Scotland politics

Call for child benefit top-ups for poor

plate and knife Image copyright Thinkstock

The Scottish government has been urged to top up child benefit payments to the poorest families to ensure children have enough food.

Children's Commissioner Tam Baillie said children could not be expected to thrive unless they were well-nourished.

The Scottish government is consulting on the new social security powers devolved under the Scotland Act 2016.

Mr Baillie said research suggested that almost one in five children in Scotland was living in relative poverty.

And foodbank provider Trussell Trust has estimated that about a third of its food parcels go to children.

'Concentrate at school'

Mr Baillie said: "This can only harm children's physical and mental well-being; unless their basic need to be well nourished is met, we cannot expect children to concentrate at school or on other activities."

In June, the government's Independent Working Group on Child Poverty urged ministers to use new social security powers coming to Holyrood to fund an increase in child benefit.

The group said an increase of £5 per child per week would lift 30,000 children out of poverty at a cost of £256m a year.

Publishing a report on the issue - entitled Living is more important than just surviving - the commissioner highlighted the lack of accurate data about the numbers of children experiencing food insecurity.

Food insecurity means children not having enough food to eat or not being certain that there will be enough food for them and their families.

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Image caption The Trussell Trust has estimated a third of its food parcels go to children

Mr Baillie said the report was prompted by the "rapid" increase of food insecurity in Scotland and the absence of children's input in discussions on the causes and solutions to poverty.

According to the research, conducted with 32 children in four local authority areas in Scotland, young children have well developed ideas around solutions to food insecurity including:

  • making healthy food more affordable
  • redistributing money, and
  • supporting charitable solutions - though not all children felt that food banks were a fair solution

The commissioner said: "The greatest insight of this research is of young children's desire and ability to solve the challenges they see in the world around them, which raises a number of questions about the inclusion of children in public policy and decision making more generally."

Pete Ritchie, executive director of the Nourish Scotland campaign group, said there was currently no population wide monitoring of food insecurity in Scotland or the rest of the UK.

He added: "The Scottish government could include a child-specific measure of food insecurity in the Child Poverty Bill."