Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy on child poverty is one of huge progress, but new FM must complete the job
Today we will find out who Scotland’s new First Minister will be. What will this mean for action to end child poverty? Whatever people’s views of her wider legacy there should be no doubt Nicola Sturgeon has made huge progress putting in place the building blocks needed to end the scourge of child poverty in Scotland. This week’s official poverty statistics are a stark reminder that an utterly unacceptable one in four of our children remain locked in poverty, but they don’t yet capture the impact of recent Scottish government policies – not least the roll out and increases to the Scottish child payment.
From securing unanimous Holyrood support for the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act, establishing statutory child poverty targets and a duty on government to set out how it will achieve those targets, to introducing and then increasing the value of the Scottish child payment, Nicola Sturgeon has shown a real commitment to using devolved powers to prioritize tackling child poverty.
Under her leadership the Scottish government has also shown willingness to begin to use tax powers to better harness Scotland’s resources, including to help fund the vital extra social security support many families, both in and out of work, need. As a result of these Scottish tax and benefit policies the Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes that “amongst the poorest 30% of households, those with children will see their incomes boosted by around a sizeable £2,000 a year” compared to families in England and Wales. Analysis from Loughborough University for the Child Poverty Action Group found that Scottish government policies can reduce the net cost of bringing up a child by over a third. Encouragingly forecasts now suggest that the interim target to reduce child poverty in Scotland to less than 18% by 2024 is within reach, despite child poverty rising across the rest of the UK.
Behind these statistics are families now able to put food on the table without the indignity of relying on foodbanks, children able to join their friends in activities previously denied them and struggling parents whose financial worries have lessened and mental health improved. The extra cash support provided by the Scottish child payment has been spent on nappies and other essentials, and it has also helped parents travel to interviews, a new job, or college – opening up opportunities that have the potential to create long term routes out of poverty.
This is a precious legacy that the new First Minister needs to not just safeguard and sustain but build on.
The job is far from complete. The harsh reality is that rising costs are still outstripping additional Holyrood supports. Whilst significantly better off than those elsewhere in the UK, Scotland’s lowest income families are still making impossible choices between feeding the meter, shopping for food or getting into debt. In a rich country this cannot be right. The new First Minister’s mission must be not just to reduce child poverty in Scotland, but to end it once and for all.
John Dickie is Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland