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Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill

Overview

This Bill aims to tackle, report on and measure child poverty. 

The UK measures the amount of money in a household before housing costs are paid. The new targets for Scotland will be measured on the amount of money left after paying rent or a mortgage.

The 3 main parts of the Bill aim to: 

  • set out 4 income-based targets related to different types of household poverty 
  • get the government to publish plans on how it’s tackling child poverty and report on those yearly
  • get local councils and health boards to report yearly on their work to reduce child poverty 

The 4 income-based targets are:

  • relative poverty (measures poverty relative to the rest of society) 
  • absolute poverty (measures changes in poverty relative to inflation) 
  • low income and material deprivation (measures whether households are able to take part in leisure and social activities)
  • persistent poverty (measures whether people have been living in poverty for at least 3 years)

You can find out more in the Explanatory Notes document that explains the Bill.

Why the Bill was created

The UK Government announced in 2015 that it would make some changes to the law relating to child poverty. They decided to replace the 4 targets about income.

Instead they'll measure against worklessness and educational attainment. Worklessness includes people who are unemployed and people who don't work. For example, sick or disabled, students, people looking after family and home, and retired people.

They'll also take away the child poverty aspects from the remit of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. 

The Scottish Government disagreed with this approach and asked to opt out. This Bill keeps the 4 income based targets. 

These targets are less than:

  • 10% of children are in relative poverty 
  • 5% of children are in absolute poverty 
  • 5% of children are in combined low income and material deprivation
  • 5% of children are in persistent poverty

The Scottish Government wants to give children a better start in life. It also wants to provide more opportunities. It believes removing child poverty would help to achieve this. For example, trying to make education and health more equal.

 

You can find out more in the Policy Memorandum document that explains the Bill.

Where do laws come from?

The Scottish Parliament can make decisions about many things like:

  • agriculture and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • justice and policing
  • local government
  • some aspects of tax and social security

These are 'devolved matters'.

Laws that are decided by the Scottish Parliament come from:

Becomes an Act

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill passed by a vote of 115 for, 0 against, 0 abstentions. The Bill became law on 18 December 2017.

Introduced

The Scottish Government sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill as introduced

Related information from the Scottish Government on the Bill

Scottish Parliament research on the Bill 

Stage 1 - General principles

Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.

Have your say

The deadline for sharing your views on this Bill has passed. Read the views that were given.

Committees involved in this Bill

Who examined the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.

It looks at everything to do with the Bill.

Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.

Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

First meeting transcript

The Convener (Sandra White)

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the seventh meeting in 2017 of the Social Security Committee. I remind everyone to turn off their mobile phones, as they interfere with the recording.

It is a beautiful day in Glasgow, and I thank you all for travelling through. We decided to come to Glasgow because we agreed that we have to go out as a parliamentary committee and, as we know, Glasgow has, unfortunately, the highest levels of child poverty in Scotland. We wanted to hear from expert witnesses and to have a round-table discussion tonight with people who work with families and children on the ground. We must remember that it is not just children in out-of-work families who are in poverty; 75 per cent of the children who are in poverty in Glasgow live in families who are in work.

We have received apologies from Mark Griffin. Everyone else is here, except for George Adam, who is running late; I think that he is looking for a parking space. I am sure that we will welcome him in a couple of minutes.

I thank all the witnesses very much for turning up and for their submissions, which make very interesting reading. I welcome Naomi Eisenstadt, who is the Scottish Government’s independent adviser on poverty and inequality; Andrew Hood, senior research economist, the Institute for Fiscal Studies; and Dr Jim McCormick, associate director Scotland, Joseph Rowntree Scotland.

I will start with a wide-ranging question; other committee members will come in later. I referred to the poverty levels in Glasgow and Scotland. Obviously, Glasgow has the highest number of children who live in poverty. Why do the panellists think that we need the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill?

Dr Jim McCormick (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

In the recent past in Scotland, the United Kingdom and other countries, we have seen progress towards reducing poverty generally and child poverty specifically. Our progress ebbs and flows over time, but we can say that having a vision, a goal and ambition and a timescale for them is very helpful in focusing Governments—national and at all levels—and others, such as housing providers and market providers, on what they can contribute specifically to that very complex and ambitious task. If we are to have that commitment as a society, having good, clear measurements and targets is important for scrutiny and ensuring that we are on track and that we can change course if we are not progressing at the rate at which we would like to progress.

We welcome the bill’s provisions in order to sustain progress, widen accountability and locate responsibility. We have views on specific points, but broadly we warmly welcome what the bill is trying to achieve.

Naomi Eisenstadt

The points that I would make are very similar to the points that Jim McCormick has made. I remind the committee that I was the civil servant in the Government who drafted the initial UK bill, so I was really heartbroken about the dismantling of that bill. In particular, I was very pleased about and warmly welcomed the Scottish Government’s resistance to dismantling the bill and putting back together some of the key components that I consider most important. Like Jim McCormick, I agree with most of what is in the bill, which can take us really far, although I would make a few very minor comments about things that I am worried about.

Andrew Hood (Institute for Fiscal Studies)

As usual with the IFS, we do not endorse or not endorse particular political decisions.

To follow on from what Jim McCormick said, if we look at child poverty rates across the United Kingdom between, for example, 1997 and the mid-2000s at least, we see that there were very large falls. It would be stretching the bounds of credibility to argue that those falls were not directly linked to the Labour Government’s target. There were the interim targets for 2010, and then the targets to 2020. In the recent past, we have seen a very clear link between a set of social policies that reduced income poverty among children in the UK and targets of that nature.

The Convener

Gordon Lindhurst has a question on targets.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

Dr McCormick talked about timescales. What do panel members think about the targets that are set in the bill, particularly with regard to timescales? Would interim targets be appropriate in a bill of this nature?

Dr McCormick

Given that the timescale is 13 years, a child starting school this year will, on average, be 18 by the time that we get to the deadline, so understanding what the pathway through a typical childhood looks like, with its various twists and turns, transition points and so on, is quite important. Having interim targets is a good idea. Around 2023—my goodness, that sounds like a long way away, but is not—there is a strong case to have a thorough root-and-branch look at whether we are making substantial progress at pace towards achieving the targets by 2030. My guess is that more progress will have been made on some targets than on others. We need to be able to understand why that is the case, change course if necessary, as I said, and respond to external shocks, of which there will be lots over the period and which will take Governments by surprise. Being able to recalibrate targets and have interim targets in addition to the proposed delivery plans and annual reports is just good governance.

Naomi Eisenstadt

I agree. We need interim targets and halfway through is an important stage. Part of the difficulty—MSPs should welcome this comment—is that we need a culture change about progress. I was a civil servant when Labour failed to meet its targets. Somebody I knew—Mark Greenberg—wrote a piece for the Washington Post that said if only the United States had failed in the way that the British Government had failed on child poverty. We had made massive progress; we just had not met the target.

That culture change is important, because if politicians are afraid of being castigated for failure, they will not be bold enough in their aims. We need to get better, particularly at local level, at saying what did not work, as well as saying what did. That is why Jim McCormick’s point about the need to have a thorough look is important. It should be not about blame but about saying, “We tried this and it didn’t work, but somewhere else they tried something else that seemed to work.” That is very important in terms of interim targets. We need to share what does not work as well as what works, and politicians need to not be afraid that they will be castigated for all time for failure when in fact there may have been real progress.

