This afternoon, in the Scottish Parliament, Ruth Maguire MSP spoke in the Scottish Government debate on Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-26.

Ruth Maguire MSP said:

“Eradicating child poverty has been declared a national mission by the Scottish Government, and it must be a mission for us all. As we have seen during the pandemic, it is often the most vulnerable who suffer the most, and with rising fuel, food and housing costs, that mission requires urgent action now more than ever. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s remarks that the current cost of living crisis and international uncertainty have strengthened the Government’s resolve to work across society.

I also welcome the actions that were laid out in the statement: increasing the Scottish child payment to £25, which is five times the initial amount, and extending it to all under-16s at the end of the year; increasing employment services and supporting up to 12,000 parents into fair and sustainable work; introducing the new £15 million fund to tackle financial barriers to work; and taking steps to mitigate the UK Government’s benefit cap.

The development of the delivery plan identified a range of priority groups among which, as the evidence shows, the prevalence of child poverty is higher: households with a disabled parent or child; minority ethnic households; larger families; lone parents; mothers under 25; and families with a child under one year of age. People’s lives do not fit neatly into boxes and, inevitably, there will be many people who have more than one of those vulnerabilities. All those groups will benefit from the actions that have been outlined. Doubling the Scottish child payment to £20 in April, then increasing it to £25, is an example of real action that makes a difference to families, especially children, and it underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment on this matter. When we can, getting cash into the hands of those who need it is crucial, and it is the most dignified approach. Families themselves know what they need.

I have heard the line a few times from Opposition members—admittedly not in this debate, but this week—that there is not a constitutional solution to the cost of living crisis. Of course, simply having the power and the responsibility does not mean that a Government will tackle poverty and inequality. We see that at Westminster, where, yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not use every lever and resource at his hands to protect and support families. However, no one serious can fail to acknowledge that the actions of our Scottish Government are being undermined by the UK Government’s austerity. Combined with a deeply damaging £20 cut to universal credit, the constant need to mitigate the actions of the Conservative Government to protect our citizens means that investment made to alleviate policies such as the obscene bedroom tax is money that is spent to stand still.

I have greater ambition for my country than simply reducing the worst harms caused by a Tory Government—a Government that Scotland did not vote for. We can see the difference. Better choices can be made here, even under the current set-up.”

[Intervention]

“We are operating in challenging times. The Scottish Government’s budget has been cut. We have outlined a number of areas in which the Government is taking action. I have just said that one of the most important things that we can do is to put money directly into the pockets of families who are affected.

Until we have the full powers and responsibility of independence, we will have to work with one hand tied behind our back. Despite that, the Scottish Government is maximising incomes and providing support through devolved social security powers, with the eight Scottish social security benefits being increased by 6 per cent from 1 April. That will go some way in helping the most vulnerable with the cost of living crisis. 

Of the almost £6 billion that has been invested over the past three years to support low-income households across Scotland, more than a third—about £2.18 billion—has directly benefited children. The benefit take-up strategy is crucial, too. Despite what some of the nastier commentators might have us believe, a lot of people are not claiming their full entitlement. I know that to be true from my casework. Income maximisation is an important offering in a lot of our community organisations, but I particularly acknowledge the work of North Ayrshire Council’s money matters team. In the past two years, it has helped North Ayrshire residents to secure £30 million in state benefits—money that those citizens are entitled to, and money that is, more often than not, spent in the local economy.

Social security alone is not the answer. We need continued, focused action from other parts of the Government to contribute to meeting targets. Housing is crucial. Rent payments are the single biggest cost for many households, and year-on-year increases from social landlords squeeze family budgets that are already stretched. I know that the cabinet secretary agrees that we must ensure that affordable housing in Scotland is truly affordable, and I look forward to hearing about the work that the Scottish Government is doing in that regard.

Bringing together policies on economic development, transport, skills and childcare provision, with a focus on knocking down barriers to employment, would be a hugely powerful and effective approach. I know that there are limitations on what the Scottish Government can do to improve job quality in the private sector, but the commitments in the national strategy for economic transformation to improve wages and conditions in sectors such as leisure, hospitality, early learning and childcare, through central fair work agreements, provide a very welcome focus. No one action in isolation can make the scale of difference that we need, but with direct efforts to get more cash into the pockets of families now and action on economic development, transport, skills, childcare and other family supports, we can make a difference to families now and make real progress on sustained poverty reduction.”

Find Ruth’s speech on the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report here.

Watch Ruth’s speech here: