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Joseph Rowntree Report: 'Bolder ambition' needed to tackle child poverty

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The Scottish government needs to display "bolder ambition" if it is to meet targets for tackling child poverty, a new report has warned.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said about a million people in Scotland were in poverty "living precarious and insecure lives" even before Covid hit.

In many cases the pandemic will "have swept them deeper into poverty, as well as dragging others under", it added.

The government said it was committed to tackling and reducing child poverty.

Financial support is available to eligible families including Best Start Grants, Best Start Foods and the new Scottish Child Payments.

A government spokesman said the grants meant that some families could receive more than £5,200 of support by the time their first child turned six.

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The Scottish government has set the interim target of having no more than 18% of children living in relative poverty by the end of 2023-24, down from the current total which sees almost a quarter (24%) of youngsters affected.

But in its Poverty In Scotland 2020 report, the JRF said that "poverty has been rising and we are not on course to meet interim child poverty targets within three years".

It said the issue could only be tackled with bold action on job training, affordable housing and income support.

'Economic storm'

The JRF's associate director for Scotland Jim McCormick said the country was at a "crucial moment".

"The decisions we make will determine whether we reach our ambitious child poverty targets by the middle of the next parliament," he added.

"As the shape of our economy changes, it is vital to do all we can to protect people's jobs, homes and living standards, so more families are not pulled into poverty."

The report warned of the impact of ending the furlough scheme at the end of this month, coupled with the withdrawal of temporary higher benefits payments in April, saying it was "clear" this will make poverty higher.

The report went on: "This is because unemployment will be higher, working hours and earnings may be falling, benefits would be reduced back to pre-coronavirus levels while housing costs will be no lower.

"Such a situation would be deeply worrying, not just in the context of interim child poverty targets three years away, but in the daily lives of people who face being swept further and deeper into poverty."

More affordable homes

The Scottish government said the first Scottish Child Payments, worth £10 per eligible child per week, would be made from the end of February.

"Together with Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods this will provide over £5,200 of financial support for eligible families by the time their first child turns six, around £4,000 more than elsewhere in the UK," a spokesman said.

"The Scottish government has delivered almost 96,000 affordable homes since 2007 and has outlined plans to invest over £2.8 billion in capital, over five years, to deliver more affordable and social homes across Scotland," he added.

He also pointed to the parental employability support fund, helping parents enter and progress in work, and a £100m package to help people look for work or at risk of redundancy.

And they called on the UK government to match the Scottish government's efforts.

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