Andrew Hood

There is a slightly broader issue. The purpose of interim targets would be to try to ensure accountability and the ability to see whether the Government is on track to meet its targets. Speaking from my experience, I can say that interim targets might be useful, but they will be only part of a successful strategy.

I began working for the IFS in 2012. At that time, we were producing independent forecasts of child poverty and it was clear from them that the Government was not on target. However, there was no mechanism to make the Government say how it would get to the targets, and that was after the date for the interim targets had passed. We said that if the Government wanted to hit the targets, it was important that it started describing a strategy that it would use to meet them.

Where I am heading with that is that where we have targets in other spheres of economic policy, such as fiscal rules, Governments do not just say what the deficit is and that the target is that it will be eliminated by a certain date. They have a projection. The Office for Budget Responsibility says, given the Government’s current plans, what it expects to be the case in the year when the target binds.

That does not mean that the Government cannot wriggle out of the target by using accounting tricks or doing whatever else it wants to do. Nevertheless, it is a particular way of ensuring that, rather than simply having an interim target, the Scottish Government will be faced every year with a projection, based on current economic forecasts, for poverty levels in 2030, or in year X.

The Convener

Issues come up during the year—just now, for instance, there is Brexit, the roll-out of universal credit and the removal of housing benefit for those aged 18 to 21. Surely looking at a target purely as a number will not work, as the target must be viewed in conjunction with the changes that happen throughout the year.

Andrew Hood

I am saying that, if the bill’s intent is that child poverty should be at a certain level by 2030, the Scottish Government should take whatever action it can to ensure that that happens, regardless of what occurs in the wider economy. If the Government is recording progress only against a set of interim targets, it will be very hard, once the timescale for the interim targets has been reached—or even a long way before then—to hold the relevant people to account unless the Government says, “This is what we expect the number to be.” There will be a lot of uncertainty around the number, as is the case with all OBR forecasts, but nevertheless it is fair to say that, to some extent, those forecasts have helped to hold the Government to account on its own rules in that context.

Naomi Eisenstadt

There is a real difficulty in striking a balance between holding Government to account, given the wider circumstances, and ensuring that we have the data to ensure that we are on track.

Dr McCormick

It is important that we capture what is within the powers and budgets of local and national Government in Scotland in order to understand the contribution that Scotland can make. That has to be set against wider trends, UK reserved powers, the macroeconomic outlook and so on, but it enables us as far as possible to identify the contribution from different levels of policy making and, where we have the powers, how to maximise the impact of what we can do.

Gordon Lindhurst

As I understand it, you all generally agree that it is good to have interim targets, not just—or even most importantly—for accountability, but to allow for the possibility of review. That means not treating the interim target as the end goal, but rather, at certain stages in the process, reviewing one’s assumptions, looking at how things are working and how they are not and adjusting the approach to fit the current circumstances. Is that what you are saying?

Naomi Eisenstadt

A specific and easy example is the one that the convener started with. When I was a civil servant, we thought that employment was the answer, and a huge amount of work went into making sure that lone parents in particular got into work. We were very successful—we continue to be successful—on the employment side, and yet levels of poverty among children have gone up. That is an example of a strategy that was not enough on its own because of other factors such as flat wages and people not getting enough hours. The Government needs interim targets to enable it to say, “We made an assumption—is that assumption borne out?” It does not want to wait until 2030 to find that the assumption is not borne out.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

We have touched on issues around accountability, interim targets and annual reporting. One interesting point that stood out in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s submission was point 18 on delivery plans. Perhaps Dr McCormick would like to comment further on his recommendation that

“a new delivery plan is published early in the next and subsequent parliamentary term rather than at the end of it.”

What is the thinking and direction behind that?

14:15  



Dr McCormick

That is partly about the status of the delivery plan and where it fits in the parliamentary cycle. If we have annual reporting—a duty that should apply jointly to the Scottish Government and local community planning partners—that is not just retrospective but forward looking, the purpose of the delivery plan is a bit different and it becomes a strategic look at the next four or five years. In accountability terms, it makes more sense to have that as an early act post election so that newly elected MSPs and a newly formed Administration can decide what the best priorities are for the five years of that parliamentary session. In part, that would be about manifesto commitments, but it would also be about the thorough learning that has gone on in the previous session. The timing is a non-trivial point, but the really important thing is that we maximise our ability to learn from national and local contributions to solving child poverty.

The other key point to make—I wholly omitted it from our written submission, for which I apologise—is the link between the plan and the forward budget process. The more that we can drive resource allocation decisions that are based on evidence from what has and has not worked, the more it becomes a living, breathing, practical and useful plan, rather than something that sits to the side of what Government is doing.

Naomi Eisenstadt

I agree with Jim McCormick on the Scottish Government delivery planning process and the timetable that was suggested. However, I would be wary of planning requirements at local authority level, because they become tick-box exercises. You need local authorities to report on whether they have made progress, but how they decide to do that is up to them. If you make each local authority submit a plan, you need a couple of civil servants to read those plans and to go back to the local authority to say that the plan was not good enough, and so on. I get very nervous about requiring too much specification and not enough outcomes framework.

Ben Macpherson

That is useful.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

Should there be additional targets, either subsidiary in nature or not? In paragraph 11 of Jim McCormick’s submission, he points out that there are several factors that

“are not taken into account in measuring poverty.”

They include access to cheaper energy and affordable credit and not having to pay through the nose for household goods or insurance. Should we be looking at recurrent poverty and those who fall in and out of poverty? Are the four measurements sufficient?

Dr McCormick

It is important that we have a small core set of the right targets that are informed by a richer measurement or monitoring framework that gets more into the detail of the connections that drive the outcomes around those targets. The broad measures that are being proposed are very good, but a target that better captures the depth or severity of poverty is missing. Destitution is one concerning aspect of poverty that is not typically experienced, but which a growing number of people are experiencing. Glasgow has the fourth highest estimated rate of destitution in the UK. It is a really important aspect of living way below the thresholds that are set in the bill and there are measures that can be used to get a better grasp of the severity of low income.

It is great that the after housing costs measure is the preferred measure. It is the basis for a more challenging target for the Scottish Government, but it is right that we effectively measure the money that is left over after someone has paid for their housing, which almost all of us have to do most of our lives.

The supplementary point is that there are other essential costs that reflect a mix of market drivers, regulations and public policy, which cover, as you say, energy, childcare and other costs. In time, we think that it would make sense to move towards more of a composite measure of essential costs—housing plus.

Without overcomplicating it, the use of methodologies such as the minimum income standard captures what is needed to have a modest but adequate standard of living in the UK. Such methodologies allow us to cost some of those essentials more consistently. As well as understanding what is happening around boosting incomes, it is about making sure that we attend to the cost drivers that families face.

Naomi Eisenstadt

As regards the minimum income standard, there are huge differences in the cost of living in Shetland versus Glasgow, so looking at income on its own does not work. Certainly, Scotland and Wales both have much more rural poverty than England has, so, for Scotland, looking at the minimum income standard in rural areas is very important.

Andrew Hood

I have three separate things to say. One is that when we think about measures, the limitations of measurement unfortunately become relevant. For example, there is an argument that, just as the persistent poverty measure exploits the fact that we have data on the same households over multiple years and might be interested in patterns of poverty over that longer timeframe, there might be a good case for being interested in patterns of poverty over a shorter timeframe. Rather than just having that annual capture, you might want to see whether people are moving in and out of poverty. The challenge there is that I do not know of any good source of data that would allow you to do that in a reliable way.

