THERE is barely a school in Scotland that doesn’t have a “dress down day” or a “come as your favourite book character day” – the kids pay a pound or so for the privilege of not having to wear uniform, with the money going to charity.
It’s all just a bit of fun, and all for a good cause. Who could possibly have a problem with it?
Well, kids living in poverty do. It’s not even that they might not have a pound to give to charity, but rather the stress of having to wear something other than uniform can make them avoid school altogether, rather than be judged on their clothes, even if they know they’ve probably already been judged for wearing poor quality or second-hand school clothes.
And we should all have a problem with that. A recent study by Fife Council showed this invasive and insidious impact of poverty on our children’s lives. How many won’t tell their parents about school trips or clubs because they know they won’t be able to afford it, how others avoid “prom nights” and their ridiculous ostentatious trappings, and how the lack of money even impacts on subject choice at high school.
The study showed, beyond doubt, that poverty and inequality is making kids sick with worry and affecting their life chances.
It is an utter scandal for a country which supposedly prides itself on helping those less fortunate and on the value it places on aspiration and getting on in life, and which is one of the wealthiest in the world. What’s more, it’s a scandal that the Scottish Government does so little about it.
Since 2009 we’ve known that between 210,000 and 220,000 Scottish children have been classed as living in absolute poverty. These are children living in a household whose income is below 60 per cent of the median income – that is below £248 a week. There are another 20,000 children classed as being in relative poverty as household incomes are not keeping up with the growth in incomes as a whole.
And the predictions are these figures will continue to rise. It has to stop. While it is absolutely true that callous Tory welfare cuts have contributed hugely to the number of children in poverty, and rising costs for fuel and food don’t help, it is also true that the SNP Government in Holyrood has failed to do anything about it in a decade. On Thursday we will debate the Government’s first Child Poverty Delivery Plan.
It will need to deliver a lot. The Child Poverty Bill has a grand aim of reducing child poverty to just ten per cent of children by 2030, but that is too long to wait. A five-year-old in poverty now will be 17 by then. Scotland’s children need radical action now. The Scottish Government could start by adopting Scottish Labour’s policy and raising child benefit by £5 a week – rather than continuing to vote with the Tories to block it.
The SNP argument that such a rise shouldn’t be universal flies in the face of their stance on other universal issues – free prescriptions and tuition fees to name two – and it would help the poorest as well as those living just above the poverty line, parents in work who suddenly have to find money from somewhere for school dinners when their child moves out of primary three. And the Government could also take a leaf from Scottish Labour’s industrial strategy, for it is only by being able to create and support high-skilled, high-paid, secure jobs that we can lift people out of poverty altogether.
No family in modern Scotland should be struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and clothe their children. No child should feel too ashamed to go to school in their own out-of-school clothes. It’s time to put an end to this shameful situation.