Child Poverty

– in the Scottish Parliament on 29th June 2022.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by Shona Robison on the “Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan: Fourth year progress report 2021-22”. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Today, I have published the fourth annual progress report that is due under the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. It is the final report on the progress that has been delivered against our first tackling child poverty delivery plan, “Every Child, Every Chance: The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-22”, and it summarises the progress that has been delivered across 2021-22 and the key milestones that we have achieved since the plan was published in 2018.

In the past year, we have continued to address the impacts of Covid and to support recovery from it. We have also helped families who have faced increased household costs through our winter support fund.

The report showcases the breadth of activity that is under way, which is supported by partnerships across Scotland. It highlights that we have delivered on all 68 of the actions that we committed to, including the additional actions that have been committed to since the plan was first published.

The report sets out the latest estimates of spend on targeted support for low-income households. Almost £2.6 billion of spend was targeted in that way in 2021-22, of which more than £1.1 billion benefited children. Across the four years of “Every Child, Every Chance”, we are estimated to have targeted almost £8.5 billion at low-income households, of which nearly £3.3 billion benefited children.

The report also presents the latest available data on persistent poverty for children, which shows a marked drop compared with previous estimates, from 15 to 10 per cent. Although that is welcome, further data will be required to determine how much of that observed fall is due to real change and will be sustained in coming years. We anticipate that we will be able to publish updated statistics against all measures in March 2023.

Over the past year, we have continued to deliver for children and families across Scotland. We have continued to increase incomes through social security. Following the launch of the Scottish child payment in February 2021, we went on to award £55.1 million to low-income families in 2021-22; it is estimated that, as of the end of March 2022, we had provided support to 103,000 children.

Through bridging payments, we put almost £80 million into the pockets of low-income families with school-age children, providing up to £520 for each eligible child, with 148,500 children benefiting as of spring 2022.

We expanded eligibility for child winter heating assistance to a further 4,500 young people who are in receipt of the personal independence payment and launched the child disability payment and the pilot of the adult disability payment.

Supported by our investment, 139 general practice surgeries in the most deprived areas now have welfare advisers in place; we are providing access to advice in the places that people go. In addition, to support financial wellbeing and recovery from the Covid pandemic, we put more than £68.9 million into the pockets of Scottish households through low-income pandemic payments.

We have delivered actions to address the impact of the cost of living and reduce household costs, including delivering 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare hours across Scotland as of August 2021. The latest data from January 2022 shows that 88 per cent of children are accessing the full 1,140 hours, which is estimated to save families up to £4,900 per child in 2021.

We expanded the universal provision of free school meals to all children in primaries 4 and 5, provided alternate free school meal provision in school holidays to around 144,000 children from low-income families and further increased the value of the school clothing grant to £120 for eligible children in primary school and £150 for those in secondary. In addition, from 31 January this year, we extended concessionary travel to under-22s who live in Scotland. Approximately 930,000 young people are eligible for support, which is estimated to save families up to £3,000 by the time their child turns 18.

We have also supported more parents to increase their earnings from employment by continuing to deliver support through devolved employability services and through our focus on fair work. That includes strengthening our fair work first criteria to include offering flexible and family-friendly working to all workers from day 1 of employment, increasing the take-home pay of more than 7,600 workers through living wage accreditation and launching the real living hours accreditation campaign. Beyond those steps, we invested £41 million in our winter support fund to help low-income households that have been impacted by rising living and fuel costs.

“Every child, every chance: tackling child poverty delivery plan 2018-2022” was published shortly after the ambitious child poverty targets were set in statute in the Parliament, marking a change in focus and approach to tackling child poverty in Scotland. The plan set out the three key drivers of child poverty reduction: work and earnings, social security and household costs. It also set out the need to focus efforts on the six priority family types that are at greatest risk of poverty. Although the world was very different when “Every child, every chance” was published, those drivers have remained constant and remain vital to our approach.

Over that time, we have built our collective understanding and awareness of poverty and strengthened the foundations of support that already existed in Scotland, and we have used the powers that are devolved to this Parliament to go further than we ever have before. That includes establishing our devolved social security system and delivering 12 benefits, of which seven are entirely new and not available anywhere else in the United Kingdom, including our Scottish child payment.

