The Scottish Government needs to display “bolder ambition” if it is to meet targets for tackling child poverty, a new report has warned.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that, even before coronavirus struck, around a million people in Scotland were in poverty “living precarious and insecure lives”, adding in many cases the pandemic will “have swept them deeper into poverty, as well as dragging others under”.
As well as responding to the challenges of Covid, the think-tank insisted it was also “right and proper” for action to be taken to “turn the tide on poverty”.
It is those on low incomes who have been “most exposed by the economic storm arising from coronavirus”, it said.
The Scottish Government has set the interim target of having no more than 18% of children living in relative poverty by the end of 2023-24, down from the current total which sees almost a quarter (24%) of youngsters affected.
But in its Poverty In Scotland 2020 report, released at the start of Challenge Poverty Week, it said that “poverty has been rising and we are not on course to meet interim child poverty targets within three years”.
It added that “getting back on course” to meet the target needed “bolder ambition” in key areas such as housing and social security.
The Scottish Government was urged to “commit fully” to an affordable housing supply programme that will create 53,000 new affordable homes by 2021, of which 70% of which should be for social rent via councils or housing associations.
In addition the think tank said the “income lifeline” offered by UK and Scottish social security payments needs to be “strengthened”.
Jim McCormick, associate director Scotland of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the country was at a “crucial moment”.
He stated: “We went into the pandemic with unacceptable levels of poverty.
“The resulting economic storm risks blowing us even further off course.
“People and places already at greatest risk of poverty face tougher times ahead unless we are bolder in our approach to recovery.
“Now is a crucial moment for Scotland.
“The decisions we make will determine whether we reach our ambitious child poverty targets by the middle of the next parliament.
“As the shape of our economy changes, it is vital to do all we can to protect people’s jobs, homes and living standards, so more families are not pulled into poverty.”
His comments came as the report found: “The coronavirus pandemic has had a detrimental effect on jobs and financial security, with workers on low wages or in poverty deeply affected.”
It also warned of the impact ending the furlough scheme at the end of this month, coupled with the withdrawal of temporary higher benefits payments in April, could have on the problem, saying it was “clear” this will make poverty higher.
The report went on: “This is because unemployment will be higher, working hours and earnings may be falling, benefits would be reduced back to pre-coronavirus levels while housing costs will be no lower.
“Such a situation would be deeply worrying, not just in the context of interim child poverty targets three years away, but in the daily lives of people who face being swept further and deeper into poverty.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome this state of the nation report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which highlights the importance of our continued action to tackle child poverty and the challenges we face in the coming years.
“Next month the Scottish Child Payment will open to new applications for eligible children under six, with the first payments made from the end of February.
The latest Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast suggests that the new payment could support up to 194,000 children this year, with payments worth £10 per child per week.
Together with Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods this will provide over £5,200 of financial support for eligible families by the time their first child turns six, around £4,000 more than elsewhere in the UK.
“The Scottish Government has delivered almost 96,000 (95,692) affordable homes since 2007 and have outlined plans to invest over £2.8bn in capital, over five years, to deliver more affordable and social homes across Scotland.
“Our Parental Employability Support Fund, making £7.35m available this year to support parents to enter and progress in work.
“In addition we have announced £100m package to support people looking for work or those at risk of redundancy.
“This includes a job guarantee for young people, a new national retraining scheme, and more funding for immediate assistance and advice if people are made redundant.
“We are absolutely committed to tackling and reducing child poverty in Scotland. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have highlighted, the UK Government need to match our efforts, reverse damaging polices made and continue the temporary £20 increase beyond April and extend this to key legacy benefits – helping us lift 25,000 children out of poverty.”