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Fighting child poverty: with a fiver

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fighting child poverty, Scotland, Give Me Five, child benefit, £5 top-up, campaignWe need to take into account the cost of not acting to reduce child poverty.

The £5 Top-up Campaign is a call for an additional £5 per week to be paid by the Scottish Government to ‘top-up’ child benefit to help support families, and lift children out of poverty.

The campaigners behind the idea – a coalition of third sector, civil society and faith groups – believe that poverty can be solved.

Topping up child benefit by just £5 a week for every child could lift 30,000 children out of poverty in Scotland.

Tackling poverty is good for us all and it helps children take advantage of all the opportunities available to them.

And it is needed.

One in four children in Scotland live in poverty – and 70 per cent of those children live in working families.

For many families the cost of living is rising faster than their incomes; increasing child benefit would boost family incomes and improve children’s life chances.

Poverty has negative impact on children, their families, society and the economy.

Introducing a single rate top up to child benefit is the simplest and most effective way to boost family incomes.

Most families receive child benefit.

Child benefit is not part of universal credit, nor is it affected by sanctions. It constitutes a stable and reliable source of income for families. Increasing its value could help families reach a better standard of living without creating an additional administrative burden with its associated costs.

Child benefit supports families in and out of work – creating no problems when parents take up work or increase their hours.

Indicative costings would suggest that topping up child benefit by £5 for every child in Scotland would cost £256 million per year.

While this is a significant investment it should be seen in the context of the Scottish Government’s overall budget of nearly £32 billion.

More importantly, we need to take into account the cost of not acting to reduce child poverty.

Research conducted for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) found that child poverty cost the UK economy £29 billion a year in 2013.

This estimate includes the effects of poverty, as well as the longer term losses to the economy which result from poor children’s reduced productivity, lower educational attainment and poorer physical and mental health.

And child poverty rates are increasing in Scotland and across the UK.

In Scotland, latest figures show that the number of children in poverty has increased by 40,000 to 260,000.

The Child Poverty Bill has committed the Scottish government to eradicating child poverty, but unless decisive action is taken child poverty in Scotland is forecast to get worse, not better.

For many children and young people poverty means not being able to afford the same things their peers take for granted, like trips and school activities, visits to a friend or relatives, or it may mean that their parents are unable to pay the bills at times or they are unable to afford decent, nutritious food.

At worst, it can mean going hungry and cold.

Poverty can also have an emotional impact, and negatively impact on the health of those experiencing poverty. And poverty affects us all, either directly or indirectly, and tackling poverty is good for society and the economy.

It could cover, for example: seven breakfasts of cereal, milk, fruit juice and a banana or over two months, a good quality winter coat, or taking part in a school trip or out of school activity each week.

The £5 child benefit top up is part of a range of measures that campaigners support to tackle poverty.

People can be in poverty for many different reasons, but using social security powers can be an effective tool in increasing family incomes for both those in and out of work.

To find out how would it work and why campaigners don’t want to top-up tax credits instead, you can read the paper exploring this issue in more detail here.

Increasing family incomes also reduces the financial and emotional stress on families, so topping up child benefit would be supporting children’s mental and physical wellbeing too.

And parents do use child benefit to directly improve their child’s lives.

A survey of parents of children found that over half of respondents spent child benefit on clothes/shoes, just over one quarter spent it on food and one fifth spent it on their child’s education or related items.

Every government has to make spending choices when they set out their budget: £256 million is a valuable investment in families in Scotland.

So campaigners are urging all politicians to prioritise tackling child poverty when considering the Scottish government’s revenue raising and spending plans.

There can be no greater priority than ensuring all children grow up in families with the resources needed to give them the best possible start in life.

Alison Johnstone MSP, Social Security spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, welcomed the launch of the Give Me Five campaign.

A top-up was called for in the Scottish Greens’ 2016 Holyrood election manifesto, and has been a consistent priority for Alison Johnstone.

And in June, Johnstone successfully amended the Scottish government’s proposed Child Poverty Bill so that ministers have to say whether they will use devolved powers to top-up child benefit.

The amendment was unsuccessfully opposed by SNP MSPs on the Social Security Committee.

“Support for topping up Child Benefit to reduce poverty is growing, and the launch of this campaign is hugely welcome,” Johnstone said.

“It’s an issue Greens have been championing since last year, and we’ve kept up the pressure in spite of SNP resistance.

“Child poverty will undoubtedly rise because of unfair UK government policies, and while we continue to oppose Tory cuts, we also see the need to use devolved powers right now to make Scotland fairer.

“The Scottish Government should look again at a Child Benefit top-up.

“Topping-up Child Benefit is vital to replacing the income some of our poorest families have lost.

“Between 2010 and 2020, for example, UK government changes mean that Child Benefit is projected to lose 28 per cent of its value, and it is essential we use devolved powers to counter this.”

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