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A new First Minister for Scotland, and time to assess priorities

Following last week's appointment of a new First Minister for Scotland, David Mackay, Head of Policy, Projects and Participation at Children in Scotland, reflects on John Swinney's initial commitment to the eradication of child poverty, and what needs to be done now to achieve long-term change. 

As the dust begins to settle after what had been a rollercoaster few weeks in Scottish politics, we emerge with a new First Minister with a clear focus on tackling what he describes as “the curse” that is child poverty.

During press questions after he was elected leader of the Scottish National Party, John Swinney stated that his “principal policy interest” was eradicating child poverty in Scotland. The passion and determination in Mr Swinney’s response was heartening to hear and warmly welcomed by organisations working across the children’s sector who see the damaging impact of child poverty on a daily basis.

At Children in Scotland, our key aim is supporting all children and young people to flourish. As a member of the End Child Poverty Coalition in Scotland, we have campaigned for interventions to reduce child poverty in Scotland. Key successes in recent years have been the expansion of free school meals and the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, both of which are having a positive impact for some families who are struggling.

Despite these successes, and child poverty having been a key focus for previous First Ministers, we are still living in a Scotland where one in four children (approximately 240,000) are living in poverty. Scotland is also a country with widening inequalities, and the impact of this can be seen in our national public health data. With an ongoing cost-of-living crisis and public service cuts being introduced in different areas of the country, the child poverty interventions we have made to date alone are not enough to turn the tide. Although positive, they are an insufficient sticking plaster on a bigger problem.

So what can we do to tackle this problem? In his speech, Mr Swinney invited us to watch his government's progress on tackling child poverty. However Children in Scotland, our members, and our partners across the sector, don't want to just watch, we want to work together with the Scottish Government and MSPs to achieve our common goal of eradicating child poverty.

Children in Scotland is writing to Mr Swinney outlining our key asks and inviting him to meet with our Children's Sector Strategic and Policy Forum. To make the change he wants to see, we must ensure there is a sustainable children's sector, where charities and not-for-profit organisations are fairly funded and can plan ahead, and impactful statutory children's services are protected from cuts.

We must also make the most of the upcoming United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child legislation by applying a child-rights lens to all our policy decisions and budgeting, and ensuring there is policy coherence across the different areas of government. This will help to ensure all children are protected in this challenging financial climate.

In the short term, we can and must do more. A positive initial step for Mr Swinney would be to take immediate action to increase the Scottish Child Payment. Back in December 2023, the End Child Poverty Coalition in Scotland campaigned for an uplift to £30 per week ahead of the Scottish Budget, however the announced increase fell short of our calls. We regularly hear from our members that the safety net for families is being pulled away. Many families are living in crisis and short-term action to tackle child poverty is essential alongside a longer-term route map.

As Scotland’s new First Minister, Mr Swinney has inherited a long to-do list. But, as we all know, a to-do list is nothing without prioritisation. We are pleased to hear eradicating child poverty will be the number one priority at the heart of Mr Swinney’s government, and Children in Scotland and our network look forward to working collaboratively with him to make this a reality.

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About the Author

David Mackay is Head of Policy, Projects and Participation at Children in Scotland.

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