I believe that any child living in child poverty is one too many. The recent projections from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which show that child poverty in the UK could reach over 5 million by the end of the next Parliament due to a raft of damaging policies from the last Conservative UK government, are not only alarming, they are utterly shameful.
Tory Britain is already pushing more and more children into poverty, at the very time the SNP Scottish Government is working to lift people out of poverty. A report from Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research estimates that Scotland can expect the cumulative loss from all the post-2010 welfare changes up to more than £2 billion a year by 2021.
Families with children will be among those worst affected by the Tory welfare cuts agenda. Many of those who have already been hit hard the Tories obsession with austerity. With cuts still to hit home, in Scotland we are fighting child poverty with one hand tied behind our back due to the failing tax and welfare policies of Tory UK Government.
We are continuing to take steps to eradicate child poverty. Scotland will only take control over a portion of the benefits that will be devolved, but we still will not have the powers to stop all of these ideologically-driven cuts going ahead or be able to plug the gaps they create.
Where we do have control, the SNP Government is taking action to prioritise child poverty. Our newly introduced Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill will make Scotland the only part of the UK with statutory targets in a bid to reduce the number of children experiencing the damaging effects of poverty by 2030.
In Scotland, our Government will look at the best way of effectively targeting resources at the poorest. Currently, our research shows that increasing child benefit by £5 would cost £.25 billion and £7 in every £10 would go to families not living in poverty.
The SNP is clear, the cruel and callous face of Tory Britain has no place in Scotland, from the abhorrent rape clause, to the punitive benefit sanctions regime – only a strong SNP opposition can be trusted to protect the most vulnerable in Scotland from crippling Tory austerity cuts and push for reversal of the damaging policies they are inflicting.
We have consistently opposed the regressive cuts to tax credits, including the Family Cap and the regressive Rape Clause. SNP MPs will continue to fight in Westminster to get these policies scrapped completely so that families are not further punished by the Tory austerity agenda. The Scottish Government has already announced that the two-child cap would not be implemented in Scotland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This scheme reduces the council tax those on low incomes have to pay, with over 75% of recipients not having to pay any council tax at all. The SNP are clear we will not penalise people for having more than two children.
Already, we know that working families are struggling under universal credit and instead of helping families move closer to work, the system is completely flawed. SNP MPs will continue to call for a halt to universal credit and will work to restore work allowances to support low – mid income families. We also agree that the minimum six-week wait is harmful and unfair. If re-elected, we will continue to urge the Tories to go back to the drawing board on this failed system.
Foodbanks tell us that the welfare state is broken. Foodbanks should not be needed in a society as prosperous as Scotland, but yet the Tory punitive sanctions regime force many families into real hardship. The SNP will continue to call for an end to the current sanction regime.
In the last Parliament, my colleague Mhairi Black introduced a Private Members Bill which would have ensured that an individual’s circumstances, including their caring commitments, were assessed before a sanction is imposed – a very small ask of the Tories, but they talked out the Bill anyway, deciding not to protect the most vulnerable, including Children. As Westminster remains entirely responsible for decisions on sanctions, we need strong SNP voices to stand up to the Tories and call for an end to benefit sanctions.
SNP MPs will also continue to call for an end to the bedroom tax. We are already fully mitigating the impact of the Bedroom Tax in Scotland ensuring more than 70,000 households save around £650 per year on average and are able to stay in their own home – and to help 241,000 individual households – a third of which include children – through the Scottish Welfare Fund. We will abolish it as soon as we have the powers to do so.
The SNP have already set out an ambitious plan to ensure families have adequate childcare in place. No government has done more to expand free early learning and childcare than the SNP Scottish Government. Our expansion of provision will be founded on quality, flexibility, choice and the needs of individual children and families.
We have set out our plan to almost double free Early Learning and Childcare provision in Scotland to 1140 hours per year by 2020. The Scottish Government Blueprint for 2020 Action Plan sets out 31 steps we are taking to support delivery. By 2020, we will have extended entitlement to free early learning and childcare to all families with three and four year olds and eligible two year olds. This expansion is estimated to be worth over £4,500 a year per child, enabling more families to keep more of their income.
We know that every child and family is different, which is why removing barriers to private and third sector providers delivering funded Early Learning and Childcare provision must ensure parents have genuine choice of provision across sector. The Early Learning and Childcare provision will ensure equality of access for all children and our Government has already committed to create a £2 million inclusion fund that enables staff to support children with ASN or disabilities.
The SNP believe the welfare system should be there to look after people when they need financial help to get through periods of difficulty. Children and low income families should not shoulder the burden of the failed fiscal policies of the UK Government – and equally they should not have to pay twice because the UK Government is not providing an adequate social security net. That is why now more than ever, Scotland needs a strong SNP opposition standing up for Scotland, determined to end child poverty and protect our children from the Tory cuts agenda.