The Scottish government is fast-tracking its plans to tackle soaring child poverty by bringing forward benefits reforms which could give poor families £500 extra a year.
Dubbed the Scottish Child Payment, the new policy will first be rolled out by 2021 for families with a child under six. (Almost 60 per cent of all children in poverty in Scotland live in a family where a child is under six years old.) That means families will feel the benefits of the payment a year earlier than planned.
And by 2022 the new payment will be extended to families with children under 16.
The announcement follows a report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) exposing the harm done to working families by the two-child limit, which puts a cap on the number of children in each family eligible for Universal Credit.
Child benefit payments currently sit at £20.70 for the first child and £13.70 for each further child; the new £10 a week will be on top of this.
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Communities secretary Aileen Campbell blamed Westminster-imposed welfare cuts for Scotland’s spike in child poverty.
She continued: “We will not stand by and simply watch that happen. We will act.
“That [new benefit] can make a massive difference to thousands of children across Scotland. It will mean more families are able to make ends meet.
“The Scottish Child Payment will not only help raise children out of poverty but is also designed to help prevent those just above the poverty threshold from sliding under.
“This is a real preventative measure that will tackle child poverty head on in Scotland and help mitigate against continuing UK government austerity.”
Earlier this year a Resolution Foundation study found that the Scottish Government was on track to miss its own child poverty targets by more than 100,000 children.
By 2021 up to 410,000 children, more than a third of all children in Scotland, could be eligible for the payment. Holyrood estimated that within three years the benefits could lift 30,000 children out of relative poverty.
But Campbell told ministers that a “conscious and deliberate decision” had been made to prioritise child poverty – meaning touch choices would have to be made to find funding for the payments.
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She warned that benefits proposed for other groups of disadvantaged people, like a carer’s allowance and a claims system for disability assistance, may be delayed.
But John Dickie, director of the CPAG in Scotland, said the new payment is “an absolute game changer”.
He added: “£10 a week for each child will make a real difference to families struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and pay for the ordinary school trips, sport and other activities that are fundamental to a decent childhood. Today’s announcement is a landmark recognition of the role the Scottish social security system can play in ending child poverty.”
Citizens Advice Scotland welcomed the move as “a step in the right direction” but emphasised that it is essential for the government to make sure the payment is well-promoted and easy to access, making sure everyone eligible actually claims it.