Reasons to be cheerful: One to six
When you spend as much time researching and talking about child poverty as I do it's easy to become disheartened. Remaining motivated and optimistic in the face of a projected 50% increase in child poverty by 2020 and swingeing social security cuts sometimes feels like a herculean task.
And yet - while it's important to take stock of how much the commitment to eradicate child poverty has deteriorated in the UK - it is also essential to avoid fatalism and despair. Yes, we face huge challenges. That much is undeniable. But Scotland is also faced with great opportunity - a chance to set itself on a different trajectory from the rest of the UK. To take practical steps to reduce child poverty rather that to accept that it will inevitably spiral out of control.
Because child poverty is not inevitable. It is man-made. It is the product of government policy and the priority we attach to fairness and equality as a society. We should celebrate the fact that the next Scottish Government will come to power at a time when child poverty is at the forefront of the national consciousness and never far from the headlines. We should also be optimistic that the new Scottish Parliament, armed with new tax and welfare powers, will be better equipped than ever to adress the problems of a looming poverty crisis largely driven by UK-level social security cuts.
CPAG in Scotland’s recently published Programme for Scottish Government 2016-21 highlights many of the achievable and practical steps that the next Scottish Government could take to reduce child poverty and improve the lives and prospects of thousands of Scotland’s children.
1) Top up child benefit by £5 a week
£5 a week per child could help thousands of families avoid a visit to the food bank. It could make the difference between children missing out on school trips and joining in with their friends. Above all, £5 a week will reduce rates of child poverty in Scotland by up to 14%.
2) Introduce a Child Poverty (Scotland) Act
As the Government dismantles the UK Child Poverty Act its time for the Scottish Government to make a strong, public commitment to ending child poverty by introducing its own child poverty legislation. This would provide a clear framework for the prevention, reduction and eradication of child poverty in Scotland.
3) Scrap the learning levy
The next Scottish government must to everything it can to remove the financial barriers that prevent children from achieving their goals. The cost of school books, transport, uniform and lunches create a 'learning levy' which excludes children. As part of this, investment in school clothing grants and reducing the cost of school will be key to tackling the educational attainment gap.
4) Reduce demand for food banks
As demonstrated by the most recent Trussell Trust statistics, minimising errors and delays in devolved social security will reduce income crisis and protect families from food poverty. As will ensuring families can access the Scottish Welfare Fund and benefits advice.
5) Make work pay
Ensure work pays for in-work families experiencing child poverty. 56% of children living in poverty live in working families. This will require an increase the availability of high quality jobs and family friendly employment practices.
6) Family friendly childcare
Implement an ambitious childcare strategy for Scotland including clear timescales for delivery. The strategy should have quality and accessibility at its heart and should build on existing commitments to provide free universal core childcare hours to all families.