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Child Poverty in Scotland — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 3:04 pm, 30th October 2019

Just a minute. The hon. Gentleman was not here at the start of the debate, so I do not know if am allowed to.

People are punished for being poor. Their children are punished as well, and left without the support that they need. That damages the life chances of children and their parents. Benefits must reflect people’s need—it is as simple as that.

We have heard today about the five-week wait for universal credit, which is unacceptable, but I have something very specific that I want the Minister to take away and think about. I have raised it before—to no avail, as far as I can see. When people have a five-week wait for universal credit, they are offered loans—it does not matter what they are called—by the Department for Work and Pensions to help them through that five weeks. We might think that that helps ease the pain of waiting five weeks for a proper assessment and proper universal credit payments to be made, but I say this to the Minister: if anybody seeks to take out a loan in the normal course of events, they go to a bank and ask for a loan. Their creditworthiness and ability to repay is assessed, and that determines whether they will be given the loan. People on universal credit waiting for the five-week payment are not assessed. They are given loans when it is clear that they are not able to repay them. Attempts to repay the loan shove them further into poverty and despair, and that pushes them further away from the world of work. It is simply not on. It is not working. The Government really need to look at the transitional payments, which are actually loans. Those payments should not be loans. People need support during those five weeks.

The Child Poverty Action Group has said that it is time—I am sure the Minister is aware of this—for the UK Government to use their powers, as the Scottish Government have done, in an equally positive way to develop a wider UK child poverty strategy, so that both Governments can work together to make child poverty history across the UK. I cannot understand why anybody would object to that. I am sure the Minister will want to think carefully and reflect on that.

We have the phenomenon of in-work poverty. The Scottish Government support the real living wage, and many employers, with the Scottish Government’s encouragement, have signed up to paying it in Scotland. The Minister will be interested to hear that employers who have decided to pay the real living wage have reported increased productivity and reduced sick leave, so valuing people is important. It gives me no pleasure to say this to the Minister, but the UK Government have sought to deceive with their pretendy living wage. Nothing should be called a living wage unless it is based on the cost of living. The Government’s pretendy living wage is not, so it should not be called that. This pretendy living wage has led directly to the scandal of in-work poverty, which is absolutely appalling.

The cruel and austere policies of the UK Government are deeply damaging and dangerous for children in my constituency, and they must not go unchallenged. I recently participated in a debate in the Chamber on— I cannot believe I am saying this out loud—childhood hunger. The fact that that is even a thing, that it even exists, is embarrassing and shameful. I do not know how the Minister feels, but if I was part of a Government who presided over childhood hunger and had the ability, as a member of the Government, to do something about it, I would not hesitate. I cannot understand the reluctance. The Government really need to get their act together and take real measures to support children, instead of punishing those who need support. Eradicating child poverty needs to be a priority; it is as simple as that. It cannot be an afterthought or an add-on. It needs to be a priority, and it cannot be considered inconvenient. If we cannot invest in our children, and cannot go to bed at night safe in the knowledge that children are not going to bed hungry, we are doing this all wrong.

I want the Minister to tell us today what serious attempts he is prepared to make, as a member of the Government, to address what can only be described as a scandal. I will make a commitment to him today. Any measures that he takes to tackle child poverty in the UK will find support on the Scottish National party benches. Scotland’s children need and deserve better.