Reduction in child poverty to less that 18% by 2024 still possible
A reduction in child poverty in Scotland, to less than 18% by 2024, is still achievable – OPFS Response to latest official poverty statistics.
Child poverty is 5% lower in Scotland than across the UK and should soon be falling as a result of the roll out of the Scottish child payment and increase to its value. Sustained investment in the Scottish Child Payment by the Scottish Government would make a reduction in child poverty to less than 18% by 2024 still achievable.
OPFS Response to latest official statistics
The latest official child poverty statistics, published on March 23rd by Scottish Government, show that almost one in four (24%) of Scotland’s children still live in poverty – 250 000 children. However, for some families the level of poverty is even higher – 38% of children in single parent families and 39% in BAME families live in poverty. Over two thirds of children in poverty live in a household with someone in paid work.
There has been very little recent change in poverty levels for children in Scotland but the figures pre-date the extension of the Scottish Child Payment. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG ) say child poverty should soon be falling in Scotland as a result of the roll out of the Scottish child payment and increases to its value.
Comparable UK income and poverty figures were published on the same day by the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP). This shows 4.2 million children (29%) are now living in poverty across the UK , with 44% of children in single parent families and 48% in BAME families living in poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) warns that the number across the UK will now be even higher now – 19 months on from the £20 universal credit cut.
This data is vital in checking progress in tackling poverty and child poverty, and to investigate what drives poverty and what policies are effective in tackling poverty and income inequality. The fact that so many children still live in poverty with their life chances restricted highlights the importance of the Scottish Government’s focus on child poverty. The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 requires Scottish Ministers to ensure less than 18% of children are living in poverty by 2023/24 and less than 10% of children are living in poverty by 2030.
- Marion Davis, Head of Policy, Communication & Strategy
Many policy areas are key to preventing child poverty, as well as reducing the impact in the here and now. However, we know that what families in poverty need is an increase in their income and that both UK and Scottish social security payments are vital reducing family and therefore child poverty. CPAG highlight that there is a large body of evidence showing that the best way to reduce child poverty is through investing in social security. Child poverty fell in the early 2000s and the predicted reduction in child poverty rates in Scotland are both as a result of increased investment in social security. Similarly, the rise in child poverty seen in the 2010s was largely due to cuts to social security.
The fact that so many children in poverty live in families with someone in employment highlights work for many is not a route out of poverty. So, we are extremely dismayed that there will be increased conditionality and sanctions for single parents claiming Universal Credit (UC) as part of the UK Budget 2023. Sanctions don’t work, they are devastating for families, unjust and highly arbitrary. Instead, Government must ensure that barriers that prevent single parents from getting a decent job are removed. This includes: access to further & higher education; tailored employability support; affordable, flexible, high quality early years and school-age childcare and the right to flexible employment paid at a living wage.
Instead, for parents on UC there will be increased conditionality and the use of sanctions. A generation of parents on benefits will be pushed into near-full-time work when their children turn three in a significant shift in government policy.
The changes, to be introduced this financial year, apply to parents who are the family’s lead carer – the vast majority of whom are women. The government says it could cut benefits unless parents:
- Are available for work up to 30 hours a week once their youngest child turns three, nearly double the current requirement of 16 hours.
- Meet with a job coach every three months – up from every six months – as soon as their child turns one. Parents of two-year-olds will have to attend coaching monthly.
- Seek employment if their partner is in paid work but their wages are topped up with universal credit. These individuals previously had no obligation to work.
Many, if not all, of the current parental ‘easements’ on universal credit will be scrapped entirely and is a complete disregard of children’s needs and will have drastic effects on single parent families’ wellbeing. Research by the University of Glasgow shows ‘welfare to work’ conditionality can be counterproductive with the potential for negative impacts on health and wellbeing for single parents due to the conflicts inherent in combining employment with raising children alone.
The Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change project which involved researchers from six UK universities found that welfare conditionality within the social security system is largely ineffective in facilitating people’s entry into or progression within the paid labour market over time. The UK parliament Work and Pensions Select Committee found that there was no evidence benefit sanctions incentivised people to work. The only effect was to take much needed money away from low-income families and worsen their mental health. It is particularly worrying that the government is planning to use automation as part of measures to strengthen the use of sanctions.
It also important to note what we don’t know – for example, the impact on children of the increase in threats to sanction single parents to increase paid work. The ‘time- costs’ of parental employment are high, with less time to spend with children and the potential effect on family health and wellbeing. There is a significant gendered aspect to the impact of the ramping up of conditionality. The majority of single parents are women and their role as a sole carer of their children needs to be recognised as vital to child and family wellbeing. The capacity of a single parent to work and care cannot be equated to that of a two parent family – single parents have only half the ‘ time-resources’ available to them that couple parents have.
The approach of the UK government that “any job is better than no job” which places people into any available job opportunity as quickly as possible doesn’t work for single parent families’ wellbeing or standard of living. Single parents need investment in the development of their skills and qualifications that will enable them to find sustainable, flexible well-paid employment. Why should single parents be seen as a pool of cheap labour to be coerced into taking a job in sectors which are struggling to recruit ? Access to further & higher education would enable them to achieve their potential and open up access to employment with higher wages and longer term security.
The UK government must act and reverse the ramping up of conditionality for parents with young children, scrap the benefit cap, the 2 child limit and the young parent benefit penalty and increase child benefit.
Sustained investment in the Scottish Child Payment by the Scottish Government would make a reduction in child poverty to less than 18% by 2024 still achievable. An analysis by IPPR Scotland shows to achieve this the payment would need to be increased to at least £40 by the end of this parliament.
Both governments should recognise that tackling poverty requires greater action to narrow the wide gap between rich and poor. We support Oxfam Scotland’s call that they use all of their powers to introduce bold, progressive taxation, including targeting wealth. Only then will they end the injustice of child poverty.
Behind the statistics released today are children living in cold homes, relying on foodbanks, and going without essentials like clothes and shoes. No child in today’s Scotland should ever have to experience this.
Head of Policy, Communication & Strategy