Child poverty across Scotland on course to reach 20-year high

By agency reporter
March 23, 2019

The Scottish government risks missing its child poverty targets by some distance as poverty levels are set to rise rather than fall over the next five years, according to new analysis published on 22 March 2019 by the Resolution Foundation.

The analysis shows that, following large falls in the 2000s, relative child poverty has been rising since 2011-12. The latest figures – for 2016-17 – show that 23 per cent of children across Scotland were living in relative child poverty.

The Foundation’s child poverty projection shows that it is on course to continue rising over the next five years and to hit a 20-year high of around 29 per cent by 2023-24. The Foundation notes that this would be equivalent to an extra 60,000 children across Scotland living in relative poverty (on less than 60 per cent of median household incomes) by 2023-24.

Such a trend would mean the Scottish government missing its child poverty targets, which were set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, by some distance. The difference between the Foundation’s forecast and the government’s target is equivalent to over 100,000 children. The Act commits the government to reducing relative child poverty to below 18 per cent by 2023-24, and to below 10 per cent by 2030-31, alongside targets to reduce absolute poverty, persistent poverty and material deprivation.

The Foundation says that UK-wide benefit policies are driving up poverty in Scotland (and the rest of the UK) and that to date Scottish policy makers have not announced plans remotely large enough to counteract that rise.

While the projection does not include Scottish government policies such as the Best Start Grant, the (Disability-related) Carers’ Allowance Supplement and more generous Council Tax Support, these policies are dwarfed in scale by the main poverty-raising policies, all announced by former Chancellor George Osborne in his Summer 2015 Budget. These include the ongoing four-year cash freeze on working age benefits (the final year of which will raise £1.8 billion across the UK in 2019-20) and the two-child limit on working age benefit support (worth up to £2,800 per child).

The Foundation says that while it will take a major policy shift to reverse this worrying rise in child poverty, the Scottish government is not powerless to act in order to make progress on its child poverty targets. It notes that a new ‘Income Supplement’, which is due to be introduced by 2022, could help to reduce, or at least limit rises in, child poverty, if it is sufficiently ambitious.

The Foundation says that despite the Scottish government’s likely failure to meet its child poverty targets, it is right to have set them, especially if they are used as a prompt for more radical policy action to reduce poverty.

It says that rising child poverty across the UK should force policy makers in Holyrood and Westminster to revisit the effect of the £12 billion of cuts to working-age benefit announced by the UK government in 2015 – half of which are still to take effect. It adds that reversing these cuts will need to be paid for, and that there should be a wider public debate about how support for low-income families should be funded.

Adam Corlett, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Child poverty across Scotland is on course to rise substantially in the coming years, and risks reaching a 20-year high by 2023. This would mean a further 60,000 children across Scotland falling below the poverty line, and the Scottish government missing its target to reduce child poverty by over 100,000 children.

“This worrying rise in poverty is almost entirely driven by UK-wide decisions, such as the £12 billion worth of working-age benefits cuts. But that doesn’t mean policy makers in Scotland are powerless to respond.

“If the Scottish government is to meet its ambitious – and welcome – child poverty reduction targets, it will need to implement much more radical changes to social security than it has done to date.”

* Details and definitions of Scotland’s Child Poverty targets are available here

* Resolution Foundation https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/

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