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by Margaret Taylor
21 March 2024
Somerville blames Westminster as statistics show 240,000 Scots children remain in poverty

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville | Alamy

Somerville blames Westminster as statistics show 240,000 Scots children remain in poverty

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has defended the Scottish Government's admission that 240,000 children continue to live in poverty in Scotland, saying it is doing everything in its power and “limited budget” to tackle the situation.

Official statistics released today show that in the period between April 2021 and March 2023 there was practically no change in poverty levels for children and pensioners while the proportion of working-age adults living in poverty had risen.

The government says the latter finding “could be driven by people becoming economically inactive as a result of the pandemic”, with Somerville pointing to the UK Government’s austerity measures as a reason.

Noting the “urgency of the mission” to tackle poverty, Somerville said it is estimated that Scottish Government policies will keep 100,000 children out of relative poverty – defined as living in a household where the income is 60 per cent less than the UK median – in the coming year.

“Against the backdrop of UK Government austerity, the Scottish Government continues to allocate £3bn a year to policies which will help to tackle poverty and mitigate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households,” she said.

“This includes increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £26.70 a week from 1 April – making the value almost £1,400 per eligible child per year.

“An estimated 40,000 children could be lifted out of poverty in Scotland immediately if the UK Government made key changes to Universal Credit.

“That includes abolishing the two-child limit and introducing an essentials guarantee to ensure payments cover the cost of food, household bills and transport.”

However, Chris Birt, associate director for Scotland at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said that the statistics show that the Scottish Government is now unlikely to meet its own child poverty targets.

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 set out the government’s aim to reduce the proportion of children living in relative poverty to less than 10 per cent by 2030, with an interim target of less than 18 per cent by 2023-24.

In the two-year period covered by the report, 24 per cent of children were living in relative poverty – the equivalent of 240,000 children – while 21 per cent of working-age adults (720,000) and 15 per cent of pensioners (150,000) were.

For children and pensioners the figures have flatlined after falling from respective highs of 32 per cent and 31 per cent in the 1994-97 period, while for working age adults the proportion has risen from 18 per cent in 1994-97.

“The Scottish Government need to wake up and deliver on their stated commitment to poverty reduction and parliament needs to hold them to account to do so,” Birt said.

Fiona Steel, national director for Scotland at Action for Children, agreed, noting that the statistics are “a stark reminder” that people are living in conditions that “should have been eradicated”.

“It means our nation has failed too many children and families, leaving them with no resilience or protection in their household budgets so purchases like a broken washing machine or cooker would create impossible choices,” she said.

“But poverty isn’t inevitable it’s down to political decisions, and we urge the Scottish Government to make the political choices to combat child poverty.

“To move the dial on poverty, Action for Children are calling for an increase to the Scottish Child Payment to £40 per week and free school meals for all primary and secondary school pupils to keep more money in families’ pockets.”

Similarly, Independent Age chief executive Joanna Elson called the report “damning” and said the number of pensioners still experiencing poverty is “unacceptable”.

“In a compassionate society, no one should have to experience the injustice of poverty and the impact this has on their daily life, health and wellbeing, including people in later life,” she said.

“With too many older people continuing to live in poverty and the number in severe poverty growing, it’s evident we need a step change in action from both the UK and Scottish Governments to reverse this alarming trend.”

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