How can the Scottish Income Supplement loosen the grip of poverty?

We know that a safe and secure childhood acts as a firm foundation for future life. Yet a rising tide of poor pay, high costs and inadequate social security is threatening the financial stability that allows that to happen.

Poverty restricts options, leaving parents with impossible choices between paying the bills and buying enough food. We know that poverty causes long-lasting harm, from lower attainment at school through to poorer health, and poverty is already inflicting harm on a quarter of all children in Scotland. That number is rising, and if we do nothing, will rise to levels not seen in modern times. This unprecedented rise, and the harm it will bring, is totally avoidable – there is no justification for why we are letting this happen on our watch.

The truth is that many of us will find ourselves in a difficult financial situation at some point in our life as challenges such as ill-health, bereavement, job losses and unexpected costs pull us under. What was previously a manageable situation can suddenly become a crisis that can be impossible to navigate. For those who can take up paid work, this no longer guarantees financial security with inflexible, insecure and low-paid work now being all too common. Even those with good jobs can find that they struggle to make ends meet once they have accounted for an often inflexible and expensive childcare system that can limit paid hours worked, and/or add significantly to the cost of working.

In times of hardship, the social security system can provide a stepping stone to help families avoid being swept under. We have heard first-hand how an unexpected fall in family income can leave parents gasping for air; in the same way that the NHS is there to keep us afloat when we need it, social security must be understood as a necessary and non-judgemental service to anchor us against difficult currents, something that is available to all when required.

Children in poverty need action now. But rather than offering that anchor, we’ve seen benefit cuts from the UK Government and a benefit freeze at the same time as prices are rising. As much as we need to reshape our economy in the medium and long-term, social security provides an immediate and direct way to loosen the grasp of poverty for today’s children.

With new powers the Scottish Parliament can now act. This is why the Scottish Government has rightly proposed a direct transfer of money into the pockets of parents who need it through a new low-income supplement. The income supplement in Scotland is a huge opportunity to be used alongside other levers to loosen the grip of poverty. We must take this opportunity and thoroughly consider the different ways to get the money into families’ pockets and different options for who should get the payment. For example, should the payment be universal or means-tested, or targeted in a different way? How much should people get and how will the Scottish Government pay for it? Who should deliver it, and how can it be rolled out as soon as possible? Understanding these questions is key to building the most effective solution.

In doing so we must put children at the heart of this new system. Whilst there are administrative and financial challenges, these can and must be overcome to ensure we have an income supplement that is easy to navigate, is delivered to everyone who needs it, and makes a real difference to children’s lives.

JRF and IPPR Scotland have joined forces to see where we can help to make the income supplement as effective as possible. We want to bring the voices of people who have lived experience of poverty and insecurity to the heart of decision making; bringing new evidence and ideas that shape the proposed low-income supplement, wider social security in Scotland, and our economy more broadly, to deliver a fairer Scotland where poverty is reduced and then eradicated.

Over the coming months we will be working to understand how we can get the most out of the proposed income supplement, to have the greatest effect on the lives of children in poverty. We want as many people as possible to be involved in this conversation, to build the will to achieve the changes that can solve poverty in Scotland. Keep an eye on this page for updates as we get going with the research and develop our ideas. We want your help, and if we get this right, we can make a genuine difference to the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands of children in Scotland.