Child poverty bill passes first stage in Scottish Parliament
Campaigners are calling for more use of social security powers to tackle child poverty
Nicola Sturgeon visiting North Edinburgh Childcare - Image credit: First Minister of Scotland's Flickr
A bill to tackle child poverty has been unanimously approved at its first stage by the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs agreed to the general principles of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which will set statutory targets to reduce the number of children in poverty by 2030.
It also includes a framework to monitor progress at a national and local level.
The Scottish Government will publish a three-year child poverty delivery plan by April 2018 – to be updated every five years – and annual reports to measure progress.
The bill is part of the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland Action Plan, which sets out the government’s overall strategy for tackling poverty and inequality in Scotland.
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said: “This important bill sets out our ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland, by requiring us to meet ambitious targets to reduce child poverty by 2030.
“We have consistently said that the fact one in four children in Scotland today are living in poverty is completely unacceptable and we must take action to resolve this – something this bill sets out.
“We realise that tackling child poverty will require us to work together which is why the bill includes national and local reporting requirements, and why it’s so important to hear the views of parliament and stakeholders.
“This bill is a major step forward as we look to give our children the best start in life and I look forward to working with parliament to ensure that we do.”
The bill has been welcomed by child poverty campaigners, but they are calling for it to go further in terms of measures to tackle, as well as measure, child poverty.
Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland John Dickie said: “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.
“However it can be strengthened, and we are delighted that Holyrood’s Social Security Committee listened to ours and others evidence and agreed in their Stage 1 report on the need for interim targets.
"They 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”.
He continued: “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.”
Scottish Green social security spokesperson Alison Johnstone has said she plans to bring an amendment to the bill to ensure that more use is made of Holyrood's new social security powers.
Speaking during the debate on stage 1, she said: "I will be bringing an amendment to the bill to ensure that it makes full use of the social security system, to boost the incomes of our poorest families.
“By 2020, it is projected that Child Benefit will have lost 28 per cent of its value when compared to 2010, and we can start to address this by adding £5 a week.
“This would cut child poverty by 14 per cent, lifting 30,000 children out of poverty.
"Lack of an adequate income must remain central to any poverty measurement and any strategy. “That's why Greens welcome the re-instating of these targets and why we are supporting the principles of the Bill at this stage.
“We will work hard to ensure the bill is strengthened as it moves forward."
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