With those powers we are providing unparalleled financial support across the early years that, by the end of this year, will be worth a maximum of more than £10,000 for a family’s first child by the time that they turn six. That is over £8,200 more than is available elsewhere in the UK.

We have delivered devolved employability services that are based on dignity and respect, and have continued to do everything that we can to promote fair work, despite key powers over employment being reserved to the UK Government.

We have almost doubled funded childcare hours, significantly increased school clothing grants and delivered more than 9,757 affordable homes, of which 7,306 were for social rent. In addition, we have taken key steps to strengthen our overall approach to tackling child poverty, including establishing our statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission.

We also reached a groundbreaking agreement with the Scottish Green Party that sets out our shared focus on tackling child poverty and influencing key measures, including free bus travel for under-22s and our commitment to mitigate the benefit cap.

The progress that we have made was made despite significant challenges. Covid has changed all our lives immeasurably and has disproportionately impacted the most disadvantaged people in our society. We have also seen the continued impact of United Kingdom Government welfare cuts and austerity, in particular over the past year. Recent analysis highlighted that reversing the UK Government welfare cuts that have been imposed since 2015 would put an additional £780 million into the pockets of Scottish households in 2023-24, helping to lift 70,000 people, including 30,000 children, out of poverty.

In 2021-22, not only did we continue to deliver progress against our first tackling child poverty delivery plan, but we worked with partners to develop our second such plan for the period to 2026. “Best Start, Bright Futures: tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022 to 2026” builds on the strong foundations laid by “Every Child, Every Chance” and sets out ambitious action to drive progress towards the targets and lift thousands of children out of poverty, which is backed by up to £113 million of additional investment this year. The plan outlines how we will work in partnership across Scotland with the public, private and third sectors and communities to take forward our national mission.

Covid has impacted on the delivery of key commitments, including our affordable housing supply programme and parental employability support fund. In “Best Start, Bright Futures”, we set out how we will regain lost ground and go on to scale up the impact of key programmes, including through our new employability offer to parents.

In April, we doubled the Scottish child payment to £20 per child per week, and it will rise to £25 by the end of the year. We have also increased the value of a further eight Scottish social security benefits by 6 per cent, providing much-needed support to families.

Our commitment to tackling child poverty is underpinned by the recently published resource spending review, which sets out high-level plans for how funding will be invested in the coming years to meet our priorities.

The progress report that was published today sets out the considerable action that has been delivered since 2018, resulting in strengthened support for children and families across Scotland. This Government is absolutely committed to tackling child poverty and is now focusing on the implementation and delivery of the best start, bright futures plan, building on the foundations of the past four years and the significant learning over that time.

I look forward to taking questions from members about progress over this reporting period.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in her statement. I intend to allow about 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement.

One group of children and young people did not merit comment by the cabinet secretary today: children who live in temporary accommodation. I have raised the issue consistently with the cabinet secretary and make no apology for doing so again.

Today in Scotland, 7,500 children are living in temporary accommodation. Many of those children have been housed in temporary accommodation for months or years. The typical stay for a family has doubled to more than 58 weeks, which has rightly been described as a “national disgrace”. Does the cabinet secretary think that that is acceptable? Will ministers consider proposals to ban placement of children in temporary accommodation?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I agree with Miles Briggs that the number of households who are in temporary accommodation is too high: we are firmly committed to reducing it. Alongside our ambitious programme of affordable housing building, we are providing £52.5 million for local authorities to implement their rapid rehousing transition plans and housing first approaches.

Miles Briggs will be aware that a working group that includes a lot of expertise is looking at what more can be done to tackle what is a difficult issue in some parts of Scotland—the situation is not uniform everywhere. I met key people from the group just a couple of weeks ago to hear about the progress of their work.

Housing is a key part of our mission to tackle child poverty. That is reflected in the resource spending review, which includes increased resources to prevent homelessness and to provide more warm and affordable homes. We will continue to do that.

My final observation is that there has to be consistency in the policy programme. I gently suggest to Miles Briggs that a commitment to allow the sale of housing association properties would not be a good route to go down. [

Interruption

.] I am glad that Miles Briggs is saying that that is not a way that would be followed in Scotland. As the Prime Minister has set out, that is the way things will be going in England, so it would be heartening to hear more from Miles Briggs on that, as I do not think that we have heard much from him on it. We cannot allow homes that are built under the affordable housing programme to be lost in the same way as—if I recall correctly—up to about 500,000 council houses were lost.

