Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary has accused the UK Government of “casting adrift” 120,000 poor children in Scotland, by changing its definition of child poverty.
In a letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP, Alex Neil has urged the UK Government to focus on tackling the root causes of child poverty instead of redefining the way it is measured.
Proposals outlined in the ‘Welfare Reform and Work Bill’ – scrapping the Child Poverty Act – could mean that the UK Government would no longer be required to reduce the number of low-income families.
The focus would instead turn to ‘worklessness’ and ‘educational attainment’, potentially ignoring a households income when measuring the level of child poverty in Britain.
Government statistics released in June reveal how the number of children living in poverty has increased to 3.71 million, after housing costs are taken into account. 65% of these children come from families where at least one adult was working.
The Scottish Government says redefining the way child poverty is measured is not only hiding its true extent, but will also make it more difficult to improve the living standards of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Mr Neil said: “By changing the definition of child poverty the UK Government is hiding the true extent of the problem and casting adrift the 120,000 Scottish children whose parents are working on low incomes and struggling to pay their bills.
“The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions must rethink these flawed plans. They will only gloss over the impact of the UK Government’s austerity agenda and fail to show the shocking reality of its inexcusable attack on low-paid families.
“The Scottish Government will continue to measure and report on the wide range of factors that drive child poverty including income, educational attainment and health outcomes. Our sophisticated measurement framework was developed with experts and leading children’s organisations and is helping us to understand the full scale of the problem and find the most effective ways to address it.
“Around 210,000 children are living in relative poverty after housing costs are paid, but these numbers are likely to soar in coming years because of cuts to social security. Reforms to tax credits alone will reduce the incomes of between 200,000 and 250,000 households in Scotland, with families facing almost £700 million of cuts.
“We recognise that any serious attempt to tackle inequality has to focus on in-work poverty, which remains very high. That’s why we are calling for powers over the minimum wage, employment policy and working-age benefits to be devolved to Scotland.
“We have invested £296 million in welfare measures and around £329 million over two years to expand free early learning and childcare, including extra provision for disadvantaged children, while our work to encourage employers to pay the Living Wage is also helping to increase income levels in Scotland.
“We have appointed our first Independent Adviser on Poverty and Inequality who will be looking at what more we can do to address inequalities.”