The Scottish Government must make significant use of new social security powers if it to meet “extremely challenging” targets to reduce child poverty over the next 12 years, according to a new report.
Scotland’s Poverty and Inequality Commission said ministers must be “realistic” about the scale of the challenge the country faces in tackling the problem, adding that there is a “long way to go” to reach ambitious targets set for 2030.
It found that investment in social security is a “necessary element” to meet the child poverty targets and said topping up the child element of Universal Credit could be the most cost-effective way of achieving that aim.
The commission has made 40 recommendations for ministers on ways of cutting child poverty, which also suggests there should be action in areas such as getting parents into work, reducing housing costs and improving quality of life.
The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 sets down in law four targets relating to child poverty which are to be met by the end of the next decade.
The Scottish Government has to publish three plans over the period to 2030, setting out the actions it will take to meet the targets, and it asked the commission to advise on its first delivery plan.
The independent body’s resulting report sets out three areas likely to have the biggest impact on the child poverty targets – work and earnings, housing costs and social security – and said a combination of actions in these fields will be needed, some with “substantial costs attached”.
“Meeting the Scottish child poverty targets will require a significant increase in the amount of money going to households where children are currently growing up in poverty,” the report said.
It said the goals of the UK government’s Universal Credit plan, which include simplifying a complex system of benefits into one payment and making it easier for people to move into work, are “laudable” but that its roll out “has caused significant hardship to many claimants”.
Modelling suggests that “topping up the child element of Universal Credit, combined with removing the two-child limit and removing the benefit cap, is potentially the most cost-effective way of reducing child poverty”, the report said.
The report found that work will be the most effective route out of poverty for many households, but said that higher employment alone will not necessarily address poverty for all children.
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance has welcomed the “invaluable” report.