Mark Griffin MSP: Scotland won’t turn its back on children in poverty like the shameful Tories in Westminster


Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin outlines how Scotland can counter the impact of the Tory government’s austerity programme on children

IN the social security committee recently, the Give Me Five campaign gained an unlikely ally in the Scottish Conservatives. Voting with Labour and the Greens, Adam Tomkins and Jeremy Balfour backed my call for the new social security system to consult with parents who receive child benefit in Scotland.

We have not secured the most ambitious use of Scotland’s new social security powers just yet, and with one in four children now in households with too little to live a normal life, the coming weeks will see if politicians of every colour will continue to sit on their hands.

Last year’s devastating increase of 40,000 more Scottish children in poverty marked the end of a trend a decade earlier which saw 120,000 kids removed from that misery. And worse, that decade of regression looks set to continue: by the time of the next Holyrood elections the IFS forecasts that almost three in 10 children will be below the poverty line.

READ MORE: Ross Ahlfeld: Let’s back the Give Me Five campaign to increase child benefit

Their support last week was welcome, but the Tories will never be off the hook: this misery and devastation is the making of their governments. Their obsession with austerity following the financial crash is being compounded by their now existential infatuation with Brexit. The result of both – an utter failure to tackle the increasing cost of living, stagnating wages and slashing of social security support – have brought devastating effects for families across Scotland already.

No child in Scotland decided to be born into the misery of poverty, chose to bear the brunt of austerity every day at school, or watch their parents suffer in precarious insecure work, yet they have no say in the matter.

When Holyrood passed the Child Poverty Act last year, Scotland refused to just turn a blind eye; in the coming months Labour will be pushing for government to act on those sentiments. By Easter, the Scottish Government’s first Child Poverty Act delivery plan will set out how – in the face of the transition to Universal Credit, the benefit freeze and more austerity – we can set a different path.

And with the Social Security Bill running to the same timetable, now is the time for the social security committee to deliver a £5 per week top-up to every child benefit payment in Scotland.  Benefiting more than 500,000 families by at least £260 per year, the payment would be made for almost one million Scots children.

The Give Me Five campaign is backed by an extensive coalition of campaigners, civic Scotland, unions and church leaders, and it sets two challenges to politicians: to use our new powers at Holyrood, but to demonstrate if we are willing to use those powers to change lives. On both those counts, Labour are signed up.

No child in Scotland decided to be born into the misery of poverty, chose to bear the brunt of austerity every day at school, or watch their parents suffer in precarious insecure work, yet they have no say in the matter.

But here’s the most fundamental bit: overnight, 30,000 children would be lifted out of the misery of poverty.

With my amendments to deliver the top-up now laid, backed by Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone, it is for the SNP Scottish Government to decide if it, too, backs the calls.

On this the government needs to show its cards and make a decision: last year Angela Constance appeared to rebuke our calls just months before ministers asked the Poverty and Inequality Commission to look at it – effectively kicking any decision into the long grass.

That nearly half of children in central Glasgow are suffering in poverty is nothing short of a disgrace. But what this means, as Sam Royston, chair of End Child Poverty, put it last month, is that “some children in parts of the UK now have a greater chance of growing up in poverty, than being in a family above the breadline.” 

If we want to use our powers, if we want to change people’s lives, we have some critical weeks ahead at Holyrood.

Picture courtesy of Neil Moralee

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