Disadvantaged children should be priority in Covid recovery, says report

Anti-poverty groups have called on the Scottish Government to urgently introduce measures to end child poverty after a new report warned that Scotland has “no explicit social mobility strategy”.

The comments followed publication of the Social Mobility Commission’s latest report which calls for children to be “put centre stage” during the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

The State of the nation report 2021 says the “devastating impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s four nations “will be felt for decades”.

The Commission’s research was UK-wide. Its key recommendations included a call for the UK Government to build three million social homes in the next 20 years. 

The study notes that Scotland has more “generous child poverty policies than the UK government” but says there is “no explicit strategy social mobility strategy”. The Commission adds that “social mobility outcomes have not yet shifted” despite lower rates of child poverty in Scotland than other nations.

Entitlements such as free university “may be benefitting the more advantaged and leaving fewer resources to support disadvantaged people”, the Commission argues.

In response anti-poverty groups said “stemming that rising tide of hardship” must be a priority for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government said tackling child poverty is a “national mission” adding it provided around £2.5 billion in support for low income households in 2020-21.

Government, employers and educators “must act now to rescue the next generation from decades of hardship”, the Commission says. It pointed out that almost one in three children in the UK (4.3 million) is now in child poverty – 700,000 more than 2012.

The report says the “poorest families and their children have suffered most” during the last 18 months and should be helped first.

Regarding Scotland it said: “We have observed that there is no specific social mobility strategy in Scotland. The policy tendency is towards reducing deprivation and providing universal services rather
than targeting entrenched inequalities and removing the barriers to mobility.”

Mother and child
Photo Credit: iStock/kieferpix

Structural Child Poverty

Claire Telfer, of Save the Children said high levels of poverty have “persisted in Scotland” and the pandemic “threatens to only exacerbate existing trends”.  

She added: “We know that the current figure is one in four children in Scotland who are currently growing up below the breadline and one in three babies (under the age of one) and those figures are likely to rise.

“Families and children need to be at the very heart of Covid recovery and as the end of furlough approaches, more families will find themselves plunged into poverty without this basic safety net.

Telfer acknowledged that tackling child poverty is a “national mission” for the Scottish Government, describing that commitment as “bold action”. But she argued ministers must do more to meet interim child poverty targets and “really commit to putting resources in now” including doubling the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week this year.

She continued: “Scotland needs bold, long-term, cross-party strategies around the social security system, childcare and work, in order for us to see real change. No one measure will be enough to change the structural disadvantages of child poverty.

“It’s a complex issue in a changing world but the impact is long lasting and damaging, especially on the youngest children and now, post Covid, it has never been more pressing”.

Peter Kelly, director of The Poverty Alliance said that even before the pandemic, over one million people in Scotland were “living in the grip of poverty”.

He added: “Over the last year, that grip has tightened while many more people have been swept into poverty for the first time. Stemming that rising tide of hardship must be a priority for the Scottish Government, and there are actions that can be taken right now to do just that. 

Kelly recommended that ministers “take steps toward a minimum income guarantee” arguing this would ensure nobody’s income would fall below a minimum level. He also suggested shorter-term steps such as doubling the £10 per week Scottish child payment this year – rather than over the course of the parliament, as the SNP manifesto committed to.  

He said more must be done to reduce the cost of living. On transport, free bus travel should be extended to all under-25s and everyone on low income benefits, Kelly argued.

“On digital access, we should commit to ending digital exclusion. And on childcare, we should expand free provision to 50 hours per child per week,” Kelly added. 

John Dickie, director of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland said the report was “absolutely right” to identify child poverty as the “major block to social mobility across the UK.

He added: “Real progress has been made, not least through the introduction of the new​ ​Scottish child payment to boost family incomes. But if we are serious about meeting​ ​Scotland’s child poverty targets and ensuring all our children grow up with the resources they need to access all the opportunities, Scotland has to offer then the​ ​commitment to double the Scottish child payment needs to happen as a matter of utmost urgency.”

In reply a Scottish Government spokesperson welcomed the report and “its recognition of our anti-poverty policies”. The spokesperson said: “We have already committed new support including further expanding childcare in the early years, developing a wrap-around childcare system and doubling the value of SCP, which is already benefiting tens of thousands of families, by the end of this parliamentary term.”

They added: “Access to education should be based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay and that is why we already invest more than £1 billion in higher education annually. This includes £51 million a year to support approximately 7,000 places for widening access to students and those progressing from college.”

Photo Credit: iStock/kieferpix

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