Last week the Scottish Government published their Programme for Government for 2020/21 – Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland – outlining the things they wish to do between now and the end of this Parliament next year. Presenting the Government’s programme and reflecting on its response to the Covid19 pandemic over the last five months, Nicola Sturgeon said to the Scottish Parliament, “A new hospital was created in a matter of weeks, armies of volunteers and public sector workers made sure that the vulnerable had access to food and medicines, rough sleepers were given places to stay and unprecedented support for business was distributed quickly and effectively.”
It is right that the First Minister should acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government in managing this crisis, and, in many ways, they should be commended for what they have managed to do in the most difficult of circumstances. However, in response to this list of things that have been accomplished to combat coronavirus and its impact on all of us, I find myself asking a question. If we could achieve so much so quickly, then why could we not also make sure that families living in poverty get the cash boost they need to help see them through this crisis?
The End Child Poverty coalition in Scotland made up of children’s organisations and charities, including Aberlour, has repeatedly urged the Scottish Government to act quickly to protect children from poverty and the financial impact of this crisis. 1 in 4 children in Scotland was living in poverty pre-COVID, and all the signs indicate the pandemic is going to make child poverty even worse. Already struggling families need help now and we have called on the Scottish Government to provide an immediate financial package of support to low income families at least equivalent to the £10 per child per week that families eligible for the, now delayed, Scottish Child Payment – which now won’t be received by families until February – would be entitled to.
The Scottish Government’s decision to prioritise the Scottish Child Payment is important, but that will be too late for many. Struggling families simply can’t wait. Failing to act now will mean that child poverty will rise further and the long-term consequences for Scotland’s children will be devastating. The coming winter is going to hit many hard, and families already struggling or at risk of being pushed further into poverty will be hit the hardest.
UNCRC and family support
Also in the Government’s programme was the welcome and truly momentous commitment to incorporating the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), by legislating to place the UNCRC in law by the end of this Parliament. Like so many across the children’s sector I was delighted to see this long campaigned for ambition realised. Alongside this was the further commitment to implement The Promise, the recommendations of the Independent Care Review, including embedding a national approach to holistic family support to promote early intervention and prevention by working in partnership with families to respond to their needs.
It gives me great satisfaction to see such commitments on children’s rights and holistic family support explicitly included in the Government’s programme of work. Along with many other organisations and campaigners, Aberlour has tried to secure commitments from the Scottish Government to progress both the children’s rights agenda and an approach to working with families which understands and meets their needs. However, by failing to commit to urgent financial support for families in response to the pandemic, these commitments do not appear to be followed up by the actions required to match the rhetoric.
The UNCRC Articles 26 and 27 explicitly outline obligations on governments to act in response to child poverty. In addition, a key element of holistic family support includes financial support to ensure families have adequate income to provide for them and their children, and to address the material deprivation that families living in poverty often experience and which can lead to the additional social and emotional issues which impact on families. By committing to both these things, there is an implicit commitment to addressing child poverty – you cannot truly realise children’s rights or provide families with the help they actually need if you do not act to protect them from poverty and its consequences.
Trust and dignity
Commitments to realising children and young people’s rights and supporting families will only mean anything if they are followed up by firm and concrete actions. As child poverty continues to rise it is clear that action so far to address child poverty is quite simply inadequate and is taking too long. If we are serious as a country about tackling and reversing child poverty then we need urgent action, and that starts by putting money in the pockets of those families most affected by the financial impact of the pandemic. Families who, experience and research tell us, are best placed to make the right choices about how they spend their money.
I often wonder how much money could be saved elsewhere by not having to respond to poverty-related distress and crises in families across Scotland. The Scotland I want is one that’s brave enough to trust its people and ensure families have an adequate income. One where all families are able to exercise choice and live dignified lives. We can be that Scotland if the political will is there to make it happen.