September 2021. We responded to the Scottish Government’s rapid consultation on an updated Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan.
Children have the right, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to an adequate standard of living, a safe and warm place to live and to good, nutritious food. They have the right to benefit from social security and for their family to receive the support they need to achieve these rights.
Child poverty is avoidable. It is a political choice. And it is a breach of children’s human rights.
Yet in the year that the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law, over a quarter of all children in Scotland are living in poverty.
We are writing this response as both furlough and the Universal Credit £20 uplift come to an end – it will be some time until the full impact of this on child poverty in Scotland is clear. The pandemic has undoubtedly increased the number of children in poverty. It has also shown how precarious many family incomes are, even in households with working adults – at least three quarters of children in poverty have at least one working parent.
We recognise that the Scottish Government does not have control over all of the policy and legislative levers which could be used to address child poverty. In May, the Commissioner gave evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee and highlighted the impact of reserved benefits, particularly universal credit, and policies such as the two-child limit on child poverty in Scotland.
The Scottish Government now has significant devolved powers relating to social security and these have been used during the pandemic to provide additional support to families experiencing poverty, including through increased funding for crisis grants. We were pleased to see free school meal alternatives provided during school closures and that, increasingly, these were provided on a cash first basis. Cash first is at the centre of a human rights based approach to welfare – it recognises the importance of delivering social security in a way which respects the dignity and human rights of those who need support. Increasing household income, including through social security, is the most efficient way to address child poverty.
We are concerned that measures by the Scottish Government to reduce child poverty are not being progressed quickly enough. In September, the Commissioner joined calls from across civil society for the Scottish Child Payment to be doubled to £20 immediately. We do not feel that the interim payments being made to families of children in receipt of school meals are an adequate mitigation of the continued delay in implementation as a significant number of families are potentially excluded from this payment due to differences in qualifying criteria or not having claimed free school meals even if entitled to them. The roll-out of the Scottish Child Payment simply needs to happen more quickly.
Last year, we commissioned the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to undertake a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) across a broad range of issues affecting children – including child poverty. The CRIA outlined the additional financial pressures being faced by families as a result of the pandemic, including the significant increase in the number of families claiming Universal Credit. It also found that some groups of children, including those who live with only one parent, those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, Gypsy/Traveller children, those whose parents had no recourse to public funds and young carers were most adversely affected. CRIAs are an important way of ensuring that policies are compatible with children’s human rights and it is vital that one be conducted during the process of drafting this plan.
This year, we have worked with A Place in Childhood on the Scot Youth and Covid 2 report, to increase our understanding of the experiences of children and young people during the pandemic. While this concentrated on other aspects of children’s lives during Covid, they nonetheless highlighted the impact the pandemic was having on family resources.
Both pieces of work, indeed all our work during the course of the pandemic, highlight the importance of ensuring that children and young people are able to actively participate in decision making process. That they are not just consulted but that the views they express and their experiences actively inform decision making. As such, it is disappointing that the present consultation provides only limited opportunities for the direct participation of children and young people. They are the experts in their lives and should be at the heart of decision making.
We acknowledge that the Scottish Government is constrained by the legal requirement to publish an updated plan by no later than next spring and that work on the draft has been impacted by Covid. We also appreciate that significant work is being done to capture views, including those of children, despite the constraints due to both time and the ongoing pandemic. However, the restricted timeline also means that opportunities to learn from the pandemic will be limited – in particular data from the end of furlough will only become available in the new year.
It is a pity that there is not the flexibility in the legislation to allow a single year update of the existing plan and an extended preparation and consultation period for the new four year plan, to ensure that the new plan takes fuller account of lessons learned during the pandemic and to allow participation in its development by a broad range of children and young people with lived experience of poverty. We feel that the plan will be weaker as a result.