No child poverty in independent Scotland - Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jane Barlow
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jane Barlow
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CHILD poverty would end “for good” in an independent Scotland, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed in a flagship speech setting out the case for full economic and welfare powers for Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said that the eradication of child poverty could be written into the constitution of independent Scotland as she delivered an address to anti-poverty campaigners.

The SNP deputy leader said that “child poverty belongs in the past” as she claimed that under independence Holyrood would be able to use its full powers over welfare and the economy to dramatically improve living standards.

Ministers say that 170,000 children in Scotland - or almost one in five - live in poverty, which is classed as having to survive on less than 60 per cent of the UK median household income of £359 per week.

However, Ms Sturgeon issued a stark warning that 50,000 more children would be forced into poverty by 2020 in Scotland if Westminster continues to hold the bulk of welfare powers over the country.

The SNP has insisted that the constitution of an independent Scotland would include what Ms Sturgeon said were “economic and social rights” such as free university education and the right to a home and a life free poverty.

Ms Sturgeon said that an end to child poverty could be ”enshrined in the constitution” of an independent Scotland - a move she claimed that some world leaders had already backed.

She said: “The prospect of developing, by an inclusive, people-led process, a constitution that would enshrine the kind of country we want Scotland to be is a very exciting one.

“And when it comes to doing the best we can for children, it is an approach that the world has already embraced.

“At the end of the 1980s, world leaders decided that children needed a special constitution because people under the age of 18 often need distinctive care and protection that adults do not. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was born.”

One in five children is living in poverty in parts of almost every local council area in Scotland, a survey published by the Campaign to End Child Poverty showed.

Nearly all of Scotland’s local authorities - 27 out of 32 - have council wards where more than 20 per cent of their children live in poverty, according to the figures published last month.

Tory MSP Alex Johnstone warned that Ms Sturgeon had failed to spell out how the government of an independent Scotland would end child poverty.

He said: “Of course everyone has an aspiration to end poverty, but so far Nicola Sturgeon has failed to outline how the SNP would deliver this improved level of support to the most vulnerable.

“These are promises made before, so it’s hard to see beyond the rhetoric how Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP plan to end child poverty.”

However, Ms Sturgeon claimed that Scotland would be able to fund a programme to eradicate poverty if Holyrood was handed full powers over the economy and national resources to allow it to “choose to build a stronger welfare state”.

Ms Sturgeon, speaking at the End Child Poverty coalition event in Edinburgh yesterday, said: ”I have a simple message for you today: our vision is of a Scotland where no child will be disadvantaged by poverty.

The SNP minister also used her speech yesterday to blame the high levels of child poverty in Scotland on the UK government’s controversial cuts programme, which she warned would worsen the crisis.

She said: “Projections made by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest that by 2020 child poverty in Scotland will rise by more than 50,000.

“In an independent Scotland, we can take decisions about welfare that will ensure fair and decent support for people.

“With full powers we can - and I believe we will - work to eradicate the scourge of child poverty for good.”

Campaigners have heard it all before

The pledge from Nicola Sturgeon to end child poverty echoes a speech by former prime minister Gordon Brown who made a flagship promise to “introduce groundbreaking legislation to enshrine in law Labour’s pledge to end child poverty”.

Mr Brown promised the “complete elimination of child poverty by 2020” during a speech to Labour’s UK conference in 2008.

The 2020 target was agreed by the Labour government in 1999 and enshrined in law in 2010. It was accepted by the coalition when it took power.

However, the UK government’s adviser on social mobility, Alan Milburn, a former Labour Cabinet minister, said officials must “come clean” and admit the aspiration would not be realised.

As far back as 2001, Mr Brown, during his time as chancellor, referred to child poverty as a “scar on Britain’s soul”.

The then prime minister Tony Blair said Labour had an “historic aim” to be the first generation to end child poverty forever. He said it was a “20-year mission – but I believe it can be done”.

But the Child Poverty Action group says 3.6 million children are living in poverty today –

27 per cent of youngsters, or more than one in four.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have also made a series of pledges aimed at eradicating poverty.