A new report from Holyrood’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee calls on the Scottish Government to take steps to “supercharge” its efforts to tackle child poverty.
The Committee has been undertaking an inquiry into the issue, focusing on parental employment, which the Government sees as key to reducing the number of children living in poverty.
During the inquiry, the Committee travelled to several places in Scotland to hear the views of parents. Not being able to access childcare from a child’s first birthday to when they start school, both during the school term and holidays, was the most common barrier to employment that parents talked about with affordability and flexibility seen as critical.
Parents also spoke of needing to find work that fitted in with school hours, while one contributor reflected that women could not develop in their careers until their children had reached high school age.
In response, the Committee calls on the Government to accelerate its work on expanding the availability of childcare.
Public transport is a major theme in the report. Witnesses in urban and rural areas spoke about a range of issues including access and cost.
The report asks the Government to consider how public transport services can be designed and better supported to provide affordable, frequent and direct services that support the type of trips more regularly made by parents.
The Committee’s report also encourages the Government to investigate how an integrated system of discounted travel offers for low-income working-age people could be provided.
The Committee believes this would enable some families to access a wider range of employment opportunities by being able to travel further, more cost effectively.
Witnesses also identified an issue faced by parents who embark upon study to improve their career prospects. Student funding means that low-income parents at college or university would be ineligible for benefits such as Universal Credit. To help, the Committee calls for Scottish Child Payment eligibility to be extended.
Bob Doris MSP, speaking on behalf of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, said: “In Best Start, Bright Futures, the Scottish Government said that parental employment is a key driver to meet the statutory targets to address child poverty. Our report looks at how the aims of that plan could come closer to being realised.
“The Scottish Government believes that without its actions to date, 28% of children would be living in poverty. Even so, the Government expects to narrowly miss its interim child poverty targets, with modelling predicting that 19% of children will be living in poverty this year.
“Therefore, we are calling for the Government to take decisive action now by clarifying its priorities and commitments and producing explicit delivery and spending plans to make sure progress is on track.
“We recognise the good progress the Scottish Government has made in reducing child poverty. We now want to see the Government supercharge its efforts so that the ambitions it has set can become reality.”
Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Tackling poverty and inequality is a key mission for the Scottish Government and the Government is committed to meeting our statutory targets through our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, ‘Best Start, Bright Futures’.
“Modelling estimates that 90,000 fewer children will live in relative and absolute poverty this year as a result of this Government’s policies, with poverty levels 9% points lower that they would have otherwise been. This includes lifting an estimated 50,000 children out of relative poverty through our Scottish Child Payment – but we must and will go further.
“We are providing the most generous funded early learning and childcare offer in the UK, and we have set out plans to expand access to funded childcare for 13,000 more children and families who need it most by the end of this Parliament. We also provide free bus travel for over 2 million people, including all children and young people under 22, disabled people and everyone age 60 and over, and in October introduced a pilot for the removal of ScotRail peak-time fares, a move that will make rail travel more affordable and accessible for all households.
“We will continue to do everything within the scope of our powers and budget to meet our statutory child poverty targets. However, it is only with the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation that Ministers can use all levers other governments have to tackle inequalities.”
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