Scottish Government Set To Miss Targets On Child Poverty

By Ewan Somerville, 22 Mar 2019
Young People

A failure to meet its own targets will see the Scottish government plunge 60,000 more Scottish children into poverty within the next five years, a report warns.

Scottish ministers will be 100,000 children outside of their target for an 18 per cent relative child poverty rate by 2023-34, the Resolution Foundation predicts.

Instead, those children left behind and unable to enjoy the basic luxuries of life will hit a 20 year high at 29 per cent of all Scottish youngsters within five years.

The Making Of Wider Welfare Policy

Credit: J J Ellison/Wiki

This is a direct consequence of ruthless British government welfare policy, the think tank says, particularly the four-year freeze on working-age benefits and the troubled rollout of Universal Credit.

Policymakers have treated the most vulnerable in British society with disdain, the UN warned late last year, creating a “punitive, mean-spirited and callous” country.

But the Scottish government is not powerless and must introduce “much more radical changes” to its social security net if thousands more families are to be saved from the slide into misery, the report’s authors say.

Scotland Adopts, Britain Abolishes

Current figures show that 23 per cent of Scottish children were living on less than 60 per cent of median household incomes in 2016-17, some 230,000.

The pledges form the core basis of the Child Poverty Act, the first ever passed in Holyrood parliament after David Cameron ‘vanished child poverty as an issue’ when he abolished the UK-wide equivalent law.

Across Britain, one in three children were reported as living in relative poverty last year – over four million. It comes amid cries from head teachers that the child poverty crisis is pushing schools to the brink.

What Is Relative Poverty?

The UN and other organisations were criticised for official figures ignoring those who manage to get by, but lack the basic luxuries of life; they’re socially excluded. So the concept of relative poverty was born, but what exactly is it?

  • Relative poverty is tied to the economy’s measure of ‘median household income’, based on those who earn 60 per cent or less of what an average household enjoys
  • It is about the little things that can be taken for granted, like having a computer to do homework, having a one week family holiday each year, being able to afford a birthday present, or having the dignity of a clean uniform in school
  • The income marker is adjusted to the amount of people in a household, but disability and care pressures are not included
  • It is also not adjusted for recessions, meaning when the rate poor is decreasing it may not mean any extra money for the poor on the ground

The rate is on track to top the record high set in the 90s, hitting 37 per cent, many of these in working households seeing parents visit food banks just to get by, according to a previous Resolution Foundation study.

Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “This worrying rise in poverty is almost entirely driven by UK-wide decisions, such as the £12 billion worth of working-age benefits cuts. But that doesn’t mean policy makers in Scotland are powerless to respond.”

Income Supplement: Hope Or Another Failure?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits a food bank in 2017, Image via Flickr

The authors recognised that a new ‘Income supplement’ could help avert the child poverty crisis in Scotland worsening, but campaigners fear that the proposed 2022 introduction date will be too late to mitigate the harshest effects of George Osbourne’s 2015 budget.

“We have huge concerns that the 2022 timetable for a new income supplement fails to reflect the extraordinary increase in child poverty that the country faces,” John Dickie, from Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, said.

He told The Guardian: “A £5 top-up to child benefit implemented now could, for example, lift thousands of children out of poverty and protect many more from hardship.”

Scottish parliament communities secretary Aileen Campbell insisted that the Scottish government is determined to “eradicate child poverty,” and doing all it can “with one hand behind our back in the face of the devastating impact of the UK government’s welfare cuts”. 

Featured image via Unsplash

About The Author

Ewan Somerville

Ewan studies Politics and International Relations at The University of Sheffield.

Ewan studies Politics and International Relations at The University of Sheffield.