This week Scotland will elect a new parliament. Whoever wins, recovery from the pandemic will be top of the next First Minister’s in tray. Recovery is a central plank of all the manifesto commitments made during the election campaign.
But what does this mean in practice? What does the next Scottish Government need to do to ensure recovery and renewal includes everyone? Nicola Sturgeon has committed to making ending child poverty her top priority over the next four years if she remains as First Minister. I applaud that.
All the main parties say they will increase incomes for struggling families by doubling the Scottish Child Payment. I applaud that too. Aberlour and many others have campaigned for it. The consensus on this key commitment is welcome. It is a crucial step towards ending child poverty by putting more money in families’ pockets.
But we need to do much more for families if we are serious about ending child poverty. That is why last week a coalition of children’s charities and organisations, including Aberlour, launched the #FamiliesHaveARightToSupport campaign.
Our campaign calls on all parties to commit to getting help to every family that needs it. Supporting families must be at the heart of renewal. It is how we will best tackle poverty, close the attainment gap, address childhood adversity, and improve children’s wellbeing.
It is a real concern then, that family support has not had the attention it urgently needs in this election.
The pandemic has devastated families across the country. We have families who were already living in chronic poverty before Covid-19 whose situations have worsened through lockdown. Families who have struggled with home schooling and who don’t have access to the internet.
And we have seen families who were just about managing before the pandemic put at risk. These are families who were in work and have now been furloughed or have lost their jobs and can no longer manage on a week-to-week basis.
Many of these families are having to claim benefits and seek help from charities for the first time. We see daily the significant impact this has on the emotional wellbeing of families – on parents and their children.
Without support many parents feel they cannot keep their heads above water. Families need help to ride the wave of financial insecurity and stress that Covid-19 has brought.
Parents tell us they feel ashamed that they are not able to provide for their children and have to rely on so called handouts. This is wrong. We need a system that responds to people’s needs in a compassionate, non-judgmental way.
Money matters – and must come first – but families need practical and emotional support too.
More than a quarter of Scotland’s children are living in poverty. Two thirds of them are living in working households which rely on benefits. We cannot have a recovery if we leave one in four children in poverty.
The next government must act. If we do not help families to recover, Scotland will not recover.
This opinion piece was written for The Herald, read it on their website here.