Increased spending on social security will be “necessary” for the Scottish Government to be “assured” of meeting child poverty targets for 2023-24, ministers have been told.
The Poverty and Inequality Commission insisted that action taken so far to tackle the problem was “inadequate” – as it said the Government would need to increase the Scottish Child Payment from its current level of £10 a week to £40 a week to hit next year’s interim target.
It made the call as it warned that the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on poverty had not yet been felt – with increases in the cost of living also expected to make hitting the targets more difficult.
The commission was clear that Scotland could meet its child poverty targets, but it said: “This will require the Scottish Government to use all the levers available to it, and deliver action at much greater scale and pace, with significant investment.”
An advice report to ministers added: “Despite a demonstrable commitment to reduce child poverty, the action that has been taken by the Scottish Government so far is not on a scale or at a pace that is sufficient to meet the interim or final child poverty targets.”
Legislation passed by Holyrood commits ministers to reducing the proportion of children living in relative poverty from the current level of 24% to 18% by 2023-24 – before further reducing this to 10% by 2030-31.
But the commission found that “child poverty levels have been at best stagnating, and may be starting to rise” – with the number of youngsters in relative poverty up from 21% in the period 2010 to 2013.
Commission chair, Bill Scott, said: “Our advice shows that, quite simply, too many children are still experiencing poverty in Scotland.
“As a society we believe it’s wrong for children’s lives to be restricted by poverty. That’s why the child poverty targets were set.
“While we know work is ongoing, progress is not enough to meet the targets, and for some measures the position is worsening. Despite a clear commitment, the action taken by the Scottish Government so far is inadequate.”
His comments came as the commission called on ministers to use “all the levers available to end the scourge of child poverty”.
Mr Scott continued: “Targets to reduce child poverty can be met, however, the Scottish Government will have to utilise every opportunity and deliver action faster, coupled with a significant increase in funding.”
“We need to see action across all areas of Government in order to release families from the constraints of poverty. Providing parents with support to apply for a job, for example, won’t have the impact we want if the parent can’t get suitable childcare or doesn’t have a reliable bus service to get them to work.”
While the Scottish Government has already committed to double its Scottish Child Payment, which goes to some low income families with children, to £20 a week in April, the commission said that modelling had shown increasing this “to around £40 per week would allow the interim targets to be met through social security alone”.
To meet the 2030-31 target, it added that “further action” is needed in areas such as employment and housing, with the report making clear: “This action must happen now.”
Here, the commission added that “tackling child poverty has to be at the core of design and delivery of a wide range of policies including economic development, employability, skills, education, transport, childcare, social security, housing and the transition to net zero”.
Social justice secretary, Shona Robison, described tackling child poverty as a “national mission”, as she said ministers would publish their next delivery plan in March.
This will “outline the transformational actions” the Government will take to tackle the problem, she stated.
Robison said: “We will double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 per week from April and will invest £361 million above the level of funding from UK Government on social security in 2022-23.
“The delivery plan will also set out other levers we will use and actions to take – for example, on employment, maximising incomes and affordable housing, which all contribute to reducing child poverty.
“However, we cannot do it alone – we must work together across society to deliver on this national mission.”