Child Poverty

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

7. To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in developing the delivery plan to tackle child poverty. (S5O-01560)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The first delivery plan that will be required under the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill will be due by April 2018. It will make a comprehensive statement of cross-Government actions to make significant progress towards the ambitious targets that are set out in the bill. A programme of external engagement is under way with key stakeholders and interest groups, and those with direct experience of poverty.

A formal request for advice has been issued to the poverty and inequality commission and, shortly, I will write to the conveners of all relevant subject committees to seek their views on priorities and actions for the delivery plan.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that an additional 1.3 million children will be in relative poverty in the United Kingdom by 2021-22 compared with 2015-16. That makes the scale of the challenge associated with the development of the child poverty plan all the more stark, particularly in the face of the UK’s on-going programme of austerity and welfare cuts.

Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for a serious answer to a serious question. I was beginning to wonder whether there was a misprint in the

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, because it says “Portfolio Questions”, not “Kevin Stewart’s Pantomime”.

Let me see whether I can elicit another serious answer from the now frowning cabinet secretary. The recently published Joseph Rowntree Foundation briefing “Poverty in Scotland 2017” says:

“The biggest driver of future poverty is the educational attainment of children when they leave full-time education”.

What will the delivery plan say about the action that the Scottish Government is taking to close the attainment gap?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I assure Mr Tomkins and the rest of the members in the chamber that the delivery plan will account for and articulate the action that we are taking and will take to close the poverty-related education attainment gap.

We always welcome the work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is always in-depth and thoughtful. My recollection is that it describes the benefits freeze as the single biggest policy driver behind the rising poverty that is hitting families in and out of work.

The foundation has raised other issues. I do not say this to take any comfort, because it is a serious matter, but the fact that Scotland generally has lower poverty than elsewhere in the UK speaks to the progress that the Scottish Parliament has made in a number of cross-cutting areas.

However, we all know that the reality of day-to-day life is that poverty is still too high in Scotland and it is projected to rise, so the advice that our poverty and inequality commission will give to ministers and civic Scotland is very important. That contrasts sharply with the position south of the border, where the members of the UK social mobility commission resigned en masse. That is a sorry state of affairs for the UK Government, and I have written to it on that matter. Alan Milburn and the other members resigned from that commission because of the lack of conviction on the part of the UK Government in addressing poverty, inequality and social mobility.

We are absolutely serious that our delivery plan will address educational attainment, but it will go broader than that and will tap into the talent and expertise of organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. We need to look at issues such as the living wage, housing, the rising cost of living for families and how we support the poorest families to achieve a better standard of living.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree with the research that has been presented to the Parliament by Sheffield Hallam University, which says that the loss of £4 billion in benefit income has weakened some of Scotland’s poorest economies and cost them more than 10,000 jobs following welfare reform, thereby delivering exactly the opposite of the outcome that the Tories claim to advocate—namely, a reduction in child poverty?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As we have debated and discussed many times in Parliament, the stark facts are backed up again and again, whether by the research that Mr Gibson mentioned, the research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which we all quote from liberally, or the work of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which all demonstrate that the work that the UK Government is doing is counterproductive to tackling child poverty in this country. By the end of this decade, 1 million more children across the UK will be living in poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation points to the progress that we have made in Scotland; it is absolutely right to also point to the fragility of that progress as a result of UK austerity and so-called welfare reforms.