At Aberlour we are clear about the actions we need to take as a country if we are serious about tackling child poverty. We also want to make sure that families who need extra help get the support they need.
Ahead of the upcoming elections we published our own Cash Now Families Always manifesto to outline our key asks of parties we believe can help achieve this. We need action to increase family incomes and to prevent young people leaving care and families with No Recourse to Public Funds falling into destitution.
We need to guarantee that families who need extra help get the support they need. We also need better and more social housing and affordable homes to prevent families becoming homeless. And we need an end to the digital divide which excludes children living in poor families – denying them the same life chances as children in better off families.
We have been working hard to make sure party manifestos reflect our key asks. So it has been really positive and reassuring to see manifestos which commit to some of those actions.
We got a full house of parties committed to double the Scottish Child Payment. Seeing all parties understand that increasing household incomes for struggling families is crucial if we are to reverse rising child poverty is very encouraging.
What is also important is when this happens. To lift at least a further 20,000 children out of poverty, and ensure Scotland stays on course to meets our own child poverty targets, this has to happen no later than the end of 2022.
On families with No Recourse to Public Funds, there have been strong commitments from the Greens and Labour to mitigate the impact of the damaging UK Government policy. The SNP have committed to provide support, albeit in a more limited way than we called for.
There is a worthy commitment from the Liberal Democrats to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are treated with compassion and to protect their human rights. But with no mention specifically of families with No Recourse to Public Funds.
These families are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised families in our communities. To make sure they get the help and support they need to prevent them falling into poverty and destitution, we need stronger cross-party commitments.
We also want to see a guaranteed income for care leavers. The SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and Labour have all committed to look at some form of basic income, which could benefit care leavers.
Labour do commit to a one-off £500 Job Start Grant specifically for care leavers. The SNP will provide care leavers with an annual grant of £200. However, this falls short of a regular, unconditional and guaranteed income for care leavers that gives them a reasonable standard of living, such as we have called for.
There is also a clear and welcome consensus on ending homelessness as a priority in the next Parliament. And all parties outline various plans and targets for affordable and social housing. The range of commitments from all parties should ensure that families who are struggling with unaffordable rents and at risk of homelessness will get the support they need.
However, there will need to be strong cross-party commitments, as well as effective collaboration with local authorities and housing associations, to deliver the social housing that guarantees all families the safe and secure homes they need.
Digital exclusion is reflected to varying degrees across manifestos. At one end the Conservatives don’t have a policy at all. Whereas at the other end the SNP make a commitment that comes quite close to what we have called for to ensure digital inclusion for all low-income families in Scotland.
The Greens propose digital access for those who need it via libraries. The Liberal Democrats commit to making sure all children have access to digital technology. Labour go further and commit to provide devices for all pupils, as well as targeted support for families to get online.
It is disappointing not to see consensus on the issue of digital exclusion which, due to the pandemic, has been exposed as an inequality affecting so many low-income families across Scotland. Real action is needed from the next Scottish Government to make sure that the digital divide is closed and that all children and families in Scotland are connected.
Families across scotland are struggling
Worryingly, there is a lack of any clear consensus or shared explicit commitments across manifestos to supporting families who need extra help.
Families across Scotland are struggling – practically, financially and emotionally – due to the pandemic.
Families who were in crisis before Covid-19 struck are in even greater difficulty now. Many families who were just about managing beforehand have found they can’t cope. And even families who had never needed help before, have found themselves looking for support.
In order to tackle child poverty, close the attainment gap, address the mental health crisis and support children’s wellbeing we need to put families at the heart of our recovery. Not only through increasing household budgets and family incomes. But by guaranteeing that all families who need extra help can get the support they need to help them thrive.
We will be doing everything we can during the next Parliament to make sure whoever the next Scottish Government is delivers on this.
Head of Policy & Participation at Aberlour