30 000 children in Scotland out of poverty, reducing overall child poverty by three percentage points - setting a benchmark the Scottish government went on to use as a minimum objective required of the new child payment.
Following a series of campaign actions supported by CPAG members, including a petition, co-ordinated letter to the Finance Secretary and meetings between faith leaders and the First Minister, alongside work to inform the new Poverty and Inequality Commission, we were delighted when the first Scottish Government delivery plan in March 2018 included commitment to a new income supplement.
Working together to deliver change
However with a timetable for delivery that potentially stretched beyond 2022 and no commitment on the value or scale of impact expected of the supplement, there remained real concern that the policy needed greater urgency. The campaign continued with fringe meetings at party conferences, briefings for MSPs and further engagement with Ministers to keep the issue alive in parliament and beyond, culminating with a joint approach to Ministers with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and IPPR Scotland, drawing on their further modelling of differing approaches to delivering an additional cash benefit in a devolved context. A final push led by Poverty Alliance, CPAG, Oxfam and Aberlour gathered over 70 high profile signatories from across civic Scotland in a letter to the First Minister, highlighting the urgency and ambition with which the income supplement needed to be delivered.
Last week’s response was a testimony to both the Scottish government’s commitment to ending child poverty and the power of concerted joined-up campaigning and influencing across the third sector, faith groups and trade unions, drawing on and giving voice to the experience of families struggling in the grip of poverty. As one parent, whose expertise and direct experience of bringing up children on a low income has helped influence government in Scotland, reacted last week “This is fantastic news. £10 will make such a difference to families. They will have more choices now.”