Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland

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1. Introduction

Children and young people growing up in poverty are more vulnerable than their peers to a wide range of negative outcomes. This represents a huge injustice and waste of human potential.

Our vision is for a Scotland where no children are disadvantaged by poverty.

The case for tackling child poverty

Evidence shows that growing up in poverty can have a profound and lasting impact on children's outcomes - income poverty and material deprivation are strongly associated with poorer outcomes for children. This is not simply an issue of exclusion experienced as a direct result of a lack of material resources, but with a range of interconnected issues, such as stress and poor health. The causes and effects of poverty and inequality are complex and multi-dimensional, and require a range of interventions and responses. These must address the underlying causes of poverty, not just the symptoms. Poverty is about much more than a lack of income.

Evidence tells us that factors such as the quality of a child's home learning environment and their family relationships have a strong and direct impact on their later life chances. While many of these factors are strongly associated with poverty, income poverty is not insuperable and many children from deprived backgrounds go on to have positive futures. This is why this strategy will also look at improving children's outcomes - particularly those of the poorest children - through a clear focus on the policies required to do so.

It remains vitally important to invest in eradicating child poverty and reducing inequality, including income inequality. Evidence tells us not only of the cost to individuals, but also of the great cost to society caused by child poverty, and of the economic case for shifting resources into early intervention and prevention, especially with respect to the first few years of a child's life.

The Child Poverty Act 2010

The Child Poverty Act 2010 ("the Child Poverty Act") sets out UK-wide targets relating to the eradication of child poverty. It provides that it is the duty of the UK Government to ensure that the child poverty targets are met in relation to the year commencing 1 April 2020. These targets relate to levels of child poverty in terms of: relative low income, combined low income and material deprivation, absolute low income and persistent poverty. These targets are detailed in Section 4.

Child poverty in Scotland is affected by a mix of devolved and reserved policy measures. The Child Poverty Act requires that the UK Government produce a UK-wide child poverty strategy. This will be relevant to tackling child poverty in Scotland in so far as it covers reserved policy measures which apply to and impact on Scotland, such as policy on personal taxation and benefits.

The Child Poverty Act also requires Scottish Ministers to produce this Scottish strategy. This strategy focuses on policy matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers.

The Child Poverty Act can be found at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/9/contents

Our approach to tackling child poverty

There are already strong policies in place in Scotland to tackle poverty and inequality - but more can and will be done. This strategy sets out how we will focus on and give greater momentum to our efforts to tackle child poverty.

The main aims of this strategy are:

Maximising household resources - Income poverty and material deprivation will be reduced, by maximising household incomes and reducing pressure on household budgets among low income families - through measures such as maximising the potential for parents to access and sustain good quality employment, and promoting greater financial inclusion and capability.

Improving children's wellbeing and life chances - The ultimate aim of this strategy is to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation. This requires a focus on tackling the underlying social and economic determinants of poverty, and improving the circumstances in which children grow up - recognising the particular importance of improving children's outcomes in the early years.

There is significant overlap between these aims - in particular, measures to reduce income poverty and improve material wellbeing of families will also have positive impacts on children's outcomes. While the actions set out in this strategy are mainly set in the short and medium term, it is important to recognise that this is a long term approach. We are building on our existing long term strategies to tackle intergenerational cycles of deprivation.

This long term approach has three underpinning principles:

  • Early intervention and prevention: breaking cycles of poor outcomes
  • Building on the assets of individuals and communities: moving away from a focus on deficits
  • Ensuring that children and families needs are at the centre of service design and delivery

It is also important to recognise that many of the key levers to drive the changes needed in Scotland are at local level, as well as the wider context of powers reserved to the UK Government. Supporting local delivery partners, and working with the UK Government, are therefore important features of the Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland.

This strategy for Scotland will set out key commitments to delivering the two main aims. Child poverty is a complex issue - it affects, and is affected by, a huge range of public policy issues. This strategy does not aim to address every single one of these - it is focused on the areas the Scottish Government, its partners and stakeholders believe will have the greatest impact on tackling child poverty, based on the best available evidence.

