Child Poverty

Scotland – in the House of Commons on 23rd June 2021.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on efforts to reduce child poverty in Scotland.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

Let me first take this opportunity to thank Department for Work and Pensions staff in Scotland and across the UK who have provided unprecedented levels of support to families during the pandemic. It is a mark of their dedication that the system has coped well with the extra demand that we placed on it.

We take child poverty very seriously. Through the joint ministerial working group on welfare, I regularly discuss welfare matters with Ministers from the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. Our most recent meeting included a discussion of the new Scottish child payment, which was delivered through the powers in the Scotland Act 2016.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I join the Minister in paying tribute to DWP staff. Perhaps the Government could respond by giving them a decent pay rise this year. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, over two thirds of children growing up in poverty in Scotland live in a household where someone is actually working. That is a damning indictment of the economy under both the Tories and the SNP—low pay, insecure work and children growing up in poverty. Does the Minister accept that both Governments need a fundamental rethink of their strategy to tackle child poverty?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

We are putting in considerable support in a whole range of ways, such as through increases in the living wage. One of the challenges of the pandemic is to ensure that new employment opportunities are there, and this Government and the Scottish Government do work well on co-ordinating our various schemes, such as the kickstart process, to make sure that those jobs are secure and sustainable for the future. It is not just about jobs, of course; it is also about issues such as the quality of education. I know there are significant issues with the stewardship of the Scottish education system under the Scottish Government.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The Scottish Government recently spoke of making the eradication of child poverty a “national mission”. Those are welcome words, but statistics released last month show that child poverty has risen in every single local authority in Scotland since the Scottish First Minister took office. Indeed, the last national mission for the SNP—there have been plenty—was closing the attainment gap, which the OECD has said will not be possible with the levels of poverty that exist in Scotland.

Of course, it is not just the SNP; the UK Government’s record is appalling, too. More than a decade of Tory government has created a society of low pay, insecure work and pushing families into in-work poverty. Both Governments are failing Scotland’s children. Can the Minister explain now what he is doing to try to resolve the shocking levels of child poverty in Scotland to show that this Tory Government really do care and to actually try to deal with some of the SNP’s failings in Holyrood?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the OECD report, which came out this week and which I have read. It does contain some very worrying findings. It is yet another reason why the Scottish Government should be focusing on the day job of improving services for people in Scotland, rather than obsessing about constitutional matters. On the wider point he makes about child poverty, throughout this Government’s period in office we have done a huge amount of reform to increase the take-home pay of people at the lower end of the income scale. For example, we have massively increased the personal tax allowance, which allows people to keep more money in their pocket. However, that is just one example; there is much more work to do, and I work regularly with ministerial colleagues across Government looking at the cost of living and what steps we might take to improve matters.