I will continue to focus on tackling temporary accommodation and on ensuring that the working group gets our full support in coming up with the solutions that will be required.

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement.

The tone of the statement that we just heard was celebratory, but this is no time to pat ourselves on the back. Some 260,000 children are still in poverty in Scotland. A report that was published last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children said that we are “unlikely” to meet our targets, and described the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling poverty as being good on diagnosis but short on prescription. Scottish National Party ministers have chosen to close their eyes and just to hope for the best. We are in a cost of living crisis—there is no fair wind and this is not a good day. The Government must do more; it cannot rely on hope and optimism alone.

Now, more than ever, we need real concrete action on all the drivers of poverty. But where is it? We cannot wait until the next delivery plan to identify what more is needed. By then, it will be too late. It is not just me saying that—the Government’s own Poverty and Inequality Commission is saying it, too. People across Scotland need to know what the Government is going to do to lift them out of poverty.

When will the Government acknowledge the gravity, scale and pace that are required in this situation? When will it start using all the powers of this Parliament to address the situation? What will it do about that, right now?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

First, I do not accept that my statement was “celebratory”. It set out the measures that we have taken in relation to the first child poverty delivery plan, then it set out how we segment it into “Best Start, Bright Futures: Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-2026”, the second child poverty delivery plan, and it ended by saying that we now have to implement that in order to continue to tackle child poverty. I do not think that that is “celebratory”: the statement set out the facts of what we have done.

I do not think that it is a fair representation to say that we are not doing everything that we can. Through the budget for 2022-23, the Scottish Government has allocated almost £3 billion to a range of supports that will help to mitigate the impact on households of the increased cost of living. That includes work to tackle child poverty, to reduce inequalities and to support financial wellbeing, alongside provision of social security payments that are not available anywhere else in the UK. We can see from the resource spending review that social security is where the main bulk of the spend from the Scottish Parliament is. That is the direction of travel of funding.

There is always more to do—I will never disagree with Pam Duncan-Glancy on that—but it would be good, just occasionally, to hear some acknowledgement of the action that has been taken here that has not been taken anywhere else in these islands.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary has outlined the amount of support that the Scottish Government is providing to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis. She also mentioned social security. Too many people are missing out on UK Government benefits. How can we encourage benefit take-up at Scotland and UK levels?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Ruth Maguire has made an important point. We need to encourage and promote take-up of benefits. Ms Maguire will be aware that we have had a benefit take-up campaign and that we have funded a number of advice workers—as I mentioned in my statement—in order that we can, for example, get to people who are visiting their general practice and make them aware of their entitlements. We are considering what more we can do to ensure that there is easily accessible information and advice about the myriad supports that exist. Information and advice should be available not just about Scottish Government supports but about UK welfare supports and those that are routed through local government.

Work is on-going to promote that so that everybody who is entitled to support gets it. I am happy to keep Ruth Maguire apprised of that work.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

Amendments to extend free school meals provision were voted down by the SNP and Greens in the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill. When will the Scottish Government commit to extending free school meals provision beyond P4 and P5 so that we can help to alleviate poverty and make sure that young people do not go hungry?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

This Government has a proud record of expanding free school meals provision as part of the wider action to tackle food insecurity, to cut the cost of the school day and to help to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap.

Scotland’s offer of universal free school meals in P1 to P5 and to children in special schools is the most generous universal offer in the UK. It is far beyond what is offered in England, where the member’s party is in power. We are committed to expanding free school meals provision further. There is money in the budget for capital to expand capacity in school kitchens ahead of roll-out of that expansion. That is in addition to the more than £169 million that has been provided to support provision of free school meals during term time, and nearly £22 million of funding to provide free school meals alternatives to eligible families in the school holidays, regardless of the age of their children.

There is always more to be done, but it would be extremely unfair not to recognise the work that this Government has done on provision of free school meals.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

The cost to families of uniforms is specifically cited in the tackling child poverty delivery plan. How does the Scottish Government intend to raise awareness about the school uniform guidance consultation, which opened recently, and how it fits in and interacts with other investment that the Scottish Government is making to help to deliver the main aims of the plan?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

As our progress report sets out, we have invested almost £8.5 billion in support that is targeted at low-income households from 2018 to 2022, of which £3.3 billion has benefited children. We are determined to put money into the pockets of families, as well as to reduce household costs. Of course, that includes the important element of reducing the cost of the school day. That is why we have increased the value of the school clothing grants over the past four years, with a minimum award of £100 per eligible child in 2018, which we have increased to £120 for primary school children and £150 for secondary school children.

We have set out our intention to introduce new guidance on school uniforms, with the aim of reducing costs and ensuring that the money that families have goes further. We are engaging with a wide range of stakeholders and will continue to promote the consultation.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

Child poverty figures and indeed some of the estimated figures in Scotland highlight the true scale of the problem facing thousands of families across the country. I want to back up my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy and say that I find those on the Government front bench quite self-congratulatory on this. We need to be much stricter with ourselves in this Parliament in relation to how serious the issue is and we should be talking about the things that need to happen.

The minister has not mentioned the priority groups affected by child poverty. There are far too many children living in poverty in Scotland today, but inequalities mean that disabled children and those from ethnic minority backgrounds or lone-parent families, for example, need extra support, and that has not been addressed. Can the minister set out a clear strategy to support those children and families?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Again, I do not think that that is a fair representation of what I was setting out. The statement is an account of what has been done in the delivery of the first child poverty delivery plan.

All I can do is to set out and report on what we have done, as I am required to do under the 2017 act. Surely, Carol Mochan would be complaining if I was not doing that, as per the requirements under the act. I have tried to set out what we have done. Is there more to do?

Of course, there is more to do. That is why we have committed £3 billion to supporting low-income households. That is an extraordinary investment from a fixed budget with all the inflationary and other pressures on all budgets. In essence, it puts our money where our mouths are.

As I did in my statement, I could list all the things that we are doing that form part of that £3 billion, but we have to strike a balance between members rightly holding us to account—that is what we are here for as ministers in the Government—and, just occasionally, recognising where we are putting the money. On the resource spending review, members have complained about money going to other parts of Government because it is going into supporting social security and tackling child poverty.

On the point about the intersectionality of people with disabilities, disabled children and children from a black or ethnic minority background, they are in the six priority families to which I referred in my statement. Both of the tackling child poverty delivery plans absolutely focus on those six priority families because we know that those families, including lone parents, are more likely to suffer poverty. That is why we have particularly targeted those children through the plan. I hope that Carol Mochan is able to acknowledge that.

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

New detailed analysis shows that independent European countries comparable to Scotland are wealthier and fairer than the UK. Poverty rates are lower in those comparator countries and there are fewer children living in poverty. What would be the opportunities if we had those additional powers at our disposal?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

We would have the full levers of a normal Government that other Governments throughout the world have to tackle child poverty. We would have powers over all elements of social security, employment, tax and, importantly, borrowing powers. At the moment, as we can see through the fiscal framework—this is relevant to our projected social security spend—we do not have the borrowing powers to allow us to smooth out the peaks and troughs of income tax take or social security expenditure that every other Government has. In fact, local government has more powers in that respect than we have.

That is important not as some kind of theoretical discussion but because we would be able to do far more beyond what we can do. I have set out the extensive measures that we are already taking, but we could do far more if we were to move away from a fixed block grant based on what another Government spends and were able to use our resources to better support Scotland’s priorities.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary contradicts herself: she said that the statement was not self-congratulatory and celebratory before asking Pam Duncan-Glancy for appreciation for the work that she has done. She needs to make up her mind.

I say to the cabinet secretary that 7,500 two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are not accessing their free 1,140 nursery hours. The take-up rate is terrible. What is she doing about that and when will we see progress?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

To correct Willie Rennie, I did not ask Pam Duncan-Glancy to congratulate the Scottish Government. I asked for a bit of balance between, on the one hand, us saying that there is more to do, that we do not always get everything right and that we want ideas from others and

, on the other, getting occasional acknowledgement of some of the things that we are doing that are delivering for children living in poverty in Willie Rennie’s constituency as well as elsewhere.

I do not know why Willie Rennie is shaking his head. I have outlined all the measures that we are taking, such as supporting people through the Scottish child payment. I thought that he would welcome the support that is going into the pockets of low-income households in his constituency.

I laid out in my remarks the support that we are giving young people through the roll-out of early learning and childcare. The way that it is being rolled out has supported a number of families.

We have invested roughly £1 billion a year in the delivery of funded ELC, supporting children and their families, and the resource spending review contains assumptions looking at how we build on that. We have also given commitments to build a system of school-age childcare to support families with low incomes and to develop a new offer of learning and childcare for one and two-year-olds. That work is on-going.

I can tell Mr Rennie that the number of eligible two-year-olds accessing funded ELC rose last year to 6,474 children in September 2021—that is an increase of 25 per cent year on year, equating to 1,611 more children accessing their entitlement. There is more to be done, but, again, I hope that that is something that can be welcomed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have five members who want to ask questions, so I need to have short questions and short answers.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

Under the lifetime of the plan outlined in

“Every child, every chance: The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-22”, the Scottish Government supported many families who were hit by the United Kingdom Government’s cruel benefit cap. Indeed, about 3,100 Scottish households—almost all of them with children—have been negatively impacted by the cap on universal credit alone. Thanks to the Greens working with the Scottish Government, that support will increase over the next four years.

Can the cabinet secretary give us an update on the work that is being done to identify eligible families and get that much-needed support to them and say how we can build on the lessons that have been learned from the welfare advisers’ work to ensure that everyone gets the benefits to which they are entitled?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I called for brief questions and answers. I want to get all members in and, if I do not get brief questions and answers, I will not get everyone in—that is just the way it is.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I will try to be brief, and I will write to Maggie Chapman with more detail.

We are looking at the lessons learned from the advisers and there will be an evaluation of that work, which I can keep Maggie Chapman apprised of.

On the benefit cap, we are consulting local authority partners on the best methodology for delivering that important policy, which will support around 4,000 families once it is rolled out.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary outline what measures the Scottish Government is taking to support parental employment as part of its support for priority families?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Could the member repeat the question? I think that it was on family benefits, but I could not quite hear it.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I am sorry. My question was, what measures is the Scottish Government taking to support parental employment as part of its support for priority families?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Clearly, that is a key plank of the tackling child poverty plan, building on the work that has already been done around employability programmes but making it far more bespoke for families, because we recognise that some families have not found their way to the employability programmes, because of all the barriers in their way. We need to understand what those barriers are. They might be to do with childcare issues or other costs that are prohibitive, and we want to work with families by ensuring that they have a key support worker to work with them to overcome any barriers that are particular to that family, in order to help them get into employment.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

Pupil equity funding is allocated based on free school meals data. Given the known challenges with that measure, particularly in rural communities, will the Scottish Government look again at alternatives?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Oliver Mundell is aware of part of the problem with the data. We rely on free school meal data because that is available through local authorities. He will be aware of the discussions—very productive discussions, I have to say—that are going on with the Department for Work and Pensions in order to ensure that we have the data that we require, not least for the roll-out of the Scottish child payment at the end of the year, so that all children under 16 will be entitled to that payment.

We continue to consider whether there is other data that we can use, but the free school meals data that is available through local authorities is one that we can rely on at the moment.

Photo of Stephanie Callaghan Stephanie Callaghan Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary outline how much the Scottish Government is spending to mitigate UK Government policies and say how that impacts on Scotland’s child poverty targets? What assessments has the Scottish Government made of the impact of UK Government welfare reform policies on child poverty in Scotland?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

In my statement, I set out that, if the UK Government reversed the welfare reforms that it has implemented since 2015, that would put an estimated £780 million in the pockets of Scottish households, which would help to lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

To mitigate UK Government policies, we are providing £83 million through discretionary housing payments in 2022-23. Of course, the main policy that we mitigate is the bedroom tax. It takes about £60 million to mitigate it, and that money helps more than 91,000 households sustain their tenancies. That does not help to tackle the issue of temporary accommodation, but we continue to discuss with the DWP how that issue might be resolved at source; in fact, we raised it at our last meeting. I also include £7 million to mitigate the benefit cap, as far as we are able within devolved powers. That will help up to 4,000 families, many of whom are larger or lone parent families.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the ministerial statement. There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business.