The Scottish Government needs to take urgent action to help children in poverty by adding £5 a week to Child Benefit, writes Rt Rev Susan Brown, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
I believe in the compassion of people in Scotland. I believe that where there is a need for justice, we take action and work to ensure that no one is left behind.
But there is an injustice within our society that is growing by the year which must be addressed urgently. It is an injustice that will have ramifications for whole lives, and the future generations of Scottish society if we do not make changes now.
Poverty holds one million people in Scotland in its grip and around a quarter of these people are children. Without a decent income to support them as they grow, they will never be able to participate fully in Scottish society and we may never benefit from the talents and skills that they may have otherwise shared.
Faith communities respond to the threat of poverty every day with a wide variety of services including food kitchens, support for people who are homeless, and the offer of a listening ear when people find themselves in situations that they see no way out of.
As the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, I have joined with other church leaders to write to the Scottish Government to exercise compassion as they come to publish the Budget this week. As people of faith, we have a shared commitment to always speak out for those who need our help.
Poverty in Scotland is on the rise and current forecasts predict that child poverty levels will continue to increase, reaching a staggering 38 per cent by 2027. Surely we cannot simply stand by and let this happen.
The Scottish Government has committed to boost the incomes of families by introducing a new income supplement, which will be one welcome way of addressing the issue of child poverty. But this needs to become an urgent reality if it is going to be of any use to children in Scotland today. The current timescale for implementation is 2022 – this is nowhere near soon enough.
Hence the Church of Scotland’s support of the Give Me Five campaign – which along with faith groups and third sector organisations – is urging the Scottish Government to deliver an income boost to families by topping up Child Benefit by £5 a week for every child who receives it. We already know that this measure will lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.
These children cannot wait. As those in power deliberate the best way to deal with a problem that is not going away, it is these young people who continue to suffer.
I believe in a God of compassion and justice who challenges us to respond to others’ needs. I want to ask the Scottish Government to use the powers that it has, to be compassionate. I want it to take this action now to loosen the grip of poverty on families’ lives.
In this season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we need to remember why it was he came. He came to bring hope to a hopeless world. All his life, he sided with the poorest and the most vulnerable – and so should we. We have no choice.
Rt Rev Susan Brown is Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland