New research suggests Scotland could miss it target to cut child poverty by 100,000 children
The Scottish Government risks missing its child poverty targets by some distance as poverty levels are set to rise rather than fall over the next five years, according a think tank.
Research from the Resolution Foundation shows that, following large falls in the 2000s, relative child poverty has been rising since 2011-12.
The latest figures, for 2016-17, show that 23 per cent of children across Scotland were living in relative child poverty.
The foundation’s child poverty projection shows that it is on course to continue rising over the next five years and to hit a 20-year high of around 29 per cent by 2023-24.
The foundation notes that this would be equivalent to an extra 60,000 children across Scotland living in relative poverty (on less than 60 per cent of median household incomes) by 2023-24.
Such a trend would mean the Scottish Government missing its child poverty targets, which were set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, by some distance.
The difference between the foundation’s forecast and the government’s target is over 100,000 children.
The act commits the government to reducing relative child poverty to below 18% by 2023-24, and to below 10% by 2030-31, alongside targets to reduce absolute poverty, persistent poverty and material deprivation.
However, UK-wide benefit policies are driving up poverty in Scotland (and the rest of the UK) and that to date Scottish policy makers have not announced plans large enough to counteract that rise.
While the projection does not include Scottish Government policies such as the Best Start Grant, the (disability-related) Carers’ Allowance Supplement and more generous Council Tax Support, these policies are dwarfed in scale by poverty-raising policies set by Westminster.
These include the ongoing four-year cash freeze on working age benefits (the final year of which will raise £1.8bn across the UK in 2019-20) and the two-child limit on working age benefit support (worth up to £2,800 per child).
Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Child poverty across Scotland is on course to rise substantially in the coming years, and risks reaching a 20-year high by 2023.
“This worrying rise in poverty is almost entirely driven by UK-wide decisions, such as the £12bn worth of working-age benefits cuts. But that doesn’t mean policy makers in Scotland are powerless to respond.
“If the Scottish Government is to meet its ambitious – and welcome – child poverty reduction targets, it will need to implement much more radical changes to social security than it has done to date.”
The foundation notes Scotland’s new Income Supplement, which is due to be introduced by 2022, could help to reduce, or at least limit rises in, child poverty, if it is sufficiently ambitious.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, called for the Scottish Government to increase Child Benefit by £5 a week.
He said: “The Scottish Government’s timetable for a new income supplement fails to reflect the extraordinary increase in child poverty that the country faces. Children in poverty really can’t wait until 2022 and beyond for the Scottish Parliament to use its powers to boost family incomes in a substantive way. As time slips by childhoods are slipping by, childhoods that continue to be blighted by the damage poverty wreaks. Action is needed now. An immediate £5 top up to child benefit could, for example, lift thousands of children out of poverty and protect many more from hardship.”
The Scottish Government's cabinet secretary for communities and local government Aileen Campbell said: “We are doing all we can with the powers we have to mitigate those cuts, protect people on low incomes, and secure our ambitions to eradicate child poverty and have a range of actions and multi-million pound package of investment to deliver on that.
“These actions include £12 million in new intensive employment support, helping parents to work and earn more, and a new Financial Health Check service, backed by £3.3 million over two years as well as using our new social security powers.
“Our first annual progress report, setting out progress on all of the actions committed, will be published by the end of June this year.”