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Child poverty

Charities say Scottish Government must up urgency and scale of action to ensure child poverty targets are met

Parents on low incomes contribute to stark new report and state they are in ‘day to day survival mode’

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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and Save the Children urge the Scottish Government to ramp up both the urgency and scale of their plans to reduce child poverty. In their new report, Delivering for Families?, they warn that without urgent action the Government’s latest plan for tackling child poverty, Best Start, Brighter Futures, leaves too many families continuing to face devastating struggles to make ends meet and risks missing the child poverty targets in 2024.

Parents described their situation of struggling on inadequate and insecure incomes. One parent told us “Sometimes I just run out of money. I can’t do things that I need to do for my kids and for myself.” Another said “You need certain finances to get the kids to school, you need certain finances to get the baby to nursery, you need certain finances to get to work and back, you need all these things, you need financial support in a big way to be able to do the things you need to do for your children’s education and health. That’s the big thing and without that, you can’t really do anything.”

JRF and Save the Children, working with a diverse group of 49 parents, found the Government’s latest delivery plan, Best Start, Bright Futures, offers a strong diagnosis of many of the challenges families face and highlights key areas where action is needed. Key concerns were raised around access to and the cost of childcare, other barriers to employment, housing affordability, and inadequate mental health services.

The report also found that the Plan will likely drive a reduction in child poverty in Scotland, not least through the continued roll out of the crucial Scottish Child Payment. But the prescription needs to be much stronger, and more urgent, to ensure delivery is focused on the most pressing issues for families and to meet the interim child poverty targets.

New modelling provided by the Fraser of Allander Institute found proposals within the plan may only reduce rates to 19% (relative child poverty rate measured after housing costs), not enough to meet interim child poverty targets by April 2024.

To ensure action does not fall short of ambition, Save the Children and JRF make almost 50 recommendations. In summary they urge the Scottish government to address the following gaps in their delivery plan, and do so with the same urgency they brought to their pandemic response – a national mission to tackle child poverty deserves no less:

  • Increase the Scottish Child Payment by above inflation in 2023/24 to ensure the interim targets are met and to help ease the cost of living for families.
  • Move immediately from piloting the “no wrong door” approach and start working with partners across Scotland to deliver it now, building on existing services and good practice examples across the country.
  • Refocus efforts from bringing parents closer to the labour market, to bringing the labour market closer to parents. For example, reducing the cost and increasing the availability and flexibility of both childcare provision and transport, as well as working with employers to encourage flexibility on their parts.
  • Do far more to explicitly target actions set out in this Plan at the priority families, not least in areas like employability.
  • Make restoring and improving mental health services a key plank of efforts to reduce poverty.

Chris Birt, Associate Director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“The Scottish Government’s Plan to reduce child poverty will do just that but our discussions with parents and our analysis shows that it doesn’t go far enough. Not just in terms of its ability to meet the statutory child poverty targets but, more importantly, in taking the urgent action that parents and their children need to loosen the grip of poverty.

“Families in Scotland face a toxic mix of high inflation, low and insecure incomes (from work and social security) and poor mental wellbeing. They need the Scottish Government to take action now – they have got the diagnosis right, but the prescription needs to be much stronger.”

Claire Telfer, Save the Children’s Head of Scotland said:

“If the Scottish Government are to meet their ambitious targets on reducing child poverty, they must continue to keep the work rooted in the experience and expertise of families. We are encouraged that most of the priorities raised by parents chimed with the key areas for further action in the Plan and welcome specific commitments.

While the interim targets are within touching distance, building a society where every family has a decent secure income is still a distance horizon. Parents face barrier after barrier to make ends meet for them and their children. We need to raise the ambition in some areas and go further and faster to deliver for families to close the gap between their reality and the welcome policy ambitions in the government’s plan.”

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