Gordon Brown says child poverty 'shames our country' as Scottish Labour announces new loan scheme

Gordon Brown has described Scottish child poverty levels as an "epidemic".
Gordon Brown has described Scottish child poverty levels as an "epidemic".
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Scotland is being "torn apart" by child poverty, rising deprivation and squalor, according to Gordon Brown.

The former Labour Prime Minister said child poverty affects nearly 40 per cent of Scots children, rising to more than 50 per cent in the poorest communities.

Speaking to local authority chiefs in Fife, he said the situation "shames our country" and urged both Conservative and SNP governments to tackle the "epidemic" which is creating a "two-nation Scotland".

READ MORE: Low-income families to received £10-a-week child payments
He claimed 100,000 Scots children could be lifted out of poverty for "around £950m" if the UK government ended the two child policy, raised the child element of the universal credit payment by £40 a week, and introduced a special additional payment of £40 for the under sixes.

Mr Brown's intervention comes as Scottish Labour today announced it would seek to help families in poverty - and put loan sharks and pay day lenders "out of business" - by introducing a new interest-free loan scheme, of a maximum of £1,000, it it was to win the next Holyrood elections.

The financial advice charity StepChange estimates there are nearly 700,000 people in Scotland who are either in, or at risk of, problem debt.

And Scottish Labour said its analysis has shown there are currently around 290,000 children in households without access to £500 to cover an unexpected, but necessary, expense – like a boiler or a fridge breaking down.

The party said it would introduce government loans for essential household items and furniture, and items essential to access employment, for example, a season ticket for travel, tools or clothes for a job interview. This would "loosen the grip" that high interest lenders have on families without access to savings.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Pay day lenders and illegal loan sharks have preyed on vulnerable people across Scotland’s hardest hit communities for too long.

“That’s why Scottish Labour is declaring our ambition to put these vultures out of business. Our new interest-free loans would tackle the 'poverty premium' and give people struggling to make ends meet the means to get by without creating a cycle of debt."

Latest government statistics indicate almost a quarter of children in Scotland are living in poverty. That amounts to about 240,000 youngsters, where poverty is defined as the household income of below 60 per cent of the UK median after housing costs.

The Scottish Government has announced a new Scottish Child Benefit payment of £10 per week which will be rolled out for eligible under sixes in 2021, and to under-16s by the end of 2022.

READ MORE: Shona Robison to head new SNP poverty commission
But Mr Brown said that without radical action, Scotland's poorest communities were on course for "unthinkable" levels of child poverty, with a potential one in two children being without proper nutrition and clothes.

Speaking at the Cosla conference in St Andrews, he said child poverty had risen by 50,000 since 2010, and was expected to rise by a further 50,000 by 2023, with the situation likely to be worsened by Brexit’s projected 10 per cent rises in food prices with gas and electricity increases to follow.

He criticised the new Scottish Government payment for only being likely to lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

He added: “While the Scottish Government has promised – with detailed legislative targets – to reduce child poverty to less than 10 per cent, their own advisers say the figure will not go down but go up – and will exceed 30 per cent."

“Shocking area-by-area statistics show this two nation Scotland divided by low incomes and poverty and where soon more than half of children in many areas will be in poverty."

Mr Brown said that in Glasgow, areas such as Canal, which includes Possilpark, Milton and Ruchill. had child poverty levels of 41 per cent, while in Calton it rose to 49 per cent. In Fife, 36.62 per cent of children in Buckhaven, Methil and Wemyss and 38.68 per cent in Kirkcaldy East live in poverty.

READ MORE: This is the number of Scottish children living in poverty
“But this is just the start of our poverty emergency: I calculate that in Calton, Canal, Buckhaven and Kirkcaldy East under the figures provided by advisors to the Scottish Government, child poverty could increase far beyond 50 per cent of all children in the area and in one case nearer to 70 per cent of all children," he said.

“This is a full-blown emergency – destroying the life chances of the most vulnerable children and depriving them of the opportunity they need.

“Schools are having to become charity centres. Food banks have taken over the role of the welfare state. The safety net is no longer guaranteed by government but relies on charities giving out of the goodness of their hearts."

“Poverty runs so deep that Scotland is not one nation, but becoming two nations – and it adds up to thousands of individual family tragedies that are breaking our hearts and breaking our country."

He pointed to the actions of previous Labour governments, which saw numbers of child poverty in Scotland fall by over 150,000.

“Quite simply the measures of the Scottish Government – a £10 a week payment by end 2022 – are too little, too late and taking too long to introduce in the face of a poverty emergency," he said.

“I believe that the UK and Scottish governments have to work together to alleviate this emergency – the Scottish Government pressing the UK to do more – and the Scottish Government itself offering a full package of measures equal to the problem to be introduced not, as promised, two years from now, but immediately."