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Why this budget failed to put Scotland’s children first


Fiona King argues that the 2024/25 Scottish Budget misses a critical opportunity to make further progress on child poverty and puts the Scottish Government's own legally binding 2030 child poverty reduction targets at risk

In Shona Robison's own words, the 2024/25 budget was "one of the most difficult" in the history of devolution.

But the Scottish Government has still made choices in this latest budget. Fundamentally, it has chosen not to prioritise further action to support the 230,000 children living in poverty in Scotland today.

We recognise the challenge faced of balancing a £1.5 billion deficit. But we are concerned that this Scottish Budget does not do enough to help families who are struggling with rising costs. This puts the government's own, legally binding child poverty reduction targets in jeopardy.

The End Child Poverty (ECP) coalition is made up of 80 organisations who fight every day for a future where all our children have what they need for a happy and health childhood. In December, before this budget was unveiled, we urged the Scottish Government to apply a robust test across spending decisions, asking, “will this meaningfully support Scotland’s child poverty ambitions?” In our latest briefing, we assessed how the draft budget responded to this challenge.

We will start with the good. We know that the Scottish Child Payment has lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty. Low income families with children have seen their incomes boosted by around “a sizeable £2,000 a year” compared to those in England and Wales, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That means families no longer relying on food banks, children able to join their friends at birthday parties and school trips, and struggling parents whose financial worries have lessened and mental health improved. We know from our work, that the extra money has been spent on essentials, like nappies, while also helping parents travel to interviews, a new job, or college – opening up long-term routes out of poverty. This has undeniably changed the game.

But one in four children in Scotland were still living in poverty in 2022 – the latest year we have official statistics. That’s 230,000 children. And put bluntly, this budget has failed to build on the progress being made to reduce these numbers. The first minister said himself during his leadership campaign that he wanted to see the Scottish Child Payment rise to £30 per week in his very first budget, so it’s bitterly disappointing for struggling families that he has failed to deliver on this promise.

As a collective, we know that the budget will, at best, stall progress in some areas, and hamper progress in others. Overall, there is a lack of concerted investment to further reduce child poverty in the short term or to prevent it in the future. We are uneasy about the choices made – such as funding a Council Tax freeze that will disproportionately benefit better off households while providing little if any support for low income families – that do not align with the government’s stated priority of tackling poverty.

There are also cuts to important areas, such as employability and fair work, which are critical to boosting incomes from employment, and a real terms cut in funding to those facing acute income crisis. In another blow, the budget delivered a 26% cut to the Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP). We know all too well that investing in good quality, accessible affordable and social housing is a key lever to tackling poverty.

Despite maintaining the value of existing social security commitments, investment to support the expansion in childcare, and other welcome but small scale interventions, such as writing off school meal debt, the budget falls short of the first minister’s promise to really "shift the dial" on child poverty.

Without sustained and deepened action now, we are greatly concerned that the targets will be missed, and the most hard up families will be the ones that suffer. The deadline of 2030 that seemed some way off in 2017 is rapidly getting closer and time is running out to turn ambition into reality. There are now only five budgets left for Scotland to meet its child poverty reduction targets.

This budget fails to pave the way to fund the bold new actions needed to get us to our final destination of a Scotland where every child has equal opportunity to grow and thrive. A promise is a promise, and the Scottish Government must always put children first.

To read the full ECP briefing and the Scottish Government response to our calls, see here:

Fiona King is policy and public affairs manager at Save the Children Scotland.



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