Greens seek £5 a week increase in child benefit

Green social security spokeswoman Alison Johnstone made the plea ahead of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivering his draft budget for 2017-18 on Thursday. Picture: contributed

Green social security spokeswoman Alison Johnstone made the plea ahead of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivering his draft budget for 2017-18 on Thursday. Picture: contributed

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The Scottish Government is being urged to increase child benefit payments by £5 a week when Holyrood gets new welfare powers.

Green MSPs said the move – which has previously been suggested by the government’s Independent Working Group on Child Poverty – could give hope to some of the 220,000 youngsters who face Christmas in poverty.

Adding an extra £5 to the payment would cost an estimated £256 million a year in Scotland – but research from the Child Poverty Action Group has suggested it could remove 30,000 youngsters from financial hardship.

Green social security spokeswoman Alison Johnstone made the plea ahead of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivering his draft budget for 2017-18 on Thursday.

The Scottish Government said it is “fully committed” to tackling child poverty and that the draft budget will tackle inequality.

Johnstone said: “Almost a quarter of a million Scottish children face spending this Christmas in poverty. The Scottish Government has an opportunity to give families hope in 2017 by using the new powers over income tax and social security.”

While the Scottish Government has carried out a consultation exercise ahead of the transfer of some benefits powers, Johnstone claimed it was “a worry” that this had “neglected to mention the ability to top up reserved benefits, such as child benefit”.

The Lothian MSP said: “Greens were elected to make Holyrood bolder, and by pushing for an anti-poverty budget we are bringing constructive pressure to bear.

“Topping up child benefit would show how serious we are about social justice. We have the resources needed if we use our income tax powers. When it comes to tackling poverty, it’s time we turned words into action.”

Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, Tam Baillie, has already called for a £5 increase in the weekly payments in Scotland, saying the extra cash is necessary to ensure every child has enough food to thrive.

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said: “The UK government’s welfare cuts and benefits sanctions have pushed more families into crisis and needing help from food banks and other services.

“We are already spending £100 million a year to support people affected by these cuts, including fully mitigating the bedroom tax, and an additional £1 million a year is invested in our Fair Food Fund to support a range of projects.

“The Sheffield Hallam report suggests that the cuts to welfare spending since summer 2015 would amount to £1 billion in Scotland. We cannot reverse all the cuts that they inflict but will continue to protect those most vulnerable.”

She added: “This government is fully committed to tackling child poverty.”

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