“Child poverty in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.” These are the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, in his final report on extreme poverty and human rights in the UK, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today (Friday 28 June 2019). In a scathing denunciation of austerity Britain, the Special Rapporteur condemns the UK Government for adopting a range of policies that both fail the most vulnerable and are incompatible with human rights.
The report highlights that as a result of policy changes since 2010 progress on child poverty has been unravelling. Unbelievably, it is predicted that child poverty rates across the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, will reach close to 40% by 2021. This level of poverty, the Rapporteur says, is a political choice.
In Scotland, despite the reintroduction of the statutory child poverty targets in 2017 (after the UK government abolished them a year before) the Scottish Government’s own forecasts predict that without action, the child poverty rate will rise to 35% by 2030. Similarly, after analysing the Scottish Government’s December budget, the independent Poverty and Inequality Commission warned that without significant investment the Scottish government will miss its own child poverty targets.
Unlike the UK Government, who branded the Special Rapporteur’s report as “barley believable”, and who continue to point to record employment figures each time they are taken to task on poverty levels in the UK, this week the Scottish Government have shown that they are listening.
After years of sustained campaigning by the Scottish voluntary sector and wider civic society, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP, announced the Scottish Child Payment (formerly known as the Income Supplement), a payment of £10 per week to be delivered by Social Security Scotland to eligible children under 16 by 2022.
The announcement came just days after over 70 organisations and leaders from across Scottish society, including SCVO, wrote to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, to highlight stark child poverty projections. The solution was clear, the Scottish Government take urgent action to utilise recently devolved powers to lift children and families from poverty. In response the Scottish Government announcement included a commitment to deliver the Scottish Child Payment to families with children under six by 2020/21, ensuring payments and, perhaps, securing the entitlement ahead of the 2021 Scottish Parliament Elections. Organisations across the voluntary sector and more widely welcomed the move which could turn the tide on poverty in Scotland and which is likely to play a key role in ensuring the Scottish Government fulfil their legal duty to abolish child poverty by 2030.
In a webinar this morning, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, shared his view that no change will ever be attributed to a report by a Special Rapporteur but that despite this he was encouraged to see a number of changes following his visit to the UK. In Scotland, the voluntary sector are often described by the Scottish Government as a critical friend. The sector challenged the Scottish Government to ensure every child really does have every chance, to deliver on their promise to lift 30,000 children out of relative poverty, and to protect the many children and families in Scotland who are just above the poverty threshold. The promise by the Scottish Government to prioritise action to tackle child poverty for the remainder of this parliamentary session and beyond is to be celebrated. These changes perhaps aren’t directly attributed to the work of the voluntary sector and wider civic society but it is clear that by working together we can encourage meaningful action to address poverty, deliver on rights, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Action that makes a real difference to the lives of people, families and communities across Scotland.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, is scheduled to present his UK report to the UN Human Rights Council tomorrow afternoon (Friday 28 June). It will be streamed live, and available subsequentlyhttp://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/