Scottish Budget: Why need for £5 Child Benefit top-up is urgent – Stephen Sinclair

Child poverty is everyone’s concern. At a time when one million people in Scotland – including 230,000 children – are living in poverty, it is incumbent upon all of us to speak out to support the steps that can be taken to address this problem, writes Professor Stephen Sinclair.

This is a particular duty for those of us who work every day researching the causes of and responses to poverty.

That’s why I and other social policy academics and analysts from across Scotland have written to Derek Mackay MSP calling on him to use the draft budget – being debated by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday – to bring forward delivery of the Scottish Government’s new income supplement and to tackle child poverty directly by topping up Child Benefit by £5 per week.

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We commend the Scottish Government’s commitment to eradicating child poverty, and applaud the ambitious targets in the Child Poverty Act (which are supported by all political parties).

However, as the Poverty and Inequality Commission have made clear, these targets will not be achieved unless we take more urgent action in response to the alarming rise in poverty experienced by communities across Scotland.

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The pledge to deliver a new income supplement for low-income families is a welcome element of the response required. But the proposed delivery date of 2022 is not soon enough for families currently struggling with decisions like whether to heat their home, pay their rent, or feed themselves properly.

These families cannot afford to wait: an immediate and effective response is to increase Child Benefit.

Child Benefit is efficient to administer and has a take-up rate of 94 per cent. It has for decades been an anchor for families struggling to get by, offering a secure and reliable source of income during uncertain and difficult times.

Research has shown that Child Benefit is used by parents to directly improve their children’s lives – helping with essentials like clothes, shoes, food and school items.

Yet with the value of Child Benefit projected to have been reduced by 23 per cent by 2020 – primarily due to the benefits freeze – that anchor is beginning to show signs of rust.

Independent academic analysis has shown that a £5 top-up would lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty. It really is an investment in the collective well-being of our children.

Committing to top up Child Benefit in this budget is the most direct and simple measure available to realise the vision of a Scotland where every child truly does have every chance.

Therefore, as the Budget is debated this week publicly in the chamber, and as parties negotiate in private, a £5 top-up to Child Benefit should feature in these discussions. Families simply cannot and should not be made to wait.

Professor Stephen Sinclair, Scottish Poverty & Inequality Research Unit, Glasgow Caledonian University