Leading voices from Scottish civil society have joined forces to encourage the Scottish Government to use new social security powers to top-up child benefit by £5 a week, which they claim could help lift tens of thousands of children in Scotland out of poverty.
The coalition, which includes the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Women’s Convention, the Wheatley housing group, the PCS trade union and anti-poverty campaigners, have called on MSPs to highlight how a £5 top-up to child benefit could reduce child poverty in Scotland by as much as 14%, lifting 30,000 children out of poverty.
The call comes after the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported poverty is the “biggest cause of poor health”. Children living in poverty are more likely to be in poor health, overweight or obese, experience mental health problems, and die earlier than children from wealthier backgrounds.
A recent forecast from the Institute of Fiscal Studies warned that without urgent intervention child poverty across the UK could increase by half (50%) by the end of this parliament (2020).
The Resolution Foundation, an independent think-tank, has also projected increases in child poverty of up to 1.2 million across the UK by 2020/21.
Campaigners are calling for decisive action from the Scottish Government to tackle the growing crisis. In a briefing sent to all MSPs, the coalition welcome a move by the Scottish Government to bring forward a new Child Poverty Bill, which legislates to eradicate child poverty by 2030. But the campaigners add: “Urgent action to back up these targets is now needed if we are to prevent a child poverty crisis in Scotland”.
John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, a leading group behind the call, said: “Five pounds a week might not seem like much for many of us but for hard-pressed families it would make all the difference. It could be the difference between a child going on a school trip or missing out, or the difference between a trip to the food bank and a trip to the supermarket.
“We urge MSPs of all parties to make sure the Scottish Government uses this budget – and the new social security powers at its disposal – to invest in family incomes and make a defining impact on levels of child poverty.”
“The Scottish Government commitment to eradicate child poverty in Scotland by 2030 is hugely welcome as are the commitments already made to introduce Best Start grants, but the new power to top up benefits provides an opportunity to take an even greater step towards achieving that goal.
“Topping up child benefit by just £5 a week could not only reduce child poverty by 14%, it would set Scotland on a different trajectory from the rest of the UK, which is facing a projected 50% rise in child poverty by 2020”