Richard Leonard has called on the SNP government in Holyrood to tackle the “scourge of child poverty” after a new report has revealed that Scotland is currently on track to miss its targets.
Responding to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published on Monday that found 230,000 children are currently growing up in poverty in Scotland, he said the “stark evidence” should be a call to action for Nicola Sturgeon.
Leonard urged the Scottish government to significantly increase the coverage of the forthcoming Scottish child payment, which is intended to support low-income households with children.
Commenting on the new report, the Scottish Labour leader said: “In the midst of the pandemic, it has become even more difficult for many people to enjoy a good quality of life – something that everyone deserves.
“Ministers must listen to all those who are campaigning to eradicate poverty, and act, starting by implementing an interim payment equivalent in value to the forthcoming Scottish child payment until it can be rolled out, as well as looking at ways to increase this payment’s reach…
“The stark evidence presented by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week showed that Scotland is not on course to meet its interim child poverty targets within three years.”
The 230,000 figure reported by the JRF means that 24% of Scottish children are growing up in poverty, an increase on five years previously and 6% higher than the 18% target rate set by the SNP in their interim child poverty targets.
Leonard added: “We simply cannot allow the scourge of child poverty to blight our society any further – this must be a call to action for the Scottish government.”
The new report has documented a variety of challenges facing Scotland’s poorest residents as a result of Covid. The mean hours worked for Scottish workers have fallen during the pandemic whilst those claiming Universal Credit has doubled.
The issues have been particularly acute for young people, with the report arguing that more needed to be done to meet targets and that Scotland now faces a “crucial moment” in the battle to eradicate child poverty.
The proposed Scottish child payment, which will start to be implemented from November, would see low-income families with a child under six able to apply for a grant of £10 per child, per week – equivalent to £520 of support per year.
The report found that the proposed payment could lift 25,000 children out of poverty – just over 10% of those currently impacted – but would have to be enacted alongside a halt to proposed cuts to the increased rate of Universal Credit.
The Labour Party recently backed a campaign by over 50 organisations opposing the cuts to the higher benefit rate, introduced to help cope with coronavirus, after it was found that 700,000 families nationally could fall into poverty as a result.