Five policies to tackle poverty in Scotland

6th Apr 2021

There is significant public appetite for ending the injustice of poverty in Scotland.

This election is a crucial moment for all parties in Scotland, here are 5 key commitments that should be at the core of the election debate.

1. Increase the Child Payment and identify a minimum income floor

To have a chance of meeting our interim child poverty targets, the next Scottish Government will have to at least double the Scottish Child Payment (currently £10 per child per week).

Our polling shows there is strong public support for the state guaranteeing that people’s income does not fall below a certain level. There have been similar considerations in the recent Social Renewal Advisory Board Report.

The next Scottish Government should test this concept further and commit to exploring the minimum income that people in Scotland should expect. Crucially, it should do so with people who experience poverty at the moment.

2. Maximise the contribution social housing makes to reducing poverty

The next Scottish Government must ensure that the costs of building sufficient new high-quality social homes are not borne disproportionately by those with the lowest incomes.

Renters in both the private and social sector have been hit hard by COVID-19. Despite having the least financial headroom as we entered the pandemic, renters are likely to shoulder a disproportionate hit to their employment and incomes when furlough is withdrawn. Achieving a fair recovery means sharing the costs and rewards and building in resilience that was lacking.

All the political parties must set out credible taxation and investment strategies to address housing inequality post-COVID, the climate emergency, and reducing child poverty, without jeopardising the delivery of the new social homes we need, especially in high-demand areas of the country.

3. Prevent pandemic debt locking people in poverty

Parties should commit to a just solution to debts which have built up as a result of the pandemic.

Our research has shown a worrying increase in renters struggling to pay their rent or household bills during the pandemic. Without further support this could cause preventable homelessness and create impossible choices for people between paying debts and meeting day-to-day essentials like food, clothing and heating.

As well as providing support to those who have built up debts, the next Scottish Government should also commit to raising awareness of the full suite of appropriate debt-management solutions, and improve access and take-up of support.

4. Build on the work started by Social Security Scotland

The Best Start Grants and the Carers Allowance Supplement have shown the action that the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland can take. Early signs are positive that the payments and the way they are being administered is improving people’s lives. The Scottish Child Payment has been a further welcome commitment that will lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.

The introduction of the Child, Adult and Pension Disability Payment will, however, mark a watershed for the new Agency. Billions of pounds of payments will transfer to it but most importantly so will a cohort of people who have been badly let down by the present system. It is vital that the new payments are delivered in the way that is planned - with dignity and poverty reduction at their core.

In the next Parliament we will need to explore the adequacy of all these payments and whether they provide the quality of life that we all rightly expect.

5. Make the vision of a Fair Work Nation real and end in-work poverty

The next Scottish Government must deliver a Fair Work Nation that significantly reduces in-work poverty. It should lower dramatically the financial and social barriers to decent jobs.

Currently two thirds of children in Scotland in poverty are in working families. That is intolerable and incompatible within a credible Fair Work Nation. The public institutions and policy approach must bridge the artificial distinctions between financial capital (investment and incentives) and human capital (skills and access).

Successful businesses rely on stable financing and the social and economic wellbeing of their workforce and consumers. This requires a cross-sector approach to working with employment support services, employers and workers to target sectors (accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail and health and social care), people (women, lone parents, disabled people, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, those with few or no educational qualifications) and communities where in-work poverty is most prevalent.

Fair work for all is a desirable and achievable goal and all parties must set out how they plan to achieve it and how it will play its part in reaching the child poverty targets.