From Tom Gordon, in the Herald today:
Nicola Sturgeon will today promise to make ending child poverty “a national mission” if the SNP is re-elected in May, partly by doubling the Scottish to-up benefit for low income families. The First Minister, who made closing the educational attainment gap her mission in the last parliament and failed, will make the election promise at a virtual campaign conference.
How’s that for reptilian venom? ‘AND FAILED! Reflect for a moment on his reasoning here and the underlying playground mentality.
Before we get on to child poverty, let’s deal with the attainment gap facts. From our good friend and occasional contributor to TuS, Leah Gunn Barrett:
The Scottish Government has halved the gap between children from the most and least deprived communities since 2009/10. More pupils are leaving school with passes at Higher Level of better, and more from both backgrounds are heading to positive destinations. In August, the BBC reported that the learning gap between England’s richest and poorest students widened for the first time since 2007, whereas Scotland reported improvements in literacy. As for higher education, because it believes in the ability to learn not the ability to pay, the Scottish Government abolished tuition fees in 2008 while Labour introduced them in 1998.
Schools don’t operate in a vacuum, but within the wider context of society, which under the Tories has grown increasingly unequal. In order to build a fairer society, Scotland must first break from a Union that has stolen our wealth and suppressed our potential for too long. It’s too bad Scottish Labour doesn’t understand this.
Now on child poverty, and strangely missing from Gordon’s wee piece:
From the Scottish Government in March 2020, a report on the most damaging form of poverty:
‘Persistent poverty identifies individuals who live in relative poverty for three or more of the last four years. It therefore identifies people who have been living in poverty for a significant period of time, which is more damaging than brief periods spent with a low income. The impacts can affect an individual throughout their lifetime.’
Regrettably, for all groups other than children, persistent poverty is as common in Scotland as it is in England and Wales but more common than in Northern Ireland. However: ‘Children have consistently had a higher risk of living in persistent poverty after housing costs than working-age adults and pensioners in Scotland.’
From the data in the table above we can see that before and after housing costs are taken into account, Scotland has been able to keep the level of child poverty significantly lower than England or Wales.
While with full autonomy, we’d all expect poverty to be eradicated in Scotland, some credit must go to the Scottish Government for its efforts to reduce the impact of Tory austerity cuts. Here’s a reminder of those efforts and the recognition they’ve had:
People in crisis made more than 165,000 successful applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund in the last financial year, according to new statistics. The Fund paid out £35 million, including £10.4 million in Crisis Grants to people in financial emergency, such as those struggling on low incomes or benefits – a 14% increase on 2017-18. The money helped people with essentials such as food, heating costs and household items. A further £24.8 million in Community Care Grants helped those facing extreme financial pressures with one-off costs for purchases including beds, washing machines and cookers. The Scottish Welfare Fund is part of an annual package of over £125 million to mitigate against the impact of UK Government welfare cuts. Since its launch in April 2013, the Fund has paid out more than £200 million to support over 336,000 households, with a third of recipients being families with children.
Though the 2020 report from End Child Poverty shows that Glasgow does have one of the ‘top’ parliamentary constituencies for child poverty, before taking account of housing costs, Scotland has no entries at all when housing costs, as they would be in actuality, are considered:
Why is the situation regarding child poverty a bit better here?
In 2018, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation had this to say about the Scottish Government’s intentions to reduce child poverty:
‘The Scottish Government’s commitment to building a social security system that has dignity and respect at its core and offering routes into employment for those currently excluded from the labour market, could change the family incomes and prospects of thousands of children for the better.’
Differences with non-Scottish Parts 1: Less vulnerable to benefits cuts
‘The IFS found that low-income families in Scotland currently have a higher proportion of their income coming from earnings than low-income families in some (but not all) parts of the UK, so have a lower proportion of income that is vulnerable to benefit cuts compared with some of the hardest-hit regions of the UK.’ (Hood and Waters,2017). 2
Differences with non-Scottish Parts 2: Fewer large families
‘In addition, one key change to UK benefit policy – the two-child limit on tax credits and Universal Credit– will particularly hit families with three or more children born after 6 April 2017. The IFS analysis found that Scotland has proportionally fewer families with three or more children than elsewhere in the UK, and around half the proportions found in Northern Ireland and the West Midlands.’ (Hood and Waters, 2017). 3
Differences with non-Scottish Parts 3 and 4: Higher increases in median income and less relative poverty
Note: The predicted dramatic increases above neglect impact of further welfare devolution to SNP Government:
‘Many of the key drivers of changes in poverty have been felt UK-wide. However, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has supported some research that showed a clear rise in Scottish median incomes relative to the rest of the UK from around 2003/04 and a relatively bigger improvement in the relative poverty rate from 2004/05.’ (Bailey, 2014).
Persistent poverty refers to children who have been living in relative poverty in three out of the last four years – a measure of the number of children who have been in poverty for a prolonged period of time.
Differences with non-Scottish Parts 5 and 6: Stronger decreases in poverty rates and increases in employment
‘The research identified strong decreases in poverty rates for the working-age population compared with the rest of the UK, alongside improving employment rates, especially for families without children. Over the period from 2000/04 to 2008/12, Scotland saw a bigger reduction in out-of-work families compared with the rest of the UK and similar growth as the rest of the UK in ‘intermediate work intensity’ (‘partly working’ families). 8
Differences with non-Scottish Parts 7 and 8: Affordable rents and mortgage costs
‘The analysis also pointed to more affordable rent and mortgage costs relative to income than in England, with social rents being 20–25% lower in Scotland by 2012/13. As a result, poverty after housing costs, compared with before housing costs, rose by a smaller amount than in England.’ 8
SNP Government Initiatives
‘In the coming months, the Scottish Government will launch two strategies that could make a crucial difference for our society. The first is an action plan on halving the disability employment gap, and the second is an action plan on the gender pay gap that is due to be published by the end of the year. This could be transformational for tackling poverty.’ 9
TODAY, we hear of the ongoing commitment of the SNP government, despite the Westminster constraints, to go beyond words and to act:
‘Vulnerable families are set to benefit from new funding to support households in financial hardship. Seven projects aimed at tackling child poverty will receive a total of £450,000. The money is a part of the ‘Every Child, Every Chance’ Innovation Fund, which is jointly supported by the Scottish Government and The Hunter Foundation. The fund aims to support innovative approaches which could have an impact on reducing child poverty by 2030. The projects range from job training and a befriending service, to school-based mentoring and support for lone parents. One of the successful projects is Stepwell, a social business based in Inverclyde, which provides support to people in the local community with health and finance issues as well as training and employment opportunities.’
Feel free, Tom, to use this in your next piece.