More needs to be done to tackle poverty, campaigners say

Campaigners have called for more action to be taken to help the one million people in Scotland living in poverty.

The Poverty Alliance said that 230,000 children are included in the one-million figure.

Scotland is the only part of the UK with targets for reducing poverty after the Child Poverty Act was passed in 2017.

It requires the Scottish Government to reduce the number of children who live in poverty by 2030.

A delivery plan was published in March 2018 which focuses on three key areas believed to have the biggest impact – work and earnings, cost of living and social security.

Publication of an “agenda for action” by the Poverty Alliance comes as the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, arrives in Scotland as part of a two-week inquiry into rising levels of poverty across the UK.

They will host a roundtable meeting with Mr Alston and anti-poverty organisations in Glasgow on Friday.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “When the Child Poverty Act passed with the unanimous support of all parties in the Scottish Parliament, our political leaders sent a clear signal that in a just and compassionate society it is not acceptable that so many children are living in poverty.

“All levels of government have a responsibility to take action to reverse the rising tide of poverty.

“With 11 social security benefits now devolved or being devolved, the Scottish Government has a huge opportunity to ensure the support people receive enables everyone to have a decent standard of living, by moving towards meeting the minimum income standard.

“These standards are based on what members of the public think is the minimum that is required to enable people to live with dignity.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I am pleased to welcome Professor Philip Alston to Scotland. Like Professor Alston and the UN, the Scottish Government believes poverty is an urgent and pressing human rights concern requiring action from all of us.

“To help inform his visit, we provided him with a copy of our recent Welfare Reform Report which highlights the impact of the UK Government’s cuts on households in Scotland – cuts that will see social security spending reducing by £3.7 billion in 2020/21.

“We expect to spend over £125 million in 2018-19 on welfare mitigation and measures to try and protect those on low incomes from the damaging impact of these cuts – over £20 million more than last year.

“Meanwhile we continue to work to end child poverty and we have set ambitious statutory targets as part of that process.

“Just some of the measures in our tackling child poverty plan include the introduction of our Best Start Grant for low income families, a £12 million fund to support parents into work, and a £7.5 million innovation fund to support new approaches to preventing and reducing child poverty.

“I greatly look forward to meeting with Professor Alston and discussing with him the innovative action we are taking in Scotland to reduce the impact of unnecessary austerity cuts.”

Tracy Gilmour, a former social worker and mental health officer, said: “I’ve been living on income support since I had to stop working because of my mental health 18 months ago.

“The benefits I receive aren’t enough to meet my family’s basic needs and I carry around guilt at not being able to provide them with everything they deserve.

“The pressure and demands of daily life are a constant battle. It’s exhausting having to hide it from my two daughters and to constantly make excuses for why we can’t do things.

“A simple request for a school trip payment is enough to make me feel like we’re sinking and losing our grip.”

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government announced that it would use new welfare powers to introduce an income supplement as part of a range of measures to tackle child poverty.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “It is vital that swift progress is made to deliver on the Scottish Government’s hugely welcome new income supplement.

“An initial supplement must be introduced as quickly as possible, with resources allocated in the forthcoming Scottish Budget to begin delivery in 2019/20.

“An immediate £5 top-up to child benefit could, for example, lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.

“It is now vital that the detailed regulations that will underpin devolved benefits have clear regard to that principle and to international human rights frameworks.

“Every week that passes sees more children pushed into poverty as UK welfare reforms hack away at the value of the vital support that families in and out of work rely on.

“A step change in the scale of investment here in Scotland is now needed to avert the government’s own horrendous projection of a future where two in every five children are living in poverty by 2030.”