'Game-changer' policies needed to meet poverty targets in Scotland

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report says more radical action is needed to lift children out of poverty.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report says more radical action is needed to lift children out of poverty.
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The Scottish Government is being urged to bring forward new "game-changer" policies across housing, work and social security if it is to achieve its child poverty targets.

A new report on the impact of 20 years of devolution on Scotland's poverty levels, published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says the new Scottish Child Payment is not enough on its own to reach the target of reducing child poverty to ten per cent by 2030.

The publication of the Poverty in Scotland 2019 report, to coincide with the start of Challenge Poverty Week, also shows that the main reason for lower levels of poverty in Scotland than in the rest of the UK is the lower cost of housing - particularly in the social housing sector.

But it warns that without a long-term focus on boosting supply and affordability, poverty could rise further.

READ MORE: Poverty levels in Scotland rise after 10-year decline

Acording to the latest official figures, just over one million people in Scotland are locked in poverty, including 240,000 children, 640,000 working-age adults and 150,000 pensioners.

While poverty rates before housing costs are similar across the UK, after housing costs are taken into account, poverty is lower in Scotland with 20 per cent of Scots in poverty after housing costs compared with 22 per cent in the rest of the UK. In 2017, social rents were 14 per cent lower for housing association tenants and 18 per cent lower for council tenants in Scotland when compared with England.

The report says: "Action is needed on all fronts and must be enough to rewrite the rules of the game for people living in poverty in Scotland.

"Poverty is at the root of many of society's deepest set issues, from the attainment gap in schools to severe health inequalities and even declining life expectancy. This is simply unacceptable. As a society we can choose to make different decisions that will change people's lives unequivocally."

It says the announcement of the Scottish Child Payment - a £10 a week payment for low income families with children - shows the Scottish Government is taking the problem "seriously", but adds: "To make a Scotland without poverty for all a reality, we need a number of ambitious solutions across work, housing and social security.

"Scotland's existing and recently devolved powers on social security do have the potential to boost incomes for people on a low income, but clearly more ambition and actions are needed for Scotland to achieve its goals across all areas of government and with key partners.

"This will require focused commitment from employers, housing providers and public services - both national and local. Actions will need to be bold to make the difference required."

The Scottish Government has set the target of having less than 10 per cent of youngsters living in poverty by 2030 - compared to the current rate of 24 per cent.

READ MORE: This is the number of Scottish children living in poverty

Jim McCormick, associate director (Scotland) at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said more needed to be done to ensure that poverty was being tackled in all areas, to meet the government's targets.

“As a country we have rightly made a bold commitment to loosen the grip of poverty on children across Scotland," he said. "Over the last two decades, cheaper rents and a larger social rented sector in Scotland have been key to unlocking opportunities for families to achieve a decent life.

"But this success is showing signs of unravelling and cannot be taken for granted.

“The recent announcement of the Scottish Child Payment shows what can be achieved when we are bolder in our thinking and accept that only large-scale action will ease the pressure facing families trapped in poverty.

"While this new payment will start to turn the tide, it will not by itself be enough to enable every child to break free from poverty. It is vital that ministers in Holyrood match their ambitious targets to solve poverty with the scale of action on housing, work and social security needed to make this a reality.”

The report states that the lower levels of poverty after housing costs are also explained by a higher proportion of people living in the social rented sector and a growing proportion of people owning their own homes. However, over the last five years, there are signs that this relative advantage is beginning to unravel with social rents rising faster in Scotland than in England.

It also says that while overall poverty rates in Scotland are almost four percentage points lower in the three years from 2015 to 2018 than they were in the early years of devolution from 1999-2002, since 2010 progress has begun to reverse.

The Resolution Foundation also recently projected that child poverty is set to rise to 29 per cent in 2023/24, caused by UK government reforms to social security. As a result the JRF is urging government, employers, housing providers and communities to work together to find practical solutions to the issues holding people back.

It asks that the Scottish Government "use the full extent of its devolved powers to bring forward new game-changer policies across housing, work and social security if it is to stand any chance of reaching its interim target of reducing child poverty to 18 per cent in 2023/24."

It adds the "Scottish Government must commit to maintaining at least its current level of investment in boosting the supply and affordability of social homes. This will be key to ensuring housing continues to play its long-term role in solving poverty in Scotland."

The SNP’s social justice spokesperson and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, Neil Gray MP said the JRF report was welcome but said that action taken by the Scottish Government to reduce poverty was having an impact.

He added: "The SNP Scottish Government has made the right decision to take a very different route to the Tories at Westminster. Whether it comes to a social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect, promoting the living wage and delivering new homes, they are taking actions to tackle poverty and inequality."

READ MORE: The shocking life-expectancy gap between rich and poor is Scotland’s shame – Brian Wilson

The report comes on the first day of Challenge Poverty Week, with MSPs from Holyrood’s Social Security Committee calling on people to make sure they are claiming the benefits they are entitled to through a phone line service offered by Citizens Advice Scotland.

Bob Doris and Alisdair Allan met with staff and customers at the Glasgow North West Citizens Advice Bureau in Maryhill to learn about the financial health check service offered by CAS which talks people through benefits they may be eligible for to ensure they receive income to which they are entitled.

The committee is currently conducting an inquiry into benefit uptake in an attempt to discover the potential barriers to benefit take-up and how the current system could be improved.

Bob Doris, convener of the committee, said: ""We’ve heard first-hand the positive impact that Citizen Advice Scotland’s Financial Health Check can have on people, helping to ensure they do not miss out on money they are entitled to. That’s why we’d encourage anyone who is not sure of whether they are eligible for a benefit to call the CAS advice line.

“Our inquiry’s call for views is still open and we are particularly keen to hear from those with direct experience of the benefits system, hearing their ideas as to how to remove barriers to claiming and how to help improve uptake.”

The Social Security’s Committee call for views on benefit take-up is open until Monday 21 October.

The number for CAS’s free advice line is 0800 085 7145.