The scale of the challenge ahead

It is unacceptable that one fifth of children in Scotland are growing up in relative poverty, and that these children's future outcomes are so heavily influenced by their parents' economic circumstances.

Levels of child poverty in Scotland have declined over the last decade. Relative poverty has declined from 28% to 21%, absolute poverty has declined from 28% to 11% and low income/material deprivation has declined from 19% to 16%.

Child poverty in Scotland: 1998/99 to 2008/09

Child poverty in Scotland: 1998/99 to 2008/09

However, these reductions have stalled, and there has been little change in levels of child poverty since 2004/5. In 2008/9, 210,000 children in Scotland were in relative poverty. Clearly, further and faster progress must be made.

It is also recognised that poverty is unevenly distributed throughout Scottish society, and some equalities groups are particularly at risk. More women live in poverty, and are more likely to work in part time and low paid jobs. A high percentage of lone parents are in poverty, the vast majority of whom are women. As well as caring for children, women are also much more likely to have other caring responsibilities which may limit their capacity for paid work. The risk of poverty is also higher for children in families affected by disability, and in some ethnic minority communities.

There is a considerable body of evidence on the impact of child poverty and the scale of the challenge ahead. An evidence paper reviewing a broader range of measures relating to child poverty has been published on the Scottish Government website 1. The report of the Tackling Poverty Board also reviews the evidence on, and impact of, key aspects of the Scottish Government and its partners' broader approach to tackling poverty 2.

The current economic climate makes tackling child poverty more challenging than ever 3. Many reductions to welfare benefits, the continuing low demand in the economy and the impact on local services of constrained public finances are clearly impacting on poor families, although we are beginning to see the signs of recovery.

There are some broad principles of the UK Government's proposed welfare reforms 4 that the Scottish Government and its partners are supportive of. This Government welcome the UK Government's commitment to simplify and streamline the complex and often perverse system of benefits and tax credits in place at the moment, and recognise that it is vital to ensure that people are better off in work. However, analysis so far 5 suggests that the cuts to benefits announced in 2010 may undermine efforts to tackle child poverty.

The Scottish Government wants to ensure that the impacts of these changes on devolved matters are fully understood, and are actively engaging with the UK Government on how they are implemented in Scotland. However the limited nature of devolved powers restricts our ability to tackle poverty. This Government believes that lasting change can best be achieved by the Scottish Parliament and Government achieving real financial powers, and responsibility for the benefits and tax credits system, and employment services in Scotland.

Consulting with our stakeholders and working with our partners

Seventy one written responses to the consultation questions in Tackling Child Poverty in Scotland: A Discussion Paper were received, from a broad range of respondents across the public sector and wider civic society. In addition to this, some more targeted consultation activities have taken place. This has included working with bodies such as the Poverty Alliance and Young Scot, to elicit the views and experience of, and engage with families with direct experience of living in poverty, through focus groups and structured discussions. It has also included meetings and events engaging key professionals from different sectors working with families in poverty. COSLA and the relevant Community Planning Partnership networks have also been closely involved in the development of the Strategy.

Consultation responses from stakeholders suggested broad support for the key principles set out in the discussion paper.

Policy and action on early years and early intervention have been particularly welcomed, more specifically supporting parenting and the home learning environment, and a strong focus on availability and affordability of quality childcare.

Respondents also emphasised the need to focus on maximising incomes and reducing expenditure, and promoting employability, with particular importance placed on recognising the impact and extent of in-work poverty in Scotland.

There were also important messages about the critical role of local delivery in tackling child poverty, the need for strong leadership, and sharing of good practice and high quality evidence.

A full analysis of the consultation exercise is available on the Scottish Government website 6.

The Scottish Government continues to work closely with the UK Government and Devolved Administrations, to share information, experience and good practice, to ensure that our approaches are as coherent as possible.