IF the importance of the family unit is traditionally a priority for those of a conservative persuasion, then why have the past 15 years made it progressively more difficult to start a family and raise children?

Child poverty rates are rising across the UK and only the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment has halted that rise here in Scotland. Even with the additional support from the Scottish Government, a decade and a half of Westminster austerity has resulted in one in four children in Scotland living in relative poverty.

While that statistic is shocking, it rises to 41% for children in a lone-parent family. Across parts of the north-east of Glasgow, more than half of households with children are lone-parent families – and with more than 90% of those single parents being female, it is very much a gendered issue.

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UK Government policy is not only failing a generation of families, but it is actively punishing those who have families and subsequently fall on hard times. The two-child cap and the rape clause are anti-family policies that disproportionately impact women and already disadvantaged children. Coupled with impoverishing statutory maternity pay, it is no wonder that fertility rates are dropping rapidly.

When some of my MP colleagues raised these issues in parliament last Monday, the UK Work and Pensions Secretary said the two-child cap was necessary because people in these circumstances “should fact the same basic decisions as those not on benefits”. What did he mean specifically? That they should (also) have to decide which of their children to feed? These people are unreal.

He then claimed they had to do it to be fair to those “paying tax” “as well as” those “who receive benefits”. Yet another example of why we must question every single sentence they utter.

I am firmly of the view that we should support everyone but most of the people we are talking about DO work and they do pay their taxes but no matter how hard they work, their incomes are sufficiently low to require receiving so-called “benefits”. And in the case of single parents, it doesn’t take a genius to see why one income is not as sufficient to meet a family’s needs as two.

Last Thursday was Single Parent Day and this year’s theme was recognition. It celebrates the strength, resilience and love offered by so many single parents for their children and challenges the stigma which is unfairly faced by single-parent families.

Along with this love, we need an outpouring of anger and disgust at a government that has stolen an average of £1800 from single-parent families with their welfare reforms.

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We also need cast-iron assurances from an incoming government that they will address the fact that lone parents are much more likely to suffer both mentally and physically from the impacts of the cost of living crisis and that this in turn has a detrimental impact on their children.

The recent World Happiness Report saw the UK slip another place, which is unsurprising given everything that has happened in the past few years.

However, one of the most dramatic drops was in the happiness of younger people. The things that many people have taken for granted in the past no longer seem achievable for young people. The social contract used to be that if you worked hard, then a steady job, a house and starting a family were the sort of things you could just expect to happen naturally. These are now seen as luxuries – out of reach for many or almost impossible to maintain for others.

Imagine a recently single mother with three children and a mortgage. You have half, and possibly less, of the household income that you once did, you can’t get support for one of your children (because both the Tories and Labour think three kids is one too many), your mortgage has gone through the roof along with the rest of your bills and your childcare costs are more than you actually earn.

What is there on the horizon that either the Tories or Labour are proposing that is actually going to make life materially better for this woman and her children?

Social Security Scotland has five different family payments – the Scottish Child Payment alone is estimated to have lifted 90,000 children out of poverty. Where is the UK’s version of this?

However, there is only so much that can be mitigated and managed in Scotland while those with most of the economic levers in the UK continue to punch down and expect those with the least to carry the can for their fiscal failures.

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Liz Truss is not paying the price of her disastrous mini-budget, she’s rubbing shoulders with fascists in America. No amount of austerity will register with Rishi Sunak as his family is insulated from the real world by their wealth. Boris Johnson will continue to rake in the money, giving after dinner speeches to wealthy clapping seals.

But their bad decision, careless stewardship of the economy and disregard for the lives of those already on the bread line are having devastating impacts across Scotland. Not only is public infrastructure at breaking point due to their lack of investment, but people and communities are as well.

The work of organisations like One Parent Family Scotland is vital to support those most in need but just treating the symptoms and not the cause won’t solve this problem.

If we want to ensure that all children grow up with the same opportunities to thrive and succeed, then much more needs to be done to level this playing field. Our safety net must be wider and the leg up we give lone parents must be much higher.

The Scottish Government’s extension of free childcare from September 2024 is another step in the right direction. But what we really need are the powers and financial freedoms that come with independence to invest in the future of our country.