Caroline Kennedy, a member of the Poverty Truth Community based in Glasgow and former member of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Commission, reflects on how the new Scottish Child Payment could make a difference to the lives of children in Scotland.
When the Scottish ministers did the decent thing and announced they were bringing forward the new Scottish child payment (formally known as the income supplement) it was with great relief to the many who have campaigned for this. That includes the families who are just keeping their heads above water every day and have to make difficult decisions when planning the family budget. We have been told the payment will be £10 a week for each child in a low-income family, paid monthly, without any restrictions to how many qualifying children you have. This payment will be a lifeline for these families.
The only issue I have with the payment is that it will be paid on a monthly basis with no weekly option. It needs to be more flexible, with options available, so it that works with the realities of people’s lives. Our social security system is a public service just as the NHS and the emergency services are. It is an anchor if we need it, but different families may be under different pressures. The real experts are the families this will have a positive impact on, and more discussions should be held with them so they can help devise how this is done.
They’ll tell you that families are under a lot more pressure in the school holidays when poverty restricts people’s options. It has been highlighted that the number of people going to foodbanks rises through the school holidays. Having a weekly payment during this time could reduce the number considerably and might fit better with the realities of budgeting during the holidays when financial pressure is high. The Scottish Government could argue that they are already investing a large amount of money into the school holiday programme. This is true, but what they are not taking into consideration is the families who are not able to access this service for varied reasons. There are still a lot of children going hungry at this time.
There are other things that this payment could help with, and where a weekly payment might be easier to manage. When my son was younger, he was passionate about football and his fees were £10 per week to be paid on a Tuesday. I deducted this money from my weekly child benefit payment to ensure he was not held back from taking part. I became an expert on budgeting for food, fuel and activities. It wasn’t easy and sometimes it was impossible, and it would have been harder to manage if I had to plan ahead a month at a time. Sports are crucial to the development of young people. It helps them with confidence and social skills.
The extra money from the Scottish child payment, especially if it is paid weekly, could make a difference and help with another area that has been highlighted as a problem in Scotland: obesity in young people. It’s heartbreaking when parents are solely blamed for this - we all have a responsibility. One of the factors that could be contributing is the costs of taking part in sporting activities. We are seeing price increases in council-owned buildings which are the venues for sports practice. Parents are unable to afford these increases. It’s not right that young children are prevented from taking part in sports. We all want the best for our children. It’s only right that they thrive and become confident people, and society must give them the right to the same opportunities without isolation or restrictions.
I live close to the Emirates Arena that was built in 2014 for the Commonwealth Games. It is an area of high unemployment and poverty. At the time the buzz-word was the legacy this was giving to young people all over Scotland, encouraging them to take up sports as part of a healthy lifestyle. After the Games had finished many young people from the immediate and surrounding areas had to watch as the children of wealthy parents were driven in, dropped-off and picked-up again from the Emirates Arena. Where was the legacy to the low-income families that could not afford for their kids to take part in the sports that are offered in the arena? Having the money to take part is what makes the difference.
We all have moral duty to get right the new Scottish child payment for every child and family to ensure that it reaches every qualifying child and is a respectful and dignified process. This is a payment that will lift many children out of poverty. We need to get it right.