This year’s Challenge Poverty Week also marks 20 years since CPAG in Scotland was launched. It’s an important opportunity to reflect on what, working with all our supporters and partners in Scotland, we have achieved. But it’s also a reminder of how much more needs to be done to achieve CPAG’s vision of a society free from child poverty.
No time for celebration
With nearly one in four of Scotland children again officially recognised as living in poverty it is clear this is no time for celebration. Worse still, all the modelling, whether it’s from the IFS, the Resolution Foundation, our own work with IPPR or analysis commissioned by the Scottish Government suggests massive increases still to come – with well over a third of children pushed in to poverty within a decade.
But as well as taking stock of the scale of the challenge, it’s also important that we reflect on the progress that has been made, and the opportunities that now exist – particularly in Scotland.
20 years of dramatic falls in child poverty…..but also disturbing increases
In the years since 1999, when CPAG in Scotland was launched, child poverty has both seen dramatic falls - down from nearly a third (32% or 350 000 children) in 1999/00 to less than one in five in 2011/12 (190 000), but also disturbing increases – with the level of child poverty now back up to 1 in 4 (240 000).
What is clear is that poverty is demonstrably policy sensitive. Policy works - at Scotland and UK level. Investment in child benefit and tax credits, the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, improvements in parental rights at work, increased support for parents to enter work, and, particularly here in Scotland, investment in income maximisation and in affordable housing all helped to drive real progress.
Of course since 2011 much of that progress has been reversed, with rising child poverty driven by eye-watering cuts to UK social security.
Opportunities for progress
But even now there are opportunities for progress – the unanimous backing of the Scottish Parliament for the 2017 Child Poverty (Scotland) Act is one. Setting statutory income based targets towards ending child poverty by 2030 and introducing statutory delivery plans at national and local level with a clear focus on increasing incomes and reducing costs is a hugely welcome strategic approach that is much needed at UK level too.
And perhaps most importantly of all the announcement of the new £10 a week Scottish Child Payment for low income families provides a potential lifeline to individual families. It also marks what must now be the beginning of a journey to make maximum use of Scotland’s new social security powers as part of wider action to meet the 2030 targets.
Proud of CPAG’s role
I think we can proud of the role CPAG here in Scotland has helped play in driving the progress that has been seen over the last 20 years, and in creating the opportunities for further progress in the years ahead.
Working with the Poverty Alliance, One Parent Families Scotland and many others we played a lead role in spear-heading the Scottish Free School Meals Campaign – eventually leading to the roll out of free school lunches for all P1 to P3 pupils. Since then we have built our Cost of the School day work supporting schools and local authority to tackle all the financial barriers children face to fully participate at school.
We have also played a lead role in the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, relaunching this week as the Scottish Campaign on Rights to Social Security (SCORSS) – helping develop and promote principles for social security that we now see reflected in the principles underpinning Scottish social security.
We also lobbied for the creation of the Scottish Welfare Fund – ensuring a statutory scheme with additional funding was put in place to replace the abolished UK wide discretionary social fund.
And working with children’s charities through the Children Fuel Poverty Coalition we worked to ensure fuel poverty programmes were redesigned to support families as well as pensioner households.
With One Parent Families Scotland and the Poverty Truth Commission we campaigned successfully over many years for a minimum level of school clothing grant across Scotland – culminating last year in the commitment to a £100 minimum grant.
And our two top manifesto priorities ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections – for a child poverty act, and for use of new social security powers to tackle child poverty - are both being realised.
In particular I don’t think that there is any doubt that the Give Me Five top up campaign we spearheaded has been instrumental in setting the benchmark and ensuring Scotland uses top up powers to tackle child poverty.
Policy success informed by welfare rights expertise
The success of our policy impact draws heavily on our welfare rights expertise – expertise that directly helps maximise family incomes and, through our Early Warning System, gives us the evidence we need to inform policy and practice change.
When we first launched our Scotland advice line nearly 20 years ago we dealt with 100 cases a year – we now deal with 5000 a year. Our first training programme in Scotland saw us run 10 courses – we now run over 150 events a year in Scotland, reaching nearly 3000 frontline workers in nearly 300 different organisations. Feedback tells us how important our training and advice, along with our information services, are to helping frontline organisation support the families they work with get the financial support they are entitled to.
None of this would be possible without the support of funders, our campaigning partners, policy makers, supporters or the users of our welfare rights services.
Scotland children can’t wait another 20 years
Together I believe we at CPAG have achieved a huge amount in the interests of low income families in Scotland. But we are also aware we have much more to do to fulfil our vision of a society free of child poverty, where all children can enjoy a childhood free of financial hardship and have a fair chance in life to reach their full potential. Working with all our partners and supporters we must redouble our efforts to realise that vision. Scotland’s children can’t wait another 20 years.