“a beacon of progressive policy for the rest of the UK”
“the most progressive policy brought in since devolution 20 years ago”
I understand from an earlier post here today that the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland is claiming – in stark contrast to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – that the Scottish Government has a ‘record of shame’ on child poverty. Who view to believe?
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is widely regarded as the authoritative, independent source of evidence on poverty in the UK. It provides a readily accessible set of graphs on poverty levels and trends in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from 1994-95 to 2018-19 at the link below.
In the graphs reproduced here I have extracted comparative time series data for Wales and Scotland only. Why just these two? Well, both these countries have been dependent on Westminster’s exercise of all monetary and most fiscal powers. So both have been broadly similarly restricted in what their national (devolved) governments could do to address poverty and in the extent to which they could mitigate Westminster policy decisions. This fundamentally distinguishes them from the situation in England whose government, in Westminster, has access to all available powers. Of course in Wales and Scotland since 2007 different political parties have been in power, Labour and the SNP respectively.
In its introduction to the series of graphs, the JRF notes: “Despite the steady decrease over time of child poverty, pensioner poverty and poverty rates for disabled people in the four parts of the UK, the trend in most parts of the UK is that these poverty rates have started increasing, with the exception of Northern Ireland which has seen its poverty rate drop in recent years.”
Poverty rates in Wales and Scotland
For context, it’s relevant to recall that when the SNP first came into government in 2007, the UK was just a year away from a major financial crash and two years from the beginning of the Cameron coalition government. Arguably, neither were favourable circumstances for a devolved government with limited powers to make big new investments in order to improve substantially levels of poverty.
Looking across the UK, the JRF also notes:
“Across the four parts of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest poverty. Scotland has generally had the lowest poverty over the last 10 years but has seen a slightly different pattern to the rest of the UK. From 1994/97 to 2009/12, the proportion of the Scottish population living in poverty decreased from 23% to a low of 18% which is lower than for England and Wales over the entire time period. Over the past five years, there has been a slight increase, to 19% in 2016/19.”
Child poverty in Wales and Scotland
The JRF notes: “Wales has generally had the highest child poverty rate over time and Scotland has had the lowest, although the latest data shows that England now has the highest rate. Child poverty rates are now lower in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to 1994/97 (2002/04 in Northern Ireland).
“The child poverty rate has however dropped much further in Scotland during the last 20 years compared to England. For instance, in 1994/97 Scotland had a similar child poverty rate to England but in 2016/19 the rate in Scotland was 24% while in England it was 31%. In Northern Ireland there has been a decline from 26% to 25% in the child poverty rate over the period for which data was available. Since 2010/13 child poverty has been increasing in England and Scotland but has fallen in Wales.”
Responsiveness of the SNP government
The time series in the above graphs extend only up to 2018-19. It is evident that the long term downward trend in child poverty in Scotland has stalled and begun slightly to reverse whilst still substantially below the level in Wales. In the face of this evidence the SNP Scottish Government acted.
As the JRF noted on 29 June, 2019: “The Scottish Government’s decisive and compassionate move to bring in the new Scottish Child Payment is the lifeline children and their families need, and is a beacon of progressive policy for the rest of the UK”
The JRF adds: “On 26 June, the new Scottish Child Payment was announced by the Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell in the Scottish Parliament. This rightly has been lauded as a landmark moment and the most progressive policy brought in since devolution 20 years ago. We’ve now seen the Scottish Government decisively put words into action and we believe this will be a foundational step in turning the tide on child poverty in Scotland. Once fully rolled out, over 400,000 children will benefit, and 30,000 children could be freed from poverty.”
Crucially, the JRF also acknowledges why this action proved necessary: “Poverty in Scotland is rising and we know much of this is due to a reduction in the level of support many people are getting from the UK social security system.”
That was in 2019. Now the £10-per-week child payment that is available for eligible families for each child under the age of six is due to be rolled out to include children aged 16 and under by the end of next year.
And the SNP has just announced that if returned to government in May it will double the Scottish Child Payment!
That beacon of progressive policy for the rest of the UK looks set to shine even more brightly!