Scotland needs new child poverty targets say MSPs

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Child poverty targets are currently too distant says committee 

22nd May 2017 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Targets aimed at reducing child poverty in Scotland are too long range according to a report issued today by the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee. 

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill sets four income based targets against which child poverty in Scotland will be measured.

MSPs say they are concerned that the proposed targets are “too distant.” The committee recommends interim targets should be put in place in order to create the sense of urgency and focus needed to eradicate child poverty.

The bill also requires the Scottish Government to prepare delivery plans to report against the targets. However, the Committee calls for greater detail about the plans.

This Scottish Government bill mirrors provisions in the UK Child Poverty Act 2010.

The difference is that the targets measuring net income in this bill are on an after housing-costs (AHC) basis, whereas the previous UK approach had been before housing-costs (BHC).

Committee convener Sandra White MSP said: “There is simply no room for child poverty in a modern Scotland, so any legislation aimed at tackling this is to be applauded for its ambition. The Bill before us contains challenging targets for measuring child poverty but we believe that these targets do not go far enough.

“The introduction of interim targets would send a much louder message about the importance that is placed on tackling child poverty and they would create a sense of urgency which is needed if we are to really make a difference.

“Of course, targets alone cannot eradicate child poverty. It is the delivery plans and progress reports that will detail the action being taken and how effective this action is. We need more information about the format and shape of these plans.”

The committee’s report suggests that the delivery plans should include full use of Scottish social security powers; provision of information, advice and assistance to parents and carers in relation to welfare rights and income maximisation; provision of suitable and affordable housing; availability of childcare; and facilitation of employment for parents and carers.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, welcomed the committee's recommendations. 

“Even as it stands this bill is hugely welcome and when enacted will help drive further progress on child poverty and enable parliament, campaigners and public alike to hold Ministers to account for the commitments they have made to end child poverty," he said.

"However it can be strengthened, and we are delighted MSPs have listened to ours and others evidence and agreed on the need for interim targets . They have also agreed that the government’s new delivery plans to end child poverty must include detail on how ministers will make full use of new social security powers to boost family incomes, how they will ensure families can access welfare rights income maximisation advice, how they will support parental employment and how devolved housing and childcare provision will contribute”.

However Dickie warned: "There is still a need to strengthen the bill in relation to the role of local government, health boards and their partners. The bill requires that local authorities and health boards produce annual action reports setting out what has been done. This local duty should be beefed up and made more forward-looking to ensure child poverty is at the heart of all local strategic planning.

"There is also a real opportunity now for ministers to back up their bill with the kind of concrete action that would see a step change for low income families. Using new powers to make a £5 top up to weekly child benefit would, for example, lift 30 000 children out of poverty.”

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