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25 and Up: In the wake of the pandemic, our call to boost family incomes is more urgent than ever

3 June 2020

Launching a new series revisiting our 25 Calls, John Dickie, co-author of Call 15, argues that the Scottish Government’s child poverty targets, delivery plan and new Scottish Child Payment must inform every aspect of our country’s approach to renewal

The world has changed for Scotland’s children in ways none of us could have foretold when we called for a top-up of child benefit as part of Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls campaign in autumn 2018.

The good news is that that campaign, thanks to the support of Children in Scotland and many others, bore fruit with the Scottish Government’s commitment to a new Scottish child payment.

While not a universal child benefit top-up, the £10 per week payment for children in families in receipt of universal credit (or equivalent legacy benefits) is a game-changer in the fight to end child poverty.

An increase of £10 a week for each child, with children under six benefiting from 2021, will make a real difference to families struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and pay for school trips, sport and other activities that are fundamental to a decent childhood.

It was a landmark recognition of the role the Scottish social security system must play in ending child poverty.

The increase was projected to lift 30,000 children out of poverty, reflecting the benchmark set by the child benefit top-up campaign, and reducing the relative child poverty rate by an estimated three percentage points once fully rolled out in 2022.

The harsh new reality facing Scotland’s children

The bad news is that, even before the coronavirus crisis hit, nearly one in four– approximately 230,000 of Scotland’s children – were locked in poverty. The impact of the Scottish child payment was already counterbalanced by cuts to the value of UK social security that look set to increase child poverty by 50,000 by 2023.

Even without the impact of Covid-19, reaching the statutory 2030 Scottish child poverty targets meant lifting 140,000 children out of poverty. More was already needed if progress against these targets was to be made.

The harsh reality is that the coronavirus has exposed the precarious vulnerability of low-income families to economic and health shocks, and the subsequent dangers to child wellbeing.

There is increasing evidence that households with children, which were already at greater risk of poverty, have been disproportionately affected by the financial impact of the pandemic.

While it is too early to measure the impact on numbers of children in poverty, IPPR Scotland analysis finds that since lockdown almost half (49 per cent) of households with dependent children in Scotland find themselves in the two most serious categories of financial stress – ‘in serious financial difficulty’ or ‘struggling to make ends meet’. This is compared to 30 per cent of all households in Scotland reporting the same levels of financial stress.

Children’s charities report increased financial stress and associated anxiety, loneliness, and more complex mental health problems amongst the families they work with. The charitable hardship funds they operate have come under massively increased pressure.

Children, young people and parents have also highlighted their struggle to find the resources to engage with school during lockdown. The long-term risks to children’s education are great.

Families across Scotland are fighting to stay afloat. Those already more likely to experience poverty – such as lone parent families – are being particularly impacted. They are being pulled deeper into poverty.

Our call to boost family incomes is more urgent than ever

In this new context our call to boost family incomes using social security powers is more urgent than ever.

The Scottish and UK governments have taken unprecedented action. They have increased the standard allowance in universal credit and the Job Retention Scheme at UK level, and doubled the Scottish Welfare Fund and investment in the Wellbeing Fund here in Scotland. But, to date, there has been no additional financial support aimed directly at families with children.

That’s why the Scottish Government’s commitment to continue to prioritise the Scottish Child Payment is so important.

Serious consideration must now be given to accelerating roll-out and, importantly, increasing the value of the payment in light of the additional pressure on family incomes.

But in the short-term, existing delivery mechanisms need to be used to provide emergency financial support to all low-income families.

This was called for by an extraordinary coalition of more than 100 children’s charities, trade unions, faith groups and thinktanks in an open letter to the First Minister in May.

The current crisis is a stark reminder of why the call to boost social security support for families is so vital. The pandemic has exposed the acute financial vulnerability facing Scotland’s families.

The approach to recovery must now ensure that all children grow up in families with genuine financial security and protection against economic shocks.

The Scottish Government’s child poverty targets, delivery plan and new Scottish child payment provide a hugely valuable asset. They must now inform every aspect of our country’s approach to economic and social recovery.

John Dickie is Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
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Child Poverty Action Group Scotland

John Dickie is Director of CPAG Scotland

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