Child benefits top-up ‘could lift thousands out of poverty’

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Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has been urged to help hard-up families by increasing child benefit payments by £5 a week as part of his budget.

Children’s charities, academics, trade unions and religious leaders are among those who have banded together to make the plea ahead of Mr Mackay setting out his tax and spending plans for the coming year on Wednesday.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said such a move “would be one way of lifting thousands of children out of poverty” as well as “protecting many more from the damage poverty wreaks”.

While the Scottish Government has pledged to introduce an income supplement by 2022, campaigners said families who are already struggling for cash “can’t afford to wait that long”.

Scotland has 230,000 children who are living in poverty but the letter from faith leaders to Mr Mackay raises fears almost two out of five (38%) could be affected by 2027.

“This would represent a grave and moral failing of our society,” the group, which includes the Rt Rev Susan Brown, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Bishop William Nolan, president of Justice and Peace Scotland on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

They told the Finance Secretary: “Across Scotland, the faith communities that we represent bear witness every day to the poverty that exists in our country.

“Whether through providing food banks, delivering support to people who are homeless or assisting families who are struggling to get by, we are often compelled to fill the gaps when the state’s safety net has failed.”

They said there was a “compelling argument” for ministers to “act with greater urgency in implementing the income supplement”, saying this should be done next year rather than by the current 2022 timescale

“Families across Scotland must be lifted out of poverty right now, rather than in several years’ time,” the faith leaders added.

SNP autumn conference
Derek Mackay will deliver his budget on Wednesday (Jane Barlow/PA)

“If we want to realise our shared vision of a Scotland where every child has every chance, then we must use the budget to bring forward the income supplement, families simply cannot wait.”

The signatories include Mr Dickie; Peter Kelly, of the Poverty Alliance; Grahame Smith, of the Scottish Trades Union Congress; Mary Glasgow, of Children 1st, and Sharon Wright, a senior lecturer in public policy at Glasgow University.

They argued this financial assistance should take the form of an additional £5 on child benefit payments.

“Child benefit provides a stable and reliable source of income for families which is spent on children, helps hard-pressed families and prevents children from falling into poverty,” the letter said.

“As a non-means tested entitlement, it has a high take-up rate and is less expensive to administer, and we continue to believe that topping up child benefit would represent a most effective and impactful way of delivering the new income supplement.”

Mr Dickie said the letter “demonstrates the extraordinary breadth and depth of support across Scotland for an immediate boost to family incomes to help tackle the devastating hardship too many children are facing”.

He added: “The Scottish Government’s commitment to an income supplement by 2022 is hugely welcome but families who are struggling to put food on the table and pay the bills now really can’t wait that long.

“Along with faith groups, trade unions and children’s charities, we urge the Finance Secretary to prioritise financial support for families as a matter of urgency.

“A £5 top-up to child benefit would be one way of lifting thousands of children out of poverty and protecting many more from the damage poverty wreaks.”

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “Scotland is the only part of the UK to have ambitious targets to reduce, and ultimately eradicate, child poverty.

“We are developing a new income supplement to provide additional financial support to families who need it most as research shows that topping up Child Benefit, which remains reserved to the UK Government, is not the most efficient or effective way to lift children out of poverty, nor would it be quick or simple.

“Our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan outlines action to reduce child poverty, including investing £12 million in intensive employment support for parents, introducing our new Financial Health Check service and increasing School Clothing Grants.

“In addition to this we are also spending £125 million to help protect people from the worst impacts of UK Government welfare cuts and support those on low incomes.”

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