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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society) 3:15 pm, 30th October 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and will touch on that in a moment.

There can be no doubt that, as we have heard this afternoon, one of the main drivers of child poverty in Scotland has been the Government’s package of welfare reforms, which by any measure has been an abject failure. How else could one describe a package of reforms whose result is that 65% of all the children who live in poverty come from households where at least one adult is working? There is no need to take my word for it. The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty said:

“Changes to benefits, and sanctions against parents...are driving the increase in child poverty”.

Some would still have us believe that it will take decades to turn things around and lift children out of poverty, but that is simply not true. There are measures that the UK Government could take right now that would immediately stop children and their families falling into poverty. One of those, which my hon. Friend Dr Whitford just mentioned, would be to end the benefits freeze immediately. The Government should then immediately stop the roll-out of universal credit, take their time, and find the money to fix the major problems in the system, which they are only too well aware of but choose to ignore.

As my hon. Friend Chris Stephens said, the scrapping of the five-week minimum wait for a first universal credit payment must come to an end. The idea that poor people who are given advances need to pay them back serves only to plunge people further into debt. I congratulate the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on today’s report recommending putting an end to the two-child limit and its despicable rape clause. The idea that sanctions work for people has been proven untrue.

There is therefore a package of things that the Government could do immediately to stop the situation and turn it around. Of course, none of what I say will come as a surprise to the Minister, as we and others have been making the argument in this place for some time. We will continue to make it until the UK Government do something about it, or until the Scottish Government are given full powers over welfare or, better still, until they have them as an independent nation within the European Union.

My hon. Friend Marion Fellows spoke passionately and eloquently about the situation in her constituency, but her most powerful words came at the start of her speech when she quoted her constituent, Derek Kelter, who said:

“Poverty destroys everything in your life.”

Consider that. It is all that politicians need to hear, because it cannot be unheard.

As always, I am delighted that Jim Shannon has taken the time to be here. He made the powerful point that, although the debate is about Scotland, child poverty is not confined to Scotland but is rampant across every part of the United Kingdom. If it is a disgrace in Dundee, it is a blight in Belfast. If the UK Government cannot or will not do something about it, they should give the devolved Administrations the power to do so themselves.

My colleague, my hon. Friend Patricia Gibson, gave a powerful and moving personal testimony about poverty in childhood and how it leads to poverty of hope, aspiration and opportunity. Most movingly, she said that even though one might escape material poverty as an adult, the deep scars do not easily go away even in adulthood.

We have heard much this afternoon about what the Scottish Government are doing, and I am extremely proud that they are using the limited powers at their disposal to tackle child poverty. What sets them apart from the United Kingdom Government is the fact that they are determined to use every possible way to eradicate child poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently reported that the building of 87,000 affordable homes since 2007 was a huge help, and that enshrining essential child poverty measures in statute is having an impact on how Scotland tackles child poverty.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran was right to praise the new Scottish child payment, which will mean that £10 is given to every child in a low-income family that is in receipt of qualifying benefits. Initially, 170,000 children will be eligible for the payment, which will lift 30,000 children out of poverty by putting £1,000 a year into the pockets of their parents. John Dickie, director of the Child poverty Action Group in Scotland, described the new payment as a “game-changer”, and he is right. The Scottish Government care about people and, despite the meagre resources available to them, will do what they can. Just think what they could do if they had full powers to create a more progressive, economically healthy and socially just welfare system.

It is worth recognising that the achievement of the Scottish Government in tackling child poverty has been singled out by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty, who praised their

“ambitious schemes for addressing poverty, including the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan”.

The rapporteur also praised the Scottish Government for using their

“newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system, guided by the principles of dignity”.

Perhaps the Minister should take note of what the United Nations has said about Scotland and encourage the UK Government to follow our example.