Scottish child payment to double to £20 a week from next April
The Scottish Child Payment is to double to £20 from next April, Nicola Sturgeon has told the SNP party conference.
The First Minister said hiking the weekly £10 payment would require “hard choices” elsewhere in the budget, but that it was “a choice we in the SNP, in partnership with the Greens, are opting to make.”
The devolved benefit is open to families on low-incomes and was introduced in February 2021. It was initially only for children under six, but is to be extended to all under 16s by the end of next year.
Though the SNP manifesto committed the government to doubling the payment over the course of the next parliament, there had been enormous pressure on ministers to act sooner rather than later.
Polling released today, conducted by Survation for the End Child Poverty coalition in Scotland, revealed that – once ‘don’t knows’ were excluded – 68 per cent of voters backed the immediate doubling of the benefit.
Earlier this month, over 100 organisations from across Scotland wrote to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes urging her to “do the right thing” and use the budget on December 9 to double the payment.
An estimated 260,000 children in Scotland are already living in poverty, around one inf four. There are fears that could rise to just under a third of all children by 2023.
In her speech to the SNP’s conference, the First Minister said she was proud to announce the “doubling of the Scottish Child Payment immediately from the start of the new financial year,” describing it as the “boldest and most ambitious anti-poverty measure anywhere in the UK.”
The First Minister said the doubled payments will reach over 100,000 children under the age of six in just four months’ time, and then over 400,000 when the benefit was rolled out to all under 16s.
She told delegates: “Delivering it isn’t easy. It will involve hard choices elsewhere in our budget. But it is a choice we in the SNP - in partnership with the Greens - are opting to make.
“Poverty scars too many childhoods. It deprives too many children of the chance to make the most of their education and enjoy life to the full. And it robs of our country of far too much potential.
“Eradicating child poverty is essential if we are to build the strongest foundation for Scotland’s future. And that is what we are determined to do.”
Much of the First Minister’s speech was given over to the pandemic, and the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Sturgeon said “steering the country through this winter” was her priority and duty.
On independence, the First Minister said the campaign to “persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation” would only restart next Spring, “Covid permitting”.
She told the party faithful: “In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023. And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence.”
Other announcements in the speech included a promise of £30m for GP practices to use “in ways they judge will deliver the greatest impact for patients.”
The money could be used to fund “extra GP sessions or additional practice nurse time,” the First Minister suggested.
“In short, it will allow practices to target investment where it is most needed to improve access to primary care and help ensure patients get the care they need as close to home as possible,” she added.
There was also a new North East Just Transition fund to help accelerate the “move away from fossil fuels, but doing so in a fair way which protects the livelihoods of those working in oil and gas and secures a low carbon energy supply.”
It follows a heated debate in the SNP over the First Minister’s opposition to the development of the Cambo oilfield.
Responding to the First Minister’s speech, Labour’s Jackie Baillie said there was “ much to be welcomed, but as ever, the SNP’s obsession with separation dominated.”
She added: “The doubling of the Scottish Child Payment is a very welcome development and the credit for it must go to all the campaigners who have held the SNP to account and forced them into action.
“But as it stands, this welcome development will not be enough to ensure we meet the statutory child poverty targets that the Scottish Parliament has passed. That’s why the Scottish Child Payment must be doubled again next year to meet these targets.
“And while the additional funds to support GPs is welcome, it will not touch the sides.
“The already announced ‘just transition’ fund for the North East is a step in the right direction, but there is still no detail and First Minister must work with trade unions and businesses to ensure that jobs are retained, despite the anti-worker position of the Scottish Greens.
“It is deeply disappointing and irresponsible, in the face of a deepening public health crisis, that the focus of the First Minister is once more on sowing division between Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
The Scottish Greens co-leader and Scottish Government minister, Patrick Harvie welcomed the speech: “I'm therefore delighted that we have been able to double the Scottish Child Payment from April, just months after our policy of free bus travel for young people and children goes live.
“These bold actions deliver on key commitments made in the cooperation deal between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens, and they will make a real difference to families across Scotland,” he said.