Analysis: Politicians must give children priority in every budget decision they make
Evidence of more family-friendly employers, satisfaction with health visitor services, increasing numbers of parents reading to their children and fewer children suffering accidents is all good news for children’s wellbeing across Scotland – as is the Scottish Government’s investment in the early years.
But behind the headline good news, the latest findings from the Growing up in Scotland study (Gus) suggest that pressure is mounting on Scotland’s families, threatening to undermine the best efforts of parents and Scottish ministers alike.
The evidence is clear from Gus that disadvantaged families already face greater challenges than ever.
Children in families with low household incomes are more likely to suffer low birthweight and the increased health risks that come with it.
They are less likely to be described as having good health.
The pressures of parenting in disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to leave parents with negative feelings and create barriers to key developmental activities, such as visiting other families.
Yet, despite these additional pressures on families, disadvantaged parents are less likely to ask for formal help, as they face the challenges that all parents face.
What’s more, the latest survey suggests that more families are likely to be experiencing disadvantage.
There is a significant increase in the number of families on annual incomes of less than £10,833 compared with five years ago (up from one in five to more than one in four families) and a 40 per cent increase in reliance on grandparents to help out financially.
At the same time, the cost of childcare has increased, and we already know that the costs of food and fuel are rising dramatically, just as incomes decline.
Worse still, current UK tax and benefit policies are set dramatically to cut family incomes further in the years ahead, with forecasts suggesting that at least 65,000 more children will be pushed into poverty in Scotland alone by 2020.
UK ministers clearly need to rethink their savage poverty-producing tax and benefit policies, but here in Scotland, local and national government must also step up a gear to ensure that early-years and parenting support reflects the extraordinary pressure families are under.
Politicians, policy-makers and service providers must ensure that children are prioritised in every budget decision that they make and that services reach out more effectively to the parents who need support the most.
• John Dickie is the head of Child Poverty Action Group Scotland.