There is a challenge for Scotland in particular. The UK Government was armed with a UK-wide survey, and although the levels of precision in that survey are not great, they give a reasonable guide to what is actually going on. I assume that the plan is that, like the whole-UK targets were, the targets will be based on family resources survey measurements. That will be a challenge in itself.

That takes us to Jim McCormick’s point about severity of poverty. Intellectually or conceptually, we absolutely want to measure how deep in poverty someone is. The challenge is measurement. Colleagues at the IFS have shown that, for the vast majority of the people who record their income as zero in the family resources survey, their consumption and living standards are higher than those of the people who report weekly incomes of between £1 and £300. They have been mismeasured—they are people who have just not bothered to fill in that bit of the survey, so we cannot say that that is the group that we really need to worry about. When we think about destitution, there is an argument that at least some of those people are exactly the kind of people who will not answer the door when the survey man knocks. There are therefore difficult issues around measurement.

On housing plus, when you think about what costs you deduct from income before doing a comparison with a poverty line, the tricky element is that there is a trade-off between trying to capture some sense of disposable income—the income that people have to live on—and not wanting people’s genuine choices to determine whether they are or are not in poverty.

Let me explain what that means. To measure income after housing costs, for example, has a lot of benefits. However, there is also a disadvantage. Imagine two households with exactly the same income: family 1 values the quality of the house that they live in more than the quality of the food that they eat, and family 2 values the opposite. Therefore, family 1 spends more on rent and less on food, and family 2—because it values those two things differently—chooses to spend less on rent and more on food.

On the AHC measure, one of those households will be measured as being in poverty and the other will not. You might not want that to be the case, because the only difference is that they prefer one thing over another—it is nothing to do with essentials. That is the challenge when you start trying to widen the definition. You might want to capture energy costs but people will make different choices about how much they want to spend, and you might not want that to be reflected in the measure.

The third and final thing is, as Jim McCormick was hinting at, the importance of separating targets from the other things that you want to measure. You can say, “These are the targets and this is what we want to achieve”. To do that well, you are going to have to measure a ton of things that are not the targets. You would really want to know about the wage rates of lone parents, the employment rate of parents, childcare provision, benefit take-up rates and so on. There is a huge number of variables and, if you are serious about hitting a set of targets such as these ones, you need to know what the answers are. However, they are not the targets; they are just measures to help you think about what the targets are. That is an important conceptual distinction that, as we have said before, the UK Government has lost hold of to an extent. The consultation document that it issued in 2013 made no clear distinction between measuring poverty and measuring a cause or a consequence of poverty. The challenge that you face when you are thinking about including more measures is to ensure that, in doing so, you do not start to muddy the waters.

The Convener

Thank you for that explanation. If we were confused about data and various other things, we will be even more confused now. We need to look at the data that we get with clear eyes, because there is truth in the old adage about statistics.

Adam Tomkins will ask the next question.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Welcome to Glasgow, everyone.

I want to ask whether the bill goes far enough and, if not, how we might encourage our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to allow it to go a little bit further. I was struck by the written evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which says that poverty has multiple drivers and that setting targets—by which I think it means income targets—is

“a necessary but partial route to reducing poverty in the population as a whole.”

I would be inclined to agree that it is both necessary and partial. What do the witnesses think would be necessary to do in addition to setting income targets if we were really serious about reducing child poverty?

Dr McCormick

Thank you for that difficult question.

On whether the bill goes far enough, we must examine its purpose. If the purpose is to set out an ambition and make a commitment and then to have some anchor points by which we decide whether we are on course, it does that narrow job adequately well, although there are some improvements that could be made to it.

However, I think that you are inviting us to talk about what else it takes to arrive at that destination. It takes a lot of things. For example, does the combination of the fairer Scotland action plan that we saw last year, the delivery plan in the bill and the objectives around inclusive growth add up to the comprehensive all-age long-term strategy that we have called for? That strategy is not just a matter for Government; it also involves businesses, housing providers and so on. We are quite a long way from that in Scotland and the UK as a whole. The bill helps us to get closer to it, but a lot of policy and practice activity is needed, and a lot of commitments must be made.

We talk about five major drivers of child poverty, one of which is an ineffective benefits system, which means that there must be improvements in social security. There are lots of things that we can do to make life better and more financially secure for families with children, but it is important that we do not try and put all the strain on the limited powers that Scotland is about to take on. It is also important that the labour market contribution is maximised and that we reduce the attainment gap and the cost of the school day.

We are trying to take action across multiple drivers, and the bill is about keeping track of the income measures of progress and outcomes.

Naomi Eisenstadt

I do not disagree with anything that Jim McCormick has said; I strongly agree with most of it, particularly the points about the links in the bill between the fairer Scotland action plan and inclusive growth.

However, I add a note of caution about what legislation can do and how much you need to work on the cultural issues around employment, regeneration and all the other issues that contribute to or increase poverty.

No matter where you sit in the picture, you think that your bit is the most important. Certainly, legislation is the most important bit, but if you load too much into the legislation, you do not get the cultural change. It is very difficult. There are some short-term things that you need to do, there is the legislation itself and then there is the issue of how you get the wider community—for example, public sector employers—to play ball on the issue of income when funding for the public sector is being squeezed.

14:30  



Some of these things are to do with intention. The intention that I always talk about is that of reducing the cost of childcare. Reducing the cost of childcare often helps to make work pay, but the cost of reducing quality is that it will not contribute to reducing the attainment gap; in fact it will increase the attainment gap. In addition, it is women who are employed in childcare, which is the lowest-paid industry, and the group of employers that was most upset about the minimum wage was the childcare sector. There is a problem with the tension between the costs of what you are trying to do: is it for child development gains or employability for parents now, or are you trying to ensure that it is fair work?

The Convener

Does Andrew Hood want to come in on that?

Andrew Hood

I want to briefly build on what Naomi Eisenstadt said. The answer to the question partly depends on why you want to reduce child poverty in the first place. If the focus is on the material living standards of children, given the current measurement framework, increasing their household incomes is about as direct a policy as it is possible to have. How do you raise those incomes? That is a huge set of issues: you want to measure a whole set of indicators and drivers that will matter there.

As Naomi Eisenstadt was starting to hint at, maybe part of the reason why you care about child poverty is to do with not the material living standards of children when they are children but the long-run effects of growing up in poverty on their later life chances. You might manage to raise the material living standards of children from low-income households in Scotland but have no knock-on effect on a set of objectives related to their schooling, attainment or choices. You would have ended up not hitting the end that you really wanted, although you might have had some good effects along the way. In one sense, that is one of the strongest arguments for income being a partial measure. You might really care about the life chances of the child, but the Scottish Government is not doing anything about measuring the quality of the education that those children get, which, for their lifetime income, is the most important thing.

Adam Tomkins

Thank you all for your really interesting answers. I want to try to drill down a little bit deeper into one element of what has been said. At least two of you—perhaps all of you—have talked about education, and specifically the attainment gap. We all know that the First Minister has said that she wants closing the attainment gap to be her number 1 mission in this session of Parliament. Should the bill include a legal duty on ministers to take steps to close the attainment gap, given what we know about the close link between educational underperformance and child poverty? If not, why not?

Naomi Eisenstadt

I would say no, because I think that if you wrap too much in the bill, you will not get the impact. Income is enormously important and the bill is about income. The Scottish Government has said that income matters. Income matters to everyone in this room and it gives us choices. It is something that Government can do more about.

