THE Scottish Government must take urgent action to avoid missing its own child poverty targets by a significant margin, leaving families across the country locked in poverty, a major social policy research and development charity has said.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) admits the situation is made all the more pressing by the UK Government’s cut to Universal Credit in just two days’ time but says the Scottish Government must “stop walking and start running” on child poverty by immediately doubling the Scottish Child Payment.

The JRF kicked off Child Poverty week with the release of its annual state of the nation report, Poverty in

Scotland 2021. It looks at poverty levels just before the Covid-19 pandemic and the JRF says it highlights a lack of significant change among the priority groups for action identified by the Scottish Government.

These include families from an ethnic minority background, families where someone is disabled, those with a child under the age of one and single-parent households. Key findings for these groups include:

  • More than 80% of children in poverty in Scotland are in one of these groups;
  • Some 100,000 children in poverty live in a household where someone is disabled – 40% of all children in poverty;
  • Children from minority ethnic backgrounds make up 7% of the population but 16% of all children in poverty.

The report was produced alongside the End Poverty Scotland Group, an advisory group of people from across Scotland with first-hand experience of living on a low income.

Group member Alex said: “If over 80% of children in poverty are still in one of the priority groups, how much of a priority are we, really?”

The report urges both the Scottish and UK governments to increase social security support in order to drive down poverty levels.

JRF recommends that the Scottish Child Payment is doubled as soon as possible and that the upcoming Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan must set out a clear and measurable course towards meeting those targets. It must include a far greater scale and pace of activity to support families in the priority groups who are most at risk of poverty, the JRF says.

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It says the UK Government’s cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax credit in just two days’ time will cut £1040 per year from the incomes of 450,000 families in Scotland. This cut will increase poverty in Scotland across all groups, not just families with children.

The report says: “The UK Government is responsible for 85% of social security spending in Scotland and the responsibility for the impact of this cut lies at their door. As well as reversing the cut, we recommend reform of rules such as the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit, and the two-child limit, which drive destitution and hardship in Scotland as they do in other parts of the UK.”

Chris Birt, associate director of JRF in Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government has rightly set a national mission to end child poverty and has put in place steps to move us in the right direction. But we are on course to miss our targets by some distance.

“It is time for the Scottish Government to stop walking and start running, by immediately doubling the Scottish Child Payment and by significantly increasing the scale and pace of its programme to support families in priority groups.

“The responsibility for the cut to Universal Credit falls squarely at the UK Government’s door. It is a failure of both compassion and of policy and will cause immediate and widespread hardship in Scotland.

“With reserved powers, comes reserved responsibility. Our social security system should protect people from poverty, but the UK Government is instead choosing to condemn them to it.”

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John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “The JRF report lays out in the starkest terms the damage poverty wreaks on children and families across Scotland.

“These statistics and individual voices of people who experience poverty day in, day out must act as the loudest possible warning bell to both the UK and Scottish governments.

“The Prime Minister must scrap the £20-a-week Universal Credit cut and here in Scotland the First Minister’s welcome commitment to doubling the Scottish Child Payment must be brought forward as a matter of utmost urgency.”