Social Justice

Scottish Government’s budget ‘falls short’ of supporting struggling families

Campaigners expressed disappointment at plans outlined in Holyrood which ignore calls to double the Scottish Child Payment

The Scottish Government's budget won't do enough to help people in poverty, campaigners said

The Scottish Government’s budget announcement will not go far enough to lift cash-strapped families and their children out of poverty during the Covid-19 crisis, experts have warned.

Outlining spending plans for the year ahead, finance secretary Kate Forbes announced cash for green jobs and funding for local councils to freeze council tax.

Forbes also committed £68 million to the Scottish Child Payment, a new benefit launching next month that will pay £10 a week to parents and carers who receive other welfare support such as Universal Credit.

“The exceptional circumstances require an exceptional response,” Forbes said in Holyrood today.

“This budget provides for continuity in our urgent work to control the virus and protect our economy and NHS, whilst the vaccine is delivered as quickly and as safely as possible.”

But critics said the Government had not acted on unified calls from campaigners to increase the payments in light of soaring poverty rates during the pandemic.

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“Today’s budget rightly focused on responding to Covid-19. But we also needed it to drive us towards the more just Scotland that we all want to see emerge from the pandemic,” Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said.

“By that measure it fell short, lacking the breadth and depth of transformative policies that can ensure our social and economic renewal.”

Announced in June 2019, families with children aged under six will be prioritised for the Scottish Child Payment with plans for the scheme to be rolled out to all eligible under-16s by 2022.

The new benefit is “the headline anti-poverty spending commitment in the budget, and it is hugely welcome,” Kelly said.

“But it was set at £10 per week almost 18 months ago. Since then, the grip of poverty has only tightened on the lives of families across Scotland. We have to see the payment at least doubled to help reach our poverty targets.”

Raising the payments to £20 per week per child would lift another 20,000 children out of poverty, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition.

Kelly said it was “disappointing” that the Scottish Government will not maintain the extra funding previously put towards the Scottish Welfare Fund to help people through the Covid-19 crisis.

The fund allows cash-strapped people to apply for crisis grants from their local authority, and was used to provide £500 self-isolation grants to those required to stay home and stem the spread of the virus.

“This is a lifeline fund that – in the face of growing income crisis across our communities – needs further strengthened,” he said.

By September, halfway through the funding year, less than a third of the available £59.5 million had been used.

But this demonstrated poor promotion of the scheme, campaigners said, and was not reflective of growing need. 

The fund was used to support 38,565 people in times of hardship last year, 16 per cent more than in 2019.

Forbes also announced £90m for local authorities to freeze council tax and help families on shrinking budgets after Covid-19 redundancies and hour cuts.

But the Scottish Government is set to miss its child poverty targets without bold action, experts warned.

“Even before Covid-19, almost one in four children in Scotland were growing up in the grip of poverty,” said John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland.

“Now, the pandemic has pulled families even deeper into poverty, while many more have been swept into poverty for the first time. A rising tide of child poverty now threatens to overwhelm many in our communities.”

Nicola Sturgeon’s government committed to a new Green Workforce Academy, designed to move people into secure jobs in the low carbon economy, as well as £100m for a Green Jobs Fund.

And Forbes promised public sector workers earning less than £25,000 a pay rise, but the 3 per cent increase was blasted by GMB Scotland’s Drew Duffy as “an insult” which ”won’t amount to more than a tenner a week”.

“Today’s budget comes almost a year after the first case of Covid-19 was notified in Scotland. The pandemic has shaken our society and economy to their core,” the finance secretary said.

“Every life has been impacted, and every single life lost has been a tragedy. Livelihoods have been up-ended. Frontline services have responded in remarkable ways.

“And of course our collective fight to overcome the virus continues.”

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