No country in the world has closed the attainment gap. Not a single country has no social class gradient. What we want to do is to make the gradient a little flatter than it is. The relationship between inequality and the social class gradient on educational outcome is demonstrated everywhere in the world. The assumption is that if we reduce inequality and poverty somewhat, we will begin to narrow the gap. It does not mean that we do not have to make massive efforts on education and the quality of childcare—we do—but I do not think that it belongs in this bill.

I have one more point to make. When we talk about children, it is important that we look at the position of people in their late teens, and that will be addressed in the next report that I am doing for the Scottish Government. I think that one of the perverse impacts of the push on university attainment is that we have failed a significant number of our young people in their late teens, particularly the 14 to 19-year-olds who do not go on to university but who can nevertheless make a significant contribution to the Scottish economy. I would like much more emphasis to be put on that group of young people, and my next report will do that.

Dr McCormick

I agree with that. The place to make the link is in the delivery plan, where Government has to give an account of which powers and budgets it will use to contribute to achieving the targets, but what is really helpful is to have a richer framework around the bill.

I will give an example from the current measurement framework. The indicators are mainly amber, a few are green and two are red. One that is red is extremely important in this context—numeracy rates for children living in the most disadvantaged communities. If we have the right kind of measurement framework, we can see whether the focus is on pockets, prospects or places. We need to know what a balanced approach looks like. As Andrew Hood said, we need to be able to identify the long-term consequences of not getting numeracy capability right at various points in a child’s life. Equally, if there are areas in which we are doing well, we need to be able to work out how we maintain and build on that progress.

It is absolutely right to draw out the connection that you are making. I think that the delivery plan is the place where all of us—Parliament included—should be scrutinising how good the Government’s theory of change is in achieving the targets.

Andrew Hood

Your question touches on an important issue, which is the potential that a bill such as the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill has to distort incentives. We want to create incentives. In legislating, the intention is to create incentives whereby politicians have a stronger reason than they would otherwise have to go after the targets. That might be of benefit, but it might be of cost if the bill has a distorting effect and moves the focus away from other action that would not deliver on the income-based targets or might not yield fruit within the six-year horizon or even the 12-year horizon that the targets lay out. I am not saying that it is inevitable that such an approach will distort incentives, but if the ultimate objective is multifaceted—if it is to improve the material living standards of children in Scotland over the next five to 10 years and to improve their prospects for the rest of their lives over the next 50 or 60 years—it is important to bear that issue in mind when we think about what it is that we are doing by legislating for income-based targets.

Adam Tomkins

I have a final, short supplementary. The child poverty measurement framework is a very rich composite set of measurements that does not look only at income—it does not look only at pockets; it also looks at prospects and places. I am not sure that I understand the rationale for having a comprehensive framework but putting only one aspect of that—pockets rather than prospects or places—in the bill and leaving the rest to a very loose and informal extra-statutory, or non-statutory, non-enforcement regime. I do not understand the logic of that.

The Convener

Would anyone like to respond to that, or was Mr Tomkins just making a comment?

Dr McCormick

I understand the premise of the question. What I am saying is that I think that the delivery plan should be quite a big deal from the point of view of parliamentary scrutiny; it should be the place where ministers make the necessary connections. When it comes to portfolio commitments, we should be asking how strong the commitments are on reducing the attainment gap, improving affordable housing and tackling the other contributory factors.

There is a risk that, if we put too much weight on the bill, it will not end up doing what is intended. This is the missing bit of the picture in Scotland. As Naomi Eisenstadt said, the UK Government could change tack and get rid of the previous targets and then Scotland would have a case to answer. The bill does it to some degree, but it is by no means adequate on its own. The Government also has to make sure that the commitments that it has made in other areas are robust and delivered.

The Convener

Does anyone on the panel want to reply to that point before I bring in the next question?

Andrew Hood

I reiterate the importance of clarifying what is child poverty and what are its drivers and consequences. We talk about a child poverty measurement framework, but the attainment gap is not, in most people’s understanding, the same thing as material living standards, although they are both important. We can say that we are defining poverty as income poverty, in which case the bill has the right focus, but we can also say that we care about educational attainment and we also care about X and we also care about Y. Alternatively, we can take a broader view but, once we do that, we start to conflate causes and consequences and poverty itself. That is the benefit of having a focus.

The Convener

Naomi, do you want to come in on that point?

Naomi Eisenstadt

My view is similar to what Andrew Hood just said, so I would rather give someone else a chance.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

First, I thank the panel. The committee particularly wanted to hear from you at the beginning because what you have to say is important.

I want to continue on the same theme as Adam Tomkins, because I was surprised at the answers. Andrew Hood said that we have to measure child poverty, and I agree with all that. I am not an academic and all this is quite new to me, but I understand why we need to measure things. However, what is the point of a focus on a bill if we are not going to use the bill to get the Government to specify how it will make a difference? I am struggling with that.

We may or may not agree about the measures that could be taken. However, one of the reasons why the Labour Government made some progress on child poverty was child tax credits, and it did the same for pensioners. During those years, people who were among the poorest pensioners came to me to say that they had never had so much money in their lives.

If the bill is going to make a difference, the Government has to make some big-bang commitments to something. I totally agree with Naomi Eisenstadt that the late-teen age group has been absent from the Scottish Government’s programme—not just that of the current Government but those of successive Governments—

Naomi Eisenstadt

That is my fault, as I was talking about the under-fives. [Laughter.]

Pauline McNeill

I am not saying that there should not be a focus on the under-fives; I think that you are right that successive Governments have done so much for so many age groups, but there seems to be a direct correlation between living in poverty and not aspiring to go to university. I do not see how people cannot make that link. If we believe that there is such a link, surely there should be something in the bill that drives the Government to at least say what are the three top legislative things it will do until we get to 2030 that will allow us to see whether we have taken the right measures. I am struggling to see why we would not put something in the bill that would force the Government to commit to that. All we will be doing is measuring child poverty for the next 20 years.

The Convener

I will open the discussion up to the panel and a couple of members who have supplementary questions.

Naomi Eisenstadt

The difficulty is with the balance between focus and breadth. Andrew Hood made an interesting point about the purpose of ending child poverty.

14:45  



Part of the purpose is to have a productive, wealthy Scotland that is less unequal; and part of it is the social justice argument that asks, “Why does my child have opportunities that somebody else’s child doesn’t have?” In my view, that is just about social justice and it does not have to link to economic aims: it has to link to fairness. That is why I thought that the process of the fairness work was so good.

On Pauline McNeill’s point about having a commitment for the Government in the bill, my view is that, if the bill is strong enough, all the other components will be part of the framework through which we think about how we do our planning. That is why I agree with Jim McCormick about the delivery plan. The difficulty is that it is about both the short term and the long term. Of course, for young people, it is not so long term, because in five or six years the poorest 16-year-olds today will be parents.

Where I am trying to move to is to say that we need an economy with enough well-paying jobs so that the 50 or 60 per cent of young people for whom university is not appropriate still have a chance at a decent life. We have very low apprenticeship pay, the living wage does not kick in until people are 25 and the largest proportion of people on zero-hours contracts are those under 25. There is therefore a real problem in terms of income for those young people who are not, for whatever reason, destined for university. However, I do not think that cramming more and more into the bill will fix that.

Dr McCormick

We could probably pick 25 or 30 policy areas where we have evidence that making the right moves over the next generation will have a small, medium or large impact. My comment is less about a particular group of the population or a particular policy area and more about a kind of procedural test. I would support the bill being tougher on the Scottish Government by giving it a duty, alongside local partners, to report annually and, as part of that, to give us an account of the evidence on which the Government has based its budget decisions that contribute or not—to be discussed—towards the targets. We need in Scotland to invest in better data and better modelling and projections so that we know what would happen if we did not take certain measures.

Pauline McNeill

I wonder whether the panel would consider going a step further than that. I hear what was said about cramming everything into the bill, but I am not suggesting that that should be done. It seems to me that there is a case for saying in the bill that, as well as having an annual report and a delivery plan, the Scottish Government should be required to set out either budgetary commitments or legislative commitments—it could be as vague as that—that would contribute towards the long-term reduction of child poverty. Would that not link everything together better?

Dr McCormick

I would support that. I would support being explicit about the Government having to make the link with its annual budget process in particular. In addition, we need to ensure as far as possible—this is a big stretch over the 15 to 20-year period—that we are investing in those areas that will give us the biggest impact for most children. Lots of little inputs that benefit small groups of people are fine, but there is a big opportunity cost from not investing in better interventions with better value for money and better longer-term returns. I am not the economist or the fiscal expert on the panel, but I think that it is important that we beef up our capacity to convince ourselves that we are making the best moves possible over the period.

Andrew Hood

I am not a legislative expert and I do not know about the theory of change to which Dr McCormick referred, which is to do with how laws will change policy. However, I have a cautionary tale, which is that the UK Government had an obligation to publish a child poverty strategy under the Child Poverty Act 2010 and I think that it published the last one of those in 2013, but it had no obligation to hit the target in that strategy. The UK Government could therefore say, “Here’s our child poverty strategy. We’re going to do this. This will help reduce child poverty.” If we asked by how much, there was no legislative requirement for the Government to tell us that. If we asked whether that would reduce poverty to the target levels, the Government could just say, “This is our child poverty strategy.” That was the situation that the Government had got itself into. I guess that that brings me back to my earlier answer about the value of some form of projection that says, “Show us the modelling that says, if you do this, this and this, you will achieve this target.”

The Convener

Did you want to come back in, Pauline?

Pauline McNeill

Yes, I have a final question on this issue. We could discuss, say, 25 or 30 policy measures that could make the difference, but I note—and I want to get this on the record—that paragraph 17 of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation submission says:

“Among the current 17 measures for ‘prospects’, we note that 9 refer to ‘poorest households’ ... However, in most cases even in the 20 per cent of places faring worst, a majority of residents are not income-deprived or employment-deprived.”

That paragraph seems to be making the point that we need to be careful here, because it is very often the case that, in areas that we describe as deprived, the majority of people will actually be wealthier than that. No matter what policy measures we think will make a difference, we need to remember that it is individual families and people who matter, not just the areas themselves.

Andrew Hood

Again, that is a data challenge. Our data is not at the level of every single household in the country, which is what you would need to be able to look at the issues on a household-by-household basis. We go about this work in two ways: first, we take survey data from a representative sample of households; and, secondly, we look at area-level measures. Those are the two ways in which we solve the data gap. The fact is that once you start to focus on Scotland, both limitations become more important. The job done by the survey data is less good than having data on 25,000 households across the whole of the UK.

Naomi Eisenstadt

It is not only a data problem but a service delivery problem. It is easier to deliver your anti-poverty strategies on an area basis, because you have a concentration of enough of the population. It is more difficult in rural areas and even in medium-sized towns, where poverty is more dispersed.

The whole targeted-versus-universal argument lies at the heart of that problem. You can afford to take a universal approach where there are concentrations of poverty, but when you take a universal approach to everything, you wind up with a lot of deadweight costs. It is a perpetual problem, and it is about service delivery being sensitive to individual as well as area differences.

However, it can be done and it should be done. Race, gender and all the equalities issues have the same problem and we are worried about race equality not just in Glasgow but in, say, the Shetland Islands.

Dr McCormick

It is a really good challenge and makes us think about what is in effect the geography of poverty. Across the whole of Scotland, about one in three children living in poverty will be found in the most deprived 20 per cent of places, which means that if all you did was target those places, you would access only about one third of the population currently living in poverty. The figure is higher in urban areas and lower in rural areas, but, broadly speaking, those are some figures to consider.

Area-based approaches are an important but partial and, in some ways, increasingly blunt way of targeting resources. There are a number of reasons for that. First, the housing market has changed; for example, we do not have vast council estates full of unemployed people. The picture of poverty has changed dramatically from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. The labour market has also changed, and a lot of poverty is now hidden and disguised as seasonal employment, low pay, inadequate hours and so on.

In some ways, the pupil equity fund, which gives virtually every school some resourcing because virtually every school has an attainment gap, is one way of going about things. The measure of free meal entitlement that it uses might be imperfect, but at least it does not make the mistake of targeting only certain authorities or schools. The geography of this problem has changed a lot over the last generation, and it is important that, as well as targeting measures, we have broad safety nets to try to pick up people who are either in hidden poverty or on the margins and very much at risk of dropping in if those broader frameworks are not in place.

The Convener

Three members want to come in with a supplementary. Ben Macpherson will be first.

Ben Macpherson

Do you want me to comment on the themes that we have discussed in the past few minutes?

The Convener

Yes—and please note that the time that we have left with this panel is running out.

Ben Macpherson

I want to return to the points about wider economic change. Paragraph 16 of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s submission refers to its strategy covering “five major drivers”, with a suggestion that four extra indicators be developed. I was particularly interested in the inclusion of an indicator on

“wider GB factors (e.g. Universal Credit uptake and work allowances, benefit sanction rates)”.

Will you comment further on that, Dr McCormick?

In addition, I was struck by Ms Eisenstadt’s comment that work alone does not work. You have touched on in-work poverty and the fact that two thirds of children in poverty in Scotland are from families that are in work. Will you elaborate further on the critical importance of considering that point and how the inclusive growth agenda is key to the issue?

Dr McCormick

You raised a point about what we might include as indicators and about making sure that those are covered in delivery plans. We want the Scottish Government and its partners to be held to account for what is within their substantial remits, powers and budgets, otherwise there is a measurement framework over which they have limited control. Fundamentally, this is about devolved and local policies, but it would be a mistake to ignore UK or GB-wide drivers. Andrew Hood’s work at the IFS will bear out the importance of the tax and the social security changes that will remain at the UK level and how those could have a substantial bearing on Scotland’s progress on the targets over the next five years, at a minimum.

It is important that we have the best grasp that we can of the different contributions, so that we are able to keep track of what is happening with the drivers, able to weigh up the scale of the effect of GB-wide influences and to compare those with Scotland-led influences.

The bill will put local authorities and national health service boards in the spotlight. We have to get that local reporting right and to avoid the bureaucratic, box-ticking or retrofitting risks. It is also important that we have the UK Government in the spotlight for those areas where its choices could have a substantial bearing on performance in Scotland.

Naomi Eisenstadt

In-work poverty is basically about low wages, not enough work hours, the quality of the job and the lack of progression. I particularly dislike the expression “positive destinations”, because it makes everyone feel great that we have done hugely well on positive destinations as young people leave school, but it does not distinguish between flipping burgers at McDonald’s or going to the University of St Andrews; there will be a social class gradient, too. It is the nature of the work that is important.

The NHS and local authorities have a major role, because they are massive employers. Scotland is one of the countries in Europe with the best qualified people. We do not have an undereducated population; rather, we have people taking jobs for which they are overqualified and other people who would happily do those jobs are excluded from them because the application process is more difficult than the job.

A whole range of steps could be taken on the employment side. Those would be through custom and practice, not legislation. The issue is about how we get together private and public sector employers to think through the employment picture in in-work poverty terms.

Work is important—it is good for mental health and attachment to the community, and those in work act as role models for children. I wanted to believe that work would solve the problem—and I feel bad that it has not. The next stage in the work story involves looking at how we improve the quality of work and ensure that people who have PhDs do not wind up driving taxis.

15:00  



The Convener

Alison Johnstone has a supplementary.

Alison Johnstone

The panel has spoken about the need for the bill to have a focus, without which it will not be able to deliver on its objectives. Dr McCormick spoke about the link with the annual budget process and Naomi Eisenstadt pointed out that, unfortunately, work does not always pay, so some people will be reliant on additional income.

As you will no doubt be aware, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the projected increase in absolute child poverty is explained entirely by the tax and benefit changes. Do you have a view on that? It suggests that we have to ensure that we make optimum use of the powers that the Scottish Parliament now has to raise tax and so on. Should the bill make any provisions that are linked to the social security powers that are coming to the Parliament?

Andrew Hood

On the high-level point, and to follow on from Ben Macpherson’s question, it seems that one way in which the bill could fail to achieve its aims would be if Scottish politicians, quite reasonably, were to say, “What were we supposed to do? The UK Government made all these changes, and those powers are reserved.” That is a real challenge.

Even at UK level, there are clearly factors beyond the Government’s control that really affect child poverty rates. In one sense, what happened with the coalition Government was that it said, “Well, we have the biggest recession and global economic downturn since the great depression—that is why we are not going to hit the targets.” That was the bottom line.

There are always factors that are outside the control of organisations or of the level of Government that they are trying to affect, and it is important that we think through what that means for the bill’s effectiveness. I do not know enough about the technicalities of the legislative structures to be able to say how that should play out.

The Convener

Does Naomi Eisenstadt want to come in on that?

Naomi Eisenstadt

With regard to the part of the previous question that I failed to answer, there is no simple answer to any of this—it is all very tough. From my whole career, I know that, no matter where people are, they always blame the next people up. When I took part in the fairness commission on Shetland, the people from Unst were blaming Lerwick. That is life—people will always do that.

Whatever level someone is at in Government or in civil society, they can contribute something in this area. One of the lessons in relation to inclusive growth is that we need to ask how we use regeneration and capital investment in job creation and in training and development. It is about not only the budgetary response, but getting double payback for every pound that the Government spends. There are things that the Scottish Government can do with its powers, otherwise I would never have taken on the job of adviser.

Dr McCormick

With regard to social security powers, the important links to make in the bill include what Governments—plural—over this period propose as the basis for driving take-up in the right direction and for annual uprating of the payments for which we will be responsible, and how they will ensure that people have genuine access to information, advice and guidance on the new system. Those are important, tangible links. They will not sit in detail in the bill, but they will sit with this committee when it comes to consider the next bill. That is a very good litmus test for whether the social security and related tax powers are doing their job to contribute alongside the other drivers that we have spoken about.

The Convener

Ruth Maguire has a last supplementary.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I am not sure whether you will allow this as a supplementary, convener, but I will chance my hand. I thank you all for your contributions—they are very interesting, and we have covered a wide range of topics.

I have a specific question about targeting versus universalism. I would like to hear the panel’s views on topping up child benefit. Instinctively, I would tend to go for a universal approach to things, but I am acutely aware that a lot of the money would be invested in people who are not in poverty. What are the panel’s reflections on that?

The Convener

I will let you chance your arm. Who wants to answer that question?

Andrew Hood

There is simply no way out of the fundamental trade-off between universality and targeting. Basically, we tend to think that there is always a trade-off between the generosity of the system towards the poorest, the cost of the system to the Government and, in particular, the work incentives that that creates. There is no easy way out of that.

Despite all of universal credit’s operational challenges and some emerging flaws—it is fair to say that there are some emerging flaws—it does a relatively good job of optimising the trade-offs in the structure, as it gets rid of some of the idiosyncrasies of the old system. Structurally, it basically does what can be done, which is to say, “You get this much when you have no private income. We’ll then withdraw that at a rate that we’re going to choose.” If you tried to make that universal, that would be prohibitively expensive, unless you reduced the generosity to those on the lowest incomes. Unfortunately, that is just the maths, and it is very hard to get round that.

The Convener

Does Naomi Eisenstadt want to come in on that?

Naomi Eisenstadt

Yes. I was afraid of that question, because I am not with my colleagues on the issue. I am not in favour of the £5 extra child benefit. I simply do not think that that is the best way to spend the limited money that we have. If we give everyone a spoonful of rice, the people who are most in need will not get any fatter, but the fattest will get fatter. Therefore, I am not in favour of that approach.

There is a fundamental issue about the delivery of benefits and the benefits system, and that is to do with dignity and respect. We should stop using stigma as an excuse for universalism and start to treat people as decent human beings; we would then not have that problem. That goes back to Jim McCormick’s point about take-up.

Dr McCormick

It is the classic dilemma. Universalism has every advantage over targeting, except cost. Over this period, there is a choice for Governments on what is affordable and what is effective. One thing that could be done to retain universalism and have an element of targeting without stigma and without take-up falling is to explore the interaction with the tax system.

Naomi Eisenstadt

Yes. That is another way to do it.

Dr McCormick

Other countries have progressive taxation of some universal payments. That keeps everyone in the system, but ensures that there are different levels of payment in the system. We have tried to do that in a very clunky way with child benefit for top-rate taxpayers. I am not proposing that, but we could take the small example of winter fuel payments and explore how they can be taxed.

If we were to raise child benefit in Scotland, we could explore taxation. There are other things that we could do in the meantime. For example, we could choose to top up child tax credits as a more targeted and affordable way of getting to the same place.

There are no easy answers; there are only difficult choices. We should welcome CPAG and colleagues having at least put that issue on the table and come forward with figures. Costed propositions are really important. Whether that is the best priority in the next five years is for Governments and Parliaments to decide, but that should stimulate a debate in which we can look at the issue alongside other examples of using the topping-up power and come to a conclusion on the most effective approach.

Ruth Maguire

Dr McCormick, you said that the winter fuel payment is an example of a benefit that you might tax. Have you thought of any others?

Dr McCormick

At JRF we support the principle of not looking at social security in isolation but exploring the interaction with tax. We have said that we think, partly because poverty rates have been reduced so substantially for older people, that that is the place to start. We have not costed other examples, but we should have the courage in Scotland to explore the interactions with our broad new powers, although we do not have easy answers at this stage.

The Convener

Thank you very much. That was very diplomatically put. We have run over time, so I thank the witnesses for their contributions. We have learned a lot.

15:10 Meeting suspended.  



15:16 On resuming—  



The Convener

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for your patience. I thank the witnesses on the second panel for their patience, because the first panel session ran over slightly. If you wish, we can do the same for you.

I welcome John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, and Eddie Follan, policy and public affairs officer at Barnardo’s Scotland. As with the previous panel, I want the discussion to be quite open and for either of you to answer the questions. I will start with the same question as before. Why do we need the bill?

Eddie Follan (Barnardo’s Scotland)

Thank you, convener, for the invitation to take part today, which is appreciated. I am here to represent a coalition of organisations that are part of the end child poverty coalition, which has campaigned for quite a long time on—obviously—ending child poverty and on income measures. The coalition includes the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group, Children in Scotland, Children 1st and One Parent Families Scotland.

All members of the coalition warmly welcome the bill. I was listening to Naomi Eisenstadt and we are relieved that the bill has been introduced. We work every day with the consequences of poverty. We work with families, the majority of whom have one thing in common, which is that they are on a low income. That has an impact on organisations such as Barnardo’s Scotland, which, rather than getting in early and working with those families to help them to improve their lives progressively, has ended up having to deal with crises that usually arise because such families have no money.

As I said, we welcome the bill, and the committee has our submission. We think that the bill could be improved in some areas and I have no doubt that we will answer questions about that.

John Dickie (Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland)

The short answer to the question is that we face a scandalous situation in which more than one in four of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty. Those figures are starting to increase, and projections suggest that up to 100,000 more children will be pushed into poverty by the end of the decade. We face an existing and increasing child poverty crisis in Scotland.

It is important to have targets and measures, but it is also important to remember that behind the statistics and the measures are tens of thousands of children in Scotland whose families do not have the resources to give them a decent start in life. Those families do not have the resources to support their children to participate in the day-to-day after-school activities that their peers are participating in. They do not have the resources to ensure that children have the same diet or the same healthy food as their peers. Those families do not have the resources to make sure that their children can enjoy the school holidays. Too many are left with no income at all, and some find themselves and their children at food banks. It is clear that we face a desperate situation that requires government at every level to look at how it can use all its powers to tackle the problem.

As a campaigning organisation and a charity that is working for an end to child poverty, our experience is that having in place clear targets and a legislative framework can be really helpful in keeping the child poverty crisis at the forefront and in holding the Government to account on the progress that it makes. We are delighted that the bill is before the Scottish Parliament. We are keen to support the committee and Parliament to strengthen it and to ensure that it passes successfully through the Parliament.

Gordon Lindhurst

I think that you were both in the room when the earlier panel gave evidence, so I do not want to repeat too much of what was said then. The bill places no legally enforceable obligations on ministers, so it is not a bill under which anyone could go to a court of law to ensure that any rights were enforced. As I read it, there are also no interim targets to hold the Government to account on or to allow for review and adjustment of assumptions or the approach that is being taken. Of the previous witnesses, Dr McCormick talked about the risk of not attaining the bill’s objectives if certain things were added to it and Naomi Eisenstadt talked about whether the bill is strong enough. From your points of view, are interim targets a good thing?

Eddie Follan

It is worth looking at the lessons that we have had before from targets that have been set out in legislation. One lesson is from the fuel poverty target that was set in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. The target was to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 but, for a series of reasons—the main one was the price of energy—we never eradicated it. We had no interim target, so we went for 15 years without getting to the stage of saying, “How are we getting on?” To be fair, there was a lot of investment in energy efficiency measures, but there could have been more, and at no point did we sit down and say, “Where are we now?”, which is really important. It is important that we do that with the bill.

A better example of such a precedent is the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009—you might be able to tell that I used to work in the field of energy policy—in which there is an interim target for reducing emissions by a certain amount by 2020 and a final target for 2050, but also annual targets along the way. The independent Committee on Climate Change advises the Government on how to set those annual targets. Targets need to be achievable—you do not want to set yourself up to fail—and that has been the ethos for the climate change targets. There is the imperative of doing it, but they also need to be achievable.

The same point applies to the bill—the targets have to be achievable. If we decide to put in interim targets, we have to make sure that we do not fail to meet them. At the same time, we should not go from end to end with no targets.

John Dickie

I agree. There would be value in adding interim targets to the bill. Along with others, we have suggested a halfway target for halfway through the period that we are looking at, which would provide an opportunity to take stock, to reflect and to review whether we are fundamentally off the trajectory for achieving the targets. Interim targets would be welcome.

There is something to be said about the different ways in which progress can be measured between now and 2030, which is when the ambition is to achieve the targets, and about the role of the delivery plans and the annual laying of the delivery plans before Parliament. The role of the Scottish Government’s commitment to refreshing the measurement framework that will sit alongside the delivery plans is also important.

Having interim targets as well as the main poverty targets will allow us to review progress and to have a clear sense of where we want to be year by year in relation to the delivery plan and the measurement framework. Perhaps we need to explicitly refer to the measurement framework in the legislation, given that it is clearly being seen as an important part of the overall picture for understanding what needs to be in place to make progress and how we measure whether progress has been made beneath the headline targets.

The Convener

I have a small supplementary. All the organisations that Eddie Follan represents work on the ground with people we might call users, and John Dickie also represents a number of such groups. I note that the submissions suggest that not just organisations but users—those who are directly affected—should have some way of feeding into the targets. Is that what you suggest?

Eddie Follan

Absolutely. Users’ lived experience is crucial to and essential in informing Government policy on targets or whatever else. I know that the Government carried out a fairly wide-ranging consultation on the fairer Scotland action plan, but I think that, if we are going to take such an approach—we know that it has benefits—we need to think about what the outcomes will be. Too often, we ask people for their experiences and then just wander off; things might get done, but either nothing changes or we cannot tell people what changed as a result of their involvement. I absolutely agree that people should be able to give input but, if we are going to do that, we have to ensure that we do it meaningfully.

John Dickie

In developing the national delivery plans, we need to engage with and involve families with lived experience of poverty, listen to what they say and understand what works or does not work in supporting them to increase their incomes and find routes out of poverty. That is crucial, and perhaps we can get into the question of what needs to be put in place and how to ensure that, with regard to process and content, the delivery plans clearly set out what is expected in each year of the five-year period.

The Convener

I might explore that issue with the next panel, if not with you.

Adam Tomkins

A few minutes ago, John Dickie said that he would like the bill to be not only passed but strengthened. We have talked a bit about interim targets, and delivery plans were just mentioned, but what else do you want to be included in the bill? Is there anything that should be taken out of the bill to strengthen it?

John Dickie

I do not think that anything should be taken out of the bill; what is in there is good. However, as I said, the addition of interim targets would be helpful, and the welcome addition of a duty on local authorities and health boards to report on progress and on what they are doing to tackle child poverty could be strengthened by ensuring not only that a retrospective report on what has been done to tackle poverty is produced but that local authorities and their partners take a strategic, forward-looking approach at a local level and mainstream the issue of child poverty in all their relevant planning processes.

We have been looking at local outcome improvement plans, community planning partnerships and children’s services plans. We are not necessarily suggesting that a new duty to produce a child poverty strategy should be imposed, but we must ensure that local authorities and their partners put child poverty front and centre in existing strategic processes, in addition to looking retrospectively at what they have done that might have contributed to tackling child poverty. We get that there is a balance to be struck between being prescriptive and ensuring that there is progress on making child poverty an outcome that is at the forefront of every local authority’s decisions on policy and spending priorities, but we think that that is a key area for development.

I mentioned the need for the measurement framework and the important role that it plays to be explicitly referred to and recognised in the bill. We also suggest that the bill could be strengthened through the potential for independent scrutiny and the Scottish Government’s commitment to setting up a poverty and inequality commission. If that is to exist, it makes sense to give it a concrete role of providing independent scrutiny of and advice on the progress that is being made against the child poverty targets, and it is important for that function to be established in statute and for the commission to have the resources and expertise to do that work properly.

15:30  



There is a range of mechanisms for ensuring that the legislative framework is correct, that we can drive progress and that opportunities to scrutinise and hold the Government to account are built into the framework. To pick up on the previous panel’s discussion, we have said that there is also an opportunity to include substantive measures to back up the legislative framework that underpins the targets and the approach that needs to be taken—the mechanisms—with policy proposals. We have specifically modelled the impact that topping up child benefit would have, given the tie-in between the bill and the Scottish Parliament’s new social security powers and given everything that we know about what worked when progress was made on reducing child poverty, which we heard about in the earlier evidence session.

I am probably moving on to other questions but, on what we know works, to go back to John Major’s Government in the mid-1990s, there was recognition of the pressure that low-income families were under and child benefit was invested in. That was followed through by the new Labour Government with investment in child benefit and tax credits. We know that boosting incomes by using social security powers works to reduce child poverty and improve wider wellbeing. We also know that the freeze on child benefit and family benefits and the cuts to the value of social security for families are the key drivers behind the increasing levels of child poverty and the forecast explosion in child poverty that the modelling suggests will happen soon.

There is evidence that such policies work at having a big impact on child poverty. That is why we think that we can use the legislative framework for the strategic approach and the targets for ending child poverty as an opportunity to introduce policies that will make a substantive impact on levels of child poverty and set us on the ambitious trajectory towards eradicating child poverty by 2030.

The Convener

Does Eddie Follan want to come back in?

Eddie Follan

I think that John Dickie has stolen my lines, but that is the danger of working in coalition—that is nothing to do with the Government, obviously.

It is important to recognise the work that goes on in local authorities. Barnardo’s works closely with local authorities, many of which are taking a strategic approach to tackling child poverty. I will mention two—that is not to exclude others—that I know from experience are doing a lot of work on child poverty: they are Renfrewshire Council and Inverclyde Council. However, one issue for us is the inconsistency of such work across Scotland. We hear that said a lot about the implementation of policy, but policy on child poverty is applied inconsistently. That is not to say that child poverty is not a priority for local authorities, because I am sure that it is, but it depends on what resource they can put into tackling it. We would support additional resource for local authorities to ensure that they can take forward some of the work that the bill proposes and be much more consistent in their approach.

John Dickie touched on a lot of things that we said in our submission, so I will not labour those points.

Adam Tomkins

I take the points that both witnesses have made about additional resource, but I am conscious that Opposition MSPs have limited powers in terms of the amendments that they can lodge to strengthen the bill, particularly where such amendments would require additional revenue spend. I will therefore focus on where we can seek to improve the bill on the non-revenue side.

I was struck in particular by something that John Dickie said that goes against the caution that we heard about from our session with the earlier panel, which you were both here for. Naomi Eisenstadt in particular was quite strong in her steer that the committee should not seek to overload the bill because that might do more harm than good, although I am probably putting words into her mouth. How do you react to the suggestion that one of the virtues of the bill is how slim it is? Do you agree?

John Dickie

It is important that the bill remains focused on what it is meant to achieve, which is to set targets and to create a framework and mechanism by which plans to reach those targets can be developed and reported on, and by which people can be held to account on the targets.

How much ends up on the face of the bill and how much ends up in regulations or guidance is a matter for discussion in committees and the Parliament. We need to ensure that there is consistency and that we all have a shared understanding of what child poverty is and what is needed in order to end it. There is scope for setting out in more detail what should be included in the delivery plan in terms of process, because we need to be clear about exactly what will be done in that five-year period, what impact it is expected to have in terms of progress to reach the targets, who will be responsible for delivering on that and what the implications of that will be for the Scottish budget.

It is important that we get some of those issues set out—in the bill, or in regulations or guidance—so that they do not drift in a way that means that the targets become about something else. In the earlier discussion, you heard how, when we talk about poverty, we can start to talk about a lot of other things that are important regarding children’s wellbeing. The bill is about tackling the underlying poverty that undermines the ambitions that we have for our children—all the problems and issues that low-income families and other families face. Taking away the poverty barrier is central to the bill.

A balance needs to be struck, but I think that there are ways in which we can strengthen the bill without overloading it or undermining its primary purpose.

Adam Tomkins

That is helpful. Do you think that there is room to include in the legislation a requirement for the delivery plans to address the attainment gap?

The Convener

I will let Eddie Follan answer first, because he did not have a chance to reply to the first question.

Eddie Follan

I agreed with a lot of what the previous panel said. We are good at measuring numeracy and literacy, which are two of the pillars of the curriculum, but we are less good at measuring the third pillar, which is the health and wellbeing side of things. We have had discussions with Scottish Government officials about how best we can do that through the national improvement framework. That work is on-going. We work closely with schools and local authorities on closing the attainment gap, and action goes on locally to do that.

On the first question, there is a big issue about process. We are talking about income and poverty today, but it is important to join up the work that we already do. Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 contains a requirement for local authorities and health boards to report on progress on poverty against the national and local outcomes. However, that reporting is patchy and inconsistent. In relation to the bill that we are discussing today, we could consider including a duty on local authorities to plan, but we could also, in the fullness of time, consider guidance on joining up the actions that are already being taken. Under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, local communities set their outcomes locally. We would argue that we should consider the links between the legislation that we are discussing today and that process, with the aim of ensuring that local people are involved as well.

John Dickie

I agree about the importance of tackling the educational attainment gap. Last year, during the passage of the Education (Scotland) Bill, we argued that that aspect should be beefed up, with a clear duty on Government to reduce the attainment gap as part of the legislation. That is where I see that aspect more comfortably fitting. The measure is one of attainment and the attainment gap; it is not, in itself, a measure of poverty or child poverty.

Clearly, child poverty—the fact that families do not have enough money for their children to be able to participate fully and comfortably at school, or to get the most out of the school day—is the key driver of the attainment gap. If we are serious about closing the attainment gap, it is key that we tackle poverty and make progress on the poverty targets. The two aspects relate to each other.

As I said, we pushed hard for there to be statutory targets and a statutory duty to close the attainment gap in the Education (Scotland) Act 2016. Perhaps there could be scope for an amendment to the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill that would amend the 2016 act in order to achieve that; I am not sure.

Adam Tomkins

Would you support that?

John Dickie

Yes.

Alison Johnstone

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill in many ways replicates the UK Child Poverty Act 2010. I noticed that the end child poverty coalition’s submission calls for independent scrutiny. John Dickie has discussed that issue with us today. Is the panel surprised that there is no suggestion that an independent body should provide scrutiny?

Eddie Follan

First, I should mention that we are members of the ministerial advisory group on child poverty and discussions take place in that forum. We are encouraged that the Government is proposing a poverty and inequality commission. I think that that was a manifesto commitment. We would want to see the details, but having an independent scrutiny role is crucial, particularly when it comes to targets.

Our submission mentions the independent panel on climate change. There could be a role for such a committee to advise the Government on the targets that it should set and why, if that were the case, they have not been met. There should be independent scrutiny; let us see how that progresses.

John Dickie

There was recognition that there was a landscape there, if you like, with a ministerial advisory group, an independent adviser to the First Minister on poverty and a manifesto commitment to establish a poverty and inequality commission. The legislation provides an opportunity to think through in a bit more depth how best to make that work in scrutiny terms and how to add a level of accountability to the child poverty legislation. Given that there is a commitment to have a poverty and inequality commission, it would make sense for that to have a statutory function to scrutinise and to advise on progress towards meeting child poverty targets.

Alison Johnstone

You have spoken about boosting incomes using social security powers. The Greens have been urging the Government to roll out the healthier, wealthier children initiative, which has proven positