Child Poverty

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of Tom Mason Tom Mason Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the number of children living in material deprivation. (S5O-01554)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, we are setting ambitious targets to reduce the numbers of children living in material deprivation. Our action to meet those targets will be outlined in the delivery plans that are due under the bill, the first of which will be published by April 2018. The plan will be influenced by a programme of engagement with key stakeholders and interest groups, and by the formal advice that I have requested from the Poverty and Inequality Commission. The scale of the challenge is, of course, significant, and all the more so in the face of the on-going United Kingdom Government programme of welfare reform.

The first delivery plan will be underpinned by our new tackling child poverty fund, which is worth £50 million. That is alongside a range of measures that we already undertake, including almost doubling the funding provision for early learning and childcare by 2020, providing free school meals to primary 1 to 3 pupils and providing a baby box of essential items to give every child the best possible start.

The bill also places a focus on local action, with reporting by local authorities and health boards. In addition, we recently published experimental statistics to help to inform local need.

Photo of Tom Mason Tom Mason Conservative

The report “Children in families with limited resources across Scotland 2014-2016”, which was published last week, highlights that 20 per cent of children in Scotland live in combined low-income and material deprivation households. The characteristic most likely to impact on children and ensure that they live in families with limited resources is worklessness, with 66.7 per cent of workless families having children who are living with limited resources. That key finding reinforces the position of the Scottish Conservatives that one of the important elements in combating child poverty is reduction of the number of workless households. Action that has been taken by the UK Government has caused the percentage of workless households across the UK to fall to a record low level, but progress remains persistently slow in Scotland. Will the minister acknowledge that the Scottish Government should be targeting its resources on reducing the number of workless households in Scotland in order to combat child poverty?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

It is perhaps unfortunate that Tom Mason did not, by the sounds of it, pay an awful lot of attention in a debate in Parliament only a few weeks ago, when we unanimously passed the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, with Parliament agreeing that statutory income targets are absolutely vital. However, we also agree across the chamber—or, at least, I had thought that we did—that there is a wide range of causes and consequences of child poverty and its drivers. Of course, the member failed to mention that the number of families who are in work and experiencing poverty is on the rise.

In essence, there are three broad drivers of child poverty. Cuts to social security and to support for low-income families are drivers, and income from employment is another important driver. That is why I am pleased that Scotland is the best-performing nation in the UK in that regard, with around 80 per cent of people here earning at least the living wage. Of course, the cost of living is another important driver for pushing families into poverty.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Has the cabinet secretary assessed the impact of the austerity and welfare reform policies of the Tory-led UK Government on child poverty in Scotland? Is the Scottish Government getting increased funding as a result of the savings to the UK Treasury from those austerity policies, which take money directly from the poorest households?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

In Glasgow, 3,500 families who are eligible for free school meals do not claim them. What can the Scottish Government do to improve take-up? Will it work with local authorities to ensure that more families benefit from free school meals?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Pauline McNeill has made a very important point. We take a range of actions across the Government to improve provision of information to people about what they are entitled to receive or to apply for. Jeane Freeman, the Minister for Social Security, has led a lot of activity on a welfare benefits campaign about take-up. Other actions are far more targeted, and we work hand in glove with partners. As we proceed with our delivery plan and our journey towards eradicating child poverty, we will work very closely with local partners to find better ways to help families to access quickly the support to which they are entitled.

The Scottish Government published a report earlier this year—I think that it was in June—setting out the research evidence on the impact on Scotland of Tory austerity and, in particular, of welfare cuts.

We know—many stakeholders concur with our assessment—that £4 billion will be taken out of welfare support in Scotland by the end of this decade, That will, of course, have its biggest impact on the people who are most in need. Meanwhile, the SNP Government will continue to do everything that it can with the powers and resources that are at its disposal. As I outlined earlier, although the challenge is great, and the challenge to eradicate child poverty is made harder due to the actions—or inactions—of the UK Government, we are nonetheless determined to proceed and move forward in Scotland. The first step following the passage of our legislation will be to introduce the cross-government cross-cutting delivery plan.