Call for ‘urgent’ action as report reveal half of Scottish children have experienced poverty in past 12 years
More than half of Scottish children have experienced poverty at least once over the past 12 years, with the number of youngsters living in dire financial circumstances set to rise further unless “significant” work is undertaken, a report has warned.
A study from the Poverty and Inequality Commission (PIC) found a quarter of children in Scotland are locked into poverty. The report also warns the full impact of the pandemic on poverty is yet to hit, prompting concerns child poverty rates could rise further.
In its Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-26, PIC told the Scottish Government that targets to reduce child poverty levels by 2023/24 will be missed unless urgent action is taken.
The commission warned action taken by the Scottish Government so far was “not on a scale or at a pace” that is sufficient to meet the interim or final child poverty targets.
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The body said the Government needed to commit further to creating employment opportunities to help families out of poverty faster such as building on the existing offer to provide 50 hours per week of funded childcare for young children.
Other recommended actions included supporting parents to get and sustain suitable employment, or to work more hours and making sure that families were getting the benefits they were entitled to and building affordable housing suitable for families.
The SIC has also called for the Government to explore ways of making transport more available, affordable and accessible for low-income families.
However, the commission warned these measures would not go far enough and urged the Government to further increase the Scottish Child Payment or deliver targeted increases to families in the child poverty priority groups, including lone parent and disabled parent households. The Scottish Child Payment is already set to be doubled to £20 a week from April.
Existing levels of “relative poverty”, where a child lives in a household that has less than 60 per cent of the median household income, rose to 24 per cent in 2017-20. The interim target is to reduce this to 18 per cent by 2023/24, with an eventual target of 10 per cent by 2030/31.
Bill Scott, chair of PIC, said: ”Our advice shows that, quite simply, too many children are still experiencing poverty in Scotland. As a society we believe it’s wrong for children’s lives to be restricted by poverty. That’s why the child poverty targets were set.
“While we know work is ongoing, progress is not enough to meet the targets and for some measures the position is worsening.
"Despite a clear commitment, the action taken by the Scottish Government so far is inadequate. We need to see Holyrood using all the levers available to end the scourge of child poverty.”
Citizens Advice Scotland chief executive Derek Mitchell pointed to research showing half a million people in Scotland are cutting back on food to afford energy bills amid spiralling costs.
He said: “It’s simply appalling that more than half of all children in Scotland have experienced poverty at least once in the past 12 years, according to this report. The grim reality is things are about to get even harder for more and more people, with a perfect storm of soaring energy prices, rising prices in the shops colliding with flat or falling incomes.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat social security spokesperson Caron Lindsay said: "These figures are terrible, but unsurprising. For 15 years the Scottish Government has failed to grasp the nettle and launch a serious and sustained approach to eradicate child poverty.
"It's clear that tackling child poverty will never be high on their list of priorities.”
Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative shadow Cabinet secretary for social justice, said: “This is inexcusable. The Scottish Conservatives supported the child poverty targets set out in 2017, but it is clear that the SNP are not doing enough to meet them.
“The SNP must urgently back up their rhetoric on child poverty with some concrete action to tackle the problem. This includes doing more to help parents access good, stable employment, and finally putting an end to the shameful attainment gap in schools that has grown on their watch.”
Scottish Labour’s social justice spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy called for the Scottish Government to “act now”.
She said: "The Poverty and Inequality Commission have today confirmed what we have known for some time, that the Scottish Government is not going far or fast enough to tackle child poverty. The child poverty targets were set unanimously and without caveat, to miss them would be a shameful dereliction of duty, but that is what is going to happen without urgent action.”
Social justice secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government would double the Scottish Child Payment and invest £361 million above the level of funding from UK Government on social security in the coming year.
She said: “We will publish our next Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in March and it will outline the transformational actions we will take alongside our delivery partners to tackle child poverty.
“However, we cannot do it alone.”