Poverty groups have said immediate action is needed to help struggling families
Campaigners have repeated their calls for the Scottish Government to provide an urgent cash boost to low income families struggling amid the pandemic.
It comes as a new Scottish Government report detailing progress against Scotland’s child poverty targets – including cutting child poverty to less than 10% - reveals a worrying outlook for families.
The report highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for families living on low incomes, pulling them into hardship and plunging many into deeper poverty. It comes at a time when there is clear evidence that women – particularly lone mothers – and minority ethnic families face particularly high levels of poverty and have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis. This has increased the strain on families who were struggling to stay afloat amid a rising tide of poverty, even before the pandemic.
Members of the End Child Poverty coalition in Scotland have welcomed strong political focus to date on tackling child poverty in Scotland, including the commitment to the Scottish Child Payment, which will provide £10 per week per child to all eligible families. However, the Scottish Government’s roll out of the payment has been delayed and, as was confirmed today, won’t reach families until the end of February 2021.
The coalition says the progress report reinforces the need for the Scottish Government to bring forward urgent interim financial assistance to support families through the coming months, particularly as the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme winds down.
Martin Canavan, head of policy and participation at Aberlour, on behalf of the End Child Poverty members in Scotland said: “We are urging the Scottish Government to act quickly to protect children from poverty by bridging the gap until the initial roll out of the Scottish Child Payment next year. Low income families need direct and immediate financial support, and this should be at least equivalent in value to the £10 per week per child payment for all eligible families.
“Many families are facing desperate situations; we know there are over 30,000 more families with children who are now claiming Universal Credit in Scotland since Covid-19 hit. Low-paid women and their children, who were already at particular risk of poverty, have been put at even greater risk as a result of being disproportionately impacted by unemployment and enforced reduction of hours. The last five months will have caused yet more stress to those already walking the tightest of financial tightropes.
“There has been much political discussion and debate about the wider economic impact of the pandemic and how we can avert a financial catastrophe. But many families are already deep in this crisis and feel like there’s just no way out.
“The Scottish Government must prioritise the lives of children growing up in poverty and ensure families receive the financial support they urgently need.”
Jo, a mum from Irvine with two children aged 14 and five, who is being supported by End Child Poverty member, Children 1st’s Money Advice Team said: “An additional payment would be a huge help and relief for many families during this pandemic. For us it would help to buy in that extra food as the kids are eating all the time and help with electricity. I’d also maybe spend it on arts and crafts or fun activities for the kids. Some families like ours, don’t get the opportunity to buy that sort of thing as we’re on a low income.”
Bill Scott, chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, said: “It is not right that nearly one in four children in Scotland are forced to live in poverty. While the child poverty targets show that there is a clear commitment to release families from the degradation of poverty, and the Scottish Government and partners have taken significant action over the last year which will make a real difference to children’s lives, meeting the targets is only likely to get harder in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis. We need to be clear that the right action is being taken to have the biggest impact.
“Child poverty is not inevitable, it can be influenced by the decisions the government makes about our use of resources. That is why the commission is calling on the Scottish Government to be clearer about how its actions will deliver towards the child poverty targets and focus more on the priority families who are at greatest risk of poverty. Given the recession caused by Covid-19, it must also devote more funding to enable it to make faster progress on some of its commitments, including no further delays to the Scottish Child Payment.”
John Dickie, director of CPAG in Scotland, said: “There is no question that important and welcome action has been taken on child poverty in Scotland, not least on developing the Scottish Child Payment, but it is also crystal clear that even before the Covid-19 crisis this wasn’t yet enough to meet the government’s own child poverty targets.
“It is vital that ministers build on the important work described in this report and now identify the scale of what’s needed to get on track toward eradicating child poverty. Top of the list needs to be urgent and immediate action to protect and improve the job prospects of parents, especially mums, alongside further investment in our social security system to provide greater support through these challenging times.”
Communities secretary Aileen Campbell said: “These past months have been challenging for everyone but we know that coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a greater impact on the poorest in our society – many of whom will have struggled to make ends meet.
“That is why we’ve worked at pace and focused resources on getting the new Scottish Child Payment ready for applications. We know this vital payment will play a key role in tackling the blight of child poverty. To ensure that families receive the full support they are entitled to, we will link the Scottish Child Payment with the Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods through the application process. With all three schemes combined, low income families will receive over £5,200 of support for their first child by the time they turn six.
“What’s more, we are making an additional £2.35 million available for the Parental Employability Support Fund to focus support for both disabled and young parents and to maximise the impact of expanded Early Learning and Childcare entitlements. This will help families to move towards and into employment and provide wrap-around support and advice on issues such as housing and childcare.
“We are determined to continue to tackle child poverty. This has been shown by our investment targeted at children living in low-income households rising to £672 million – part of an estimated £1.96 billion directed at low-income households in 2019-20.”