OPFS Briefing: the 2024-25 Scottish Budget

14/12/2023

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Our parent stories section highlights some of the challenges faced by single parents, including a lack of flexible working and childcare options.

Our policy and campaigns section has more detail on the policy changes we think are needed to improve the lives of single parents.

On Tuesday 19 December, the Scottish Government will publish its spending plans for the financial year from April 2024 to March 2025. It is vital that the needs of single parent families, who face inequalities and a high risk of poverty, are reflected in these plans. 

The Scottish Government has shown a commitment to reducing child poverty levels with initiatives such as the Scottish Child Payment having already made a positive impact on single parent families.

We welcomed the recent increase in Scottish Child Payment to bring it in line with inflation as well as the Scottish Government’s commitment to mitigate the UK Government’s benefit cap, which disproportionately impacts on single parents.  

However, 38% of children in single parent families are still living in poverty compared to 24% of all children. Single parent families are struggling to cover even the cost of life’s basic essentials. 

Read the 2024-25 Scottish Budget briefing

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Priorities for the Scottish Budget 2-24/25

Every child should grow up in a family with access to enough money to achieve a decent standard of living; live in a decent, secure, affordable and warm home; be able to thrive, learn and develop, regardless of their family income; and grow up free from the threat of poverty. In order to better support single parent families and lift children out of poverty, the Scottish Government should prioritise the following areas in its upcoming 2024-25 budget: 

Incresae income from social security

  • Increase the Scottish Child Payment to at least £30, as committed to by First Minister Humza Yousaf in his leadership campaign. IPPR also finds that the Scottish Child Payment will need to increase to £40 in order to meet the interim targets,22 so we would urge the government to progress towards this Within the lifetime of this parliament.
  • Target additional support through the Scottish Child Payment to families affected by the young parent penalty and two-child limit. Families with mothers under 25 and larger families are both priority groups in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, both face higher rates of poverty, and both are impacted by unfair UK social security policies.
  • Ensure Best Start Grants are increased at least in line with inflation, so they do not lose value, and provide Best Start Food grants as a cash payment to empower parents to make choices on how to spend this money to support their children, as with other benefits like the Scottish Child Payment. We know these grants have already made a positive impact for many single parent families and provide vital support during children’s earliest years.
  • Raise the qualifying earnings limit for the new Scottish Carers Assistance payment to ensure that carers can work at least 16 hours at National Living Wage.

Reduce costs for low-income families

  • Urgently roll out free school meals to all primary school pupils and commit to introducing universal free school meals in secondary schools.
  • Increase the school clothing grants income threshold in line with inflation and commit to rolling this out to all children whose parents receive Universal Credit. Put in place a moratorium on debt and arrears to public bodies in Scotland.
  • Commit to provide funding for local authorities to write off existing debt for low-income households.

Child maintenance

  • Reflect the importance of child maintenance in plans to tackle child poverty and provide guidance to encourage local authorities to do the same. Research has found that in the UK, for children of single parents who are in poverty and not receiving maintenance, child maintenance payments being received would lift them out of poverty in around 60% of all cases. All services providing financial advice to separated families should include child maintenance as part of their calculations and support.23
  • Lobby the UK Government to improve the Child Maintenance Service and remove barriers to accessing the service.
  • Consider what steps the Scottish Government can take to support public education and awareness raising about the importance of child maintenance to addressing child poverty, upholding children’s rights, and nurturing positive family relationships, with a focus on improving the rate of successful arrangements in Scotland.

Childcare

  • In the first instance, accelerate progress towards commitments to expand universal childcare to one and two-year-olds and create a system of funded school age childcare.
  • Urgent work should be carried out on how childcare can be provided more flexibly.
  • Commit to a more radical childcare ambition including providing a universal funded entitlement of 50 hours per week for children aged six months and above that is free at the point of use for all families.
  • Commit to a more ambitious target on pay for childcare workers, as part of a focus on ensuring a diverse and skilled workforce that is valued, fairly paid and gender balanced.

Labour market

  • Support the public sector to create more quality, flexible vacancies (flexible in terms of offering hours that suit single parents and options such as job sharing; quality in terms of protecting them from poverty through fair wages which keep pace with inflation), directly and through procurement and economic development.
  • Support employers in the private sector to create more quality, flexible vacancies.

Employability support

  • Offer bespoke, holistic initiatives for single parents to move into, stay and advance in employment such as a Scotland-wide employability pathway specifically for single parents, taking account of intersectional inequalities and barriers.
  • Provide fully funded opportunities for single parents to attain their first level 3 qualification, prior to their return to paid work and for those already in work.
  • Employability Programme providers should guarantee to fully fund childcare costs for single parents undertaking their first level 3 qualifications.

Just transition to net zero

  • Just Transition should be linked into employability initiatives, so that work to achieve net zero and work to reduce poverty supports each other. Without this interconnectedness there is a risk of reproducing and deepening inequalities.
  • The Just Transition must include a recognition that investing in job creation in more carbon neutral sectors such as the care and childcare sectors – which are female dominated – is an important part of the transition to net zero.
  • Low-income single parents face inequalities in key areas which will be central to a Just Transition such as transport and energy efficient homes. It is vital that breaking down the specific barriers facing single parents, including financial and knowledge barriers, are core to the Scottish Government’s work to achieve Net Zero in these areas.

Tax

  • Use income tax powers to ensure the highest earners make a fairer contribution in the next Scottish budget. IPPR Scotland has estimated a new income tax band for higher earners could generate £257 million and lift 20,000 children out of poverty.
  • Pursue more radical tax reform, including overhauling Council Tax and exploring new ways to tax wealth. This could raise substantial additional money, ensuring those with the highest incomes pay more while protecting those on the lowest.

Care

  • Introduce a new National Outcome on Care. For the first time in five years, the Scottish Government is reviewing its ‘National Outcomes’, which are meant to describe the kind of Scotland we want to live in. Critically, these Outcomes are used to guide Scottish policy and spending decisions.
  • Right now, care and carers are missing from this vision for the country, that’s why we need a new ‘National Outcome’ on valuing and investing in care and all those who provide it, whether paid or unpaid.