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"Halving child poverty by 2024 should be the floor, not ceiling, for our ambition"

With increasing numbers of families experiencing financial hardship, we need to be ambitious - and put money directly into the pockets of parents, writes Claire Telfer

A year ago, nearly one in four children in Scotland experienced poverty and destitution amongst children was rising sharply. Twelve months later we’re facing a deepening crisis as the economic fall out of the pandemic tightens the grip of poverty on families. The impacts have been cruel, plunging some families into crisis for the first time and deepening the hardships of others.

Without enough money it’s hard to focus on anything else. Many families have been forced to rely on charity. One mother I spoke to recently told me “I was stranded, I had to feed my baby.” This is alongside lockdown, round-the-clock childcare and home schooling. We know poverty puts children at risk of poorer life experiences, opportunities and outcomes. As we emerge from the grip of the pandemic we need to navigate our way to a fairer society and fairer childhoods for all.

Prioritising child poverty is key.

Ambitions to reduce child poverty will be blown wildly off course without further, quicker, bolder action. Halving child poverty by 2024 should be the floor not the ceiling for our ambitions for the next Scottish Parliament.

The best way to do this and advance children’s rights is to ensure families on low incomes have more money. Money enables families to meet basic needs, reduces stress and worries and gives choice and control so children can flourish.

Save the Children, along with our End Child Poverty partners, believes a cash first approach is the most impactful and immediate way to tackle poverty and offers the most dignity and freedom. We want to see a relentless focus on increasing family incomes over the course of the next parliament, starting by asking all parties to commit to at least doubling the value of the Scottish Child Payment to £20 per week. The prioritisation of this game-changing benefit is welcome – the first payments will be made in February - and will lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty. But more is needed.

Important and welcome action has been taken on child poverty. Yet it’s also crystal clear poverty will soar without further decisive action.

Child poverty rises or falls because of the policies that a government implements.

We don’t need to wait for the next parliament to act. In this time of crisis more can be done now.

The Scottish Government’s 2021-22 Budget was a key opportunity to take further action to increase family incomes. The government acknowledged rising child poverty as a key risk to the country but didn’t commit to any new action to help get cash to struggling families now. The Fraser of Allander Institute pointed out that the £90m allocated for the council tax freeze could have funded an additional £13 a week per family via the Scottish Child Payment, protecting the income of those who need it most.

The End Child Poverty manifesto sets out other areas where action can be taken. We want to see action to help families with older children, prevent destitution amongst families with no recourse to public funds, a child poverty-focussed labour market policy that prioritises tackling low pay amongst women and holistic support for families.

Sustained action and continued political consensus across party lines is needed not just on prioritising tackling child poverty but on the approach we take. We want to see civil society and political parties unite in supporting our call for a cash first approach to tackling poverty, focusing on the cause of poverty – lack of money. The priority must be to get cash support direct to hard up families, using the statutory rights-based mechanisms available to national and local government, rather than leaving it to charities to provide basic income security.

The best way to counter low income is with money through the most direct routes to families. This would help us achieve fairer childhoods for this generation and the ones to follow.

Claire Telfer is Head of Scotland for Save the Children UK, and the Spokesperson for the End Child Poverty coalition.

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