Children 'pushed into poverty' by welfare changes, says Sturgeon

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It is estimated that 80,000 children in Scotland are living in poverty

More children will be "pushed into poverty" by UK government welfare reforms, Scotland's deputy first minister has said.

Launching a new strategy to help tackle child poverty, Nicola Sturgeon claimed that 100,000 more children could end up below the breadline by 2020.

She said an independent Scotland would have "comprehensive" childcare.

Labour accused the Scottish government of failing to get money to "those who are most in need".

The Scottish government said its strategy would focus on advising households on benefit changes and finding work. There would also be an emphasis on children's educational attainment, health and housing.

'Preventative approach'

Speaking at the launch of the strategy at Toryglen Community Hub in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon said: "This strategy continues our preventative approach aimed at maximising household resources, improving children's life chances and providing sustainable places.

"However we now have an increasing focus on mitigating against the harmful effects of Westminster welfare reforms. These changes to the system will not only impact on the most vulnerable in our society - they will also set progress back at least ten years.

"It's frustrating, when so much work has been done, to see the Child Poverty Action Group highlight 100,000 more children in Scotland will be pushed into poverty because of these unfair policies by 2020.

"In an independent Scotland we would have the powers to provide one of the most comprehensive child care packages in Europe which would allow more women to work. We would also be able to set up a commission to consider a new Scottish minimum wage - which would at least rise in line with inflation."

Current figures suggest that 80,000 children from working families are living below the breadline in "relative poverty" - where household income is less than 60% of the average. For a couple with two children that means living on below £20,500 a year.

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said the charity had used figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which indicated that between 50,000 and 100,000 more children would be living in poverty by 2020.

Mr Dickie added: "With up to 100,000 children set to be pushed into poverty as a result of current UK tax and benefit policies, it is more critical than ever that the Scottish government does everything within its own powers to both mitigate the impact of damaging UK policies but also put in place the education, childcare and early years infrastructure we know is needed for a society free of child poverty."

'Millions unspent'

The Scottish government has confirmed an additional £2.5m funding for four poverty charities.

Over the next two years MacMillan will receive £900,000, Child Poverty Action Group will receive £750,000, One Parent Families Scotland will receive £424,000 and Poverty Alliance will receive £433,000.

Responding to Ms Sturgeon's comments, Scottish Labour's welfare spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "Whilst making money available for advice services is always welcome, we already know that the SNP has singularly failed to get money out of the door and into the hands of those who are most in need and most affected by welfare changes.

"Nicola Sturgeon needs to explain why her government has stripped millions from tackling poverty budgets. She also needs to explain why millions remain unspent in the Scottish Welfare Fund at a time when the need for assistance is self-evident."

Last month, charities including Barnardo's and Shelter Scotland expressed concern over an underspend in the crisis fund for people in need of financial aid.

A spokeswoman for the UK government's Department for Work and Pensions said: "Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society, with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.

"With the launch of our consultation on the new child poverty strategy we are restating our commitment to tackle poverty at its source.

"As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from a resilient and unified welfare system that delivers the same benefits everywhere."

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