Child poverty bill published by Scottish Government
Craigmillar - credit Andrew Crummy
The Scottish Government will be legally responsible for the number of children living in poverty, if new legislation is passed.
One in five children in Scotland currently live in poverty, with direct repercussions for health outcomes and life chances.
Statutory targets to bring that number down are included in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which was published today.
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These include having fewer than ten per cent of children living in relative poverty compared to the average income, and fewer than five per cent living in ‘absolute poverty’ – which uses a fixed amount to calculate whether basic needs are met – by 2030.
Critics have said the targets will be difficult to achieve while cuts on local services continue.
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish Government was “absolutely committed” to tackling the root causes of poverty.
“It’s utterly unacceptable that one in five children in Scotland live in poverty and this bill sets out statutory targets to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty,” she said.
“Child poverty has been a systemic problem for decades. Tackling the immense challenge is an ambition all of Scotland – be that national and local government, health boards, businesses, the third sector or others – must work together to overcome.”
Campaigners called the proposals a “crucial milestone” in making Scotland fairer.
John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “The ambitious new targets and the legislative framework that underpins them will help ensure that child poverty remains high on the political agenda and that government is consistently held to account.”
Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland said: “We know from our work across Scotland that poverty is one of the main factors affecting children’s ability to thrive and achieve their potential.
“We welcome the fact that as a country we will have a clear target to end child poverty. We need to make sure that the legislation creates a situation where we are all clear what steps are being taken to do so”
However Scottish Labour warned the bill must be more than a “parliamentary PR exercise”.
The party’s housing spokesperson Pauline McNeill pointed to recent reports that the Scottish Government may have leant on independent poverty advisor Naomi Eisenstadt to remove a section of her recommendations which referred to council cuts.
“Right now, as well intentioned as this bill is, it looks like a parliamentary PR exercise. We know that in some parts of Scotland one in three children grow up in poverty; that Scotland is a divided nation between the rich and the poor,” she said.
Renfrewshire Council leader, councillor Mark Macmillan, said initiatives under the local authority’s Tackling Poverty Programme were at risk from continuing cuts.
“In Renfrewshire, we have adopted an innovative approach to tackling poverty, recognised as leading the way in Scotland, which has helped put money back into the pockets of families and children most in need,” he said.
“While we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to our shared priority of reducing child poverty, the stark reality facing us is that due to continuing pressure on council resources, Scottish Government budget cuts and the UK Government’s welfare reforms, this will only likely deepen the inequality between low income families and their better-off counterparts while child poverty continues to grow.”
In addition to the bill, the Scottish Government will publish a three-year child poverty delivery plan by April 2018, which will be updated every five years, and annual reports to measure progress.