John Dickie of CPAG Scotland on the role local government has in combating poverty
The council elections come at a time when families are facing extraordinary cost of living pressures.
Too many are being pushed into real financial crisis. Worse still, the families of the one in four children already living in poverty have nothing to cut back on – they have been facing a cost of living crisis for years. They are already making impossible choices on whether to pay the bills, put food on the table or get into debt. Too often they are left relying on foodbanks and other charity funds. In 21st century Scotland this just can’t be acceptable.
Councils have a vital role in changing this, not just supporting household through the immediate crisis, but also in bringing an end to the poverty that has left so many families so brutally exposed in the first place.
That’s why we at Child Poverty Action Group joined forces with other members of the End Child Poverty coalition in Scotland to set out our manifesto for the council elections.
It’s a manifesto that sets out how councils can ensure families have the resources they need to give their children a decent start in life. Economic development, employment, education, transport, housing and childcare are all policy levers our new councillors can use to help end child poverty.
As the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act makes clear, councils and their partners have a statutory role to play in ending child poverty. We are calling on council candidates to ensure robust plans are in place to tackle child poverty locally, with sufficient resources allocated to deliver on those plans
With housing costs a major factor tipping children into poverty those plans need ensure access to genuinely affordable, secure, good quality family housing. They must also support ‘fair work’ opportunities for all parents, focusing on those who face particular barriers to good quality jobs - women, single parents, disabled people and black and minority ethnic parents. Improving access to high quality, flexible funded childcare is key.
Ending child poverty will require economic transformation across Scotland. Councillors have a key role in ensuring economic development decisions support this transformation – prioritising the creation of good quality family friendly jobs and removing the transport, housing and childcare infrastructure barriers that lock families in poverty.
Councils can also build on the action already being taken to reduce the cost of the school day – relieving pressure on hard up parents and ensuring all our children are able to fully participate. Extending access to free school meals, increasing the value of school clothing grants and developing income maximisation services within school settings are all actions where some councils are already forging ahead.
Local councillors are in a unique position to help knit together all the action needed to ensure every family has the holistic support it needs. Focussing on improving data sharing to make sure families get the support they are entitled to and working across services to ensure there is ‘no wrong door’ to support can make a huge difference. Prioritising resources to provide more direct cash support to families will be essential in the coming months.
Councils can’t end child poverty alone. But those standing for election this week have a critical role to play. With the right policy decisions they can make a difference to the lives of tens of thousands of children. Our manifesto sets out what they can, and must, achieve.
John Dickie is director of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland.