Challenge Poverty Week: If Scottish Government is serious about child poverty, here's what it should do – Susan Galloway

Covid-19 has had the greatest impact on those with the least in our society. The public health crisis has exposed serious fault-lines and inequalities that already existed, and it’s unacceptable that we have tolerated them for so long.

Escalating need in families in recent years is being met with diminishing support, as local authority budgets tighten, says Susan Galloway. (Picture: Michael Gillen)

New research by NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland has highlighted the level of hardship families across the country were experiencing before the pandemic began. Our investigation found growing levels of destitution over the past six years, with families struggling to get food, secure housing and heating.

Today we mark the end of Challenge Poverty Week, within which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation declared that Scotland had entered the pandemic with “unacceptable levels of poverty” and youth support charity Includem reported the crisis had hit the country’s poorest families the hardest.

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Severe hardship has a huge impact on mental health and family relationships. It creates social isolation and exclusion. Our research found that housing insecurity is a growing problem in some areas, creating further adversity for children.

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The Scottish Government has long voiced its commitment to supporting families, acknowledging the importance of early intervention in order to prevent or mitigate negative outcomes for children.

But our new research, in which staff from family support services were interviewed, has shown a significant gap between these aspirations and the reality. Escalating need in families in recent years is being met with diminishing support, as local authority budgets tighten. This gap will only be bridged when the commitment is accompanied by sufficient resources and investment.

We were heartened when the Deputy First Minister showed the Government’s commitment to delivering on the recommendations of the Independent Care Review, with the announcement in July of a £4 million fund for local authorities for early intervention and family support. But such investment is a drop in the ocean when considering what is needed to effectively tackle the complex difficulties many families face.

The Scottish Government’s hugely welcome step of introducing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill has further shown its will to improve the lives of children in the country. This should be a significant milestone in ensuring that all children in Scotland have their rights recognised, respected and fulfilled. In theory, it could transform the lives of children living in poverty in Scotland.

But change can only happen if it is accompanied by investment. Time and again, we have seen that structural and legislative change does not automatically lead to improved outcomes. Without sufficient resources, the status quo remains or, as our latest research shows, deteriorates.

The most important function of this new bill is to embed the respect for children’s rights in everything the government does, including law and policy-making, budget decision-making and service provision.

If this Government is seriously committed to transforming children’s lives then it is crucial that higher levels of public investment are shifted towards services for children and families. Because rights need resources.

Susan Galloway is a senior policy researcher for NSPCC Scotland and author of Challenges from the Frontline – Revisited (NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland), due to be published on Tuesday.

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