Scottish Government plans on tackling poverty a ‘timid step forward’, says charity

A leading children’s charity has said Humza Yousaf’s Programme for Government represented a “timid step forward” in the fight against poverty.

The First Minister said he would push to end the “scourge of poverty” as he announced his first legislative agenda since taking over the top job, confirming £400 million would be invested in the Scottish Child Payment and social care staff along with some in the childcare sector would see pay increase to at least £12 per hour from April.

But he did not announce the increase of the child payment, which some campaigners had been calling for.

Fiona King (pictured), the policy and public affairs manager at Save the Children, welcomed the commitment to social security investment, but said research showed it should be raised from £25 to £40.

“The stark reality is that right now there are 240,000 children living in poverty across Scotland and today’s announcements represent only a timid step forward to addressing that devastating injustice,” she said.

Ms King praised moves to expand the provision of the Best Start Foods programme as well as attempts to see more children in childcare.

But she added: “We know that flexible, affordable, accessible childcare is a top priority for parents we work alongside, but it is unclear how today’s announcements on childcare will address the needs of those families, and if the ambition is great enough, we need to see the detail.

“Tackling childcare is a key element in sustainably driving down poverty so we welcome the emphasis, but without decisive action to address the workplace barriers faced by parents – especially mothers – this will do little to support parents back into work.”

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), meanwhile, expressed their disappointment that the payment would not be increased.

Director John Dickie said: “Families with children are reeling under the pressure of a cost-of-living crisis that followed years of UK cuts to in-work and out-of-work benefits.

“It is now vital that (Humza Yousaf) uses the forthcoming Budget to deliver on the campaign commitments he made, and at the very, very least, increase the Scottish Child Payment to £30 per week.

“There is no credible route to meeting the Government’s child poverty targets that does not involve further investment in social security alongside action to transform childcare and the employment opportunities available to parents.”

The Poverty Alliance also voiced their dismay, with acting director David Reilly saying: “We are bitterly disappointed with the scope of today’s actions.

“Right now, the Scottish Government are not on track to meet their legally binding child poverty targets. If we want to make poverty a thing of the past, we need the Scottish Government to go further and faster.”

The First Minister also set to place himself apart from predecessor Nicola Sturgeon by appealing to business interests, something which irked STUC general secretary Roz Foyer.

Despite praising the pay increase for social care and childcare workers – Ms Foyer said he “sets out a misaligned Programme for Government that promotes economic growth through a pro-business, profit-driven prism and gives very little detail, if any, on redistributing wealth from the top of our society to those most in need”.

On the environmental front, the First Minister said he would cut the time needed for approval of onshore wind farms and consult on a ban on single use vapes.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland climate and energy campaigner, Caroline Rance, said: “This is an underwhelming programme for more of the same when what is needed is a radical change that can speed Scotland away from the damage being wrought by fossil fuel companies.

“The First Minister talked a good game about the importance of climate action and a just transition to net zero, but warm words won’t stop a warming planet.”

The reaction from the business community was initially positive, with Federation of Small Businesses’ Scotland policy chair, Andrew McRae, welcoming the First Minister’s acknowledgement that a strong economy is needed to deliver on issues such as net zero and child poverty, the £15 million package for entrepreneurs and the accelerated childcare rollout.

He added: “While the First Minister had already accepted the recommendations of the New Deal for Business Group, we’re pleased to hear him recommit to these this afternoon – not least to a specific Small Business Unit and a commitment to tackling the cumulative impact of regulations, including removing those which are no longer required.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Save The Children.