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Don’t let Brexit distract us from existing problems

This opinion piece is almost 8 years old

Hanna McCulloch says new child poverty figures are a reminder that the Scottish and UK Governments have plenty to fix regardless of Brexit

Whatever your take on Brexit, the sound and the fury of the past week has been unavoidable. Markets have been in turmoil, political parties plagued with in fighting and half the UK has celebrated while the other half has mourned.

The country – and indeed most of the world – has allowed itself a moment to stop and stare open-mouthed. To be utterly absorbed by the unfolding spectacle.

And while our shock is entirely understandable, the release of official child poverty statistics earlier this week provided a timely reminder of why we can’t allow ourselves to be too distracted for too long.

Hanna McCulloch

Financial and constitutional uncertainty cannot be allowed to morph into a catchall excuse for growing poverty and inequality

Hanna McCulloch

Official figures show that 220,000 children in Scotland continue to live in poverty. A huge 66% of those children live in working families – up from 56% in 2013/14. Across the UK child poverty has risen by 200,000.

Behind these statistics are the tens of thousands of children across Scotland whose life chances, education, health and wellbeing are being undermined by poverty. For these children, uncertainty and financial insecurity are nothing new.

And as with Brexit, child poverty is not an issue that is going anywhere fast. This week’s statistics are in-keeping with projections from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which suggest that child poverty will increase by a massive 50% by 2020. The Resolution Foundation too estimates that between 3.7 million and 3.9 million children across the UK will be in poverty by the end of the decade.

So while the nation’s consciousness will surely remain focussed on financial and constitutional issues for the foreseeable future, the health of the economy and the happiness of big business cannot become the only show in town for politicians, journalists and commentators. Above all, financial and constitutional uncertainty cannot be allowed to morph into a catchall excuse for growing poverty and inequality.

It was with this concern in mind that a coalition of poverty and children’s organisations this week called on the Scottish Government to introduce child poverty legislation for Scotland.

The call from leading members of the campaign to End Child Poverty in Scotland is a consequence of the UK Government’s decision in 2015 to dismantle the UK Child Poverty Act 2010, scrapping the target to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

As a result of this move there is currently no requirement on public bodies – including the Scottish Government – to produce strategies detailing how they will tackle child poverty or its effects. This creates a potential vacuum and a very real risk that child poverty could fall permanently from the political agenda.

Introducing a Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill would allow the Scottish Government to put its commitment to child poverty beyond doubt, enabling it to set its own targets and develop its own plans to help low-income families and improve the prospects of children in Scotland. It would also ensure that come hell, high water or further seismic political shifts, the eradication of child poverty would remain at the top of Scotland's list of priorities.

Hanna McCulloch is policy and parliamentary officer at Child Poverty Action Group Scotland