Scottish Government is working hard to tackle poverty as part of post-Covid recovery – Aileen Campbell

This awful pandemic has affected us all – there’s not a community or person in Scotland untouched by its effects on our daily lives. And we know that some people and families have been hit hard by the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Scottish Government made more than £120 million available to tackle food insecurity during the lockdown, with some of the money used to ensure children were still able to get free school meals over the summer holidays (Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire)
The Scottish Government made more than £120 million available to tackle food insecurity during the lockdown, with some of the money used to ensure children were still able to get free school meals over the summer holidays (Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire)

For some, it is the increased cost of being home more, running the heating or keeping the kids busy, for others it could be the loss of their job or a cut in their hours.

That’s why Challenge Poverty Week 2020, strongly supported by the Scottish Government, is an important opportunity to raise awareness about the reality of poverty and get people talking about solutions, particularly in the light of the impact of the pandemic.As a government, we remain fully committed to tackling poverty, particularly child poverty. This has been shown by our investment targeted at children living in low-income households rising to £672 million last year – part of an estimated £1.96 billion directed at low-income households in 2019-20.

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And we do this in the face of a decade of austerity and welfare cuts from the UK Government. This angers me as I know that even as we pursue policies to pull people out of poverty, these cuts push more people into poverty and hardship.

We’ve prioritised the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, a new benefit for Scotland which will open for applications in November with first payments in February. It’s not surprising some have hailed this as a ‘game-changer’ in the fight against child poverty.

Providing families with £10 per week for every eligible child under six, together with our Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, the payment will provide the families in most need with over £5,200 of financial support by the time their first child turns six.

There are many other ways we are tackling child poverty too. For example, our huge investment in affordable housing which is shown to reduce child poverty and support jobs –we have delivered nearly 96,000 affordable homes since 2007.

In addition, our Parental Employability Support Fund will provide personalised help for those in low-paid work and those who are looking for a job. We’ve boosted the fund this year by £2.35 million to make a total of £7.35 million available, which will give such parents tailored support, while linking in with the opportunities that our increase in free early learning and childcare hours brings.

Employment is a route out of poverty which is why we are focused on supporting people in a number of ways. One vital element of this is our new £100 million package to support people looking for work or those at risk of redundancy – including £60 million for a Youth Guarantee to make sure everyone aged between 16 and 24 has the opportunity of work, education or training.

We have also increased support for those in fuel poverty during the pandemic, supporting over 100 organisations helping those struggling with their energy costs. We recently committed an additional £55 million over the next five years to help boost energy efficiency schemes. This will help to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat, as well as helping to lower carbon emissions and create good green jobs.

In August, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville revealed the first disability benefit to be introduced using our new social security powers. Child Winter Heating Assistance will ensure an extra £200 will go to families of the most seriously disabled children to help with their heating costs.

This week she also announced our new Self-Isolation Support Grant, which is expected to be available from 12 October and will provide £500 to people on low incomes who face a loss of income if they are asked to self-isolate.Because how we support people on low incomes to get through this pandemic is vital. So far since March, we have provided more than £350 million to support communities. This funding has enabled councils, charities and community groups to react quickly to help people affected by the pandemic. We also provided funding to help charities, some of which saw their own finances badly affected, so that they could continue to help those worst affected.

We know many people were worried about affording basics like food at the height of lockdown, so we made more than £120 million available to tackle food insecurity in addition to increasing the funding for the Scottish Welfare Fund. Some £27.6 million of this made sure children and young people were able to keep getting free school meals, or a cash equivalent, over the summer holidays.

We have much to learn from the impacts of the pandemic and lockdown including the shifts in policy and practice that we have seen as a result of working across portfolios and in partnership with frontline service deliverers in local government, the third sector and communities.

That’s why in June, Shirley-Ann Somerville and I established a Social Renewal Advisory Board. Members of the board – including experts in housing, homelessness, disability and poverty – are advising us on how to learn the lessons of this difficult time and how to use that experience to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and inequality. We’re also working hard to ensure those with lived experience of the issues are included in the process.

Through the action we are taking, we are working hard to challenge poverty. I am determined we must continue to protect people from the impact of Covid as far as we can and make sure that as Scotland recovers from the pandemic we emerge as a fairer and more equal country.

Aileen Campbell is Cabinet Secretary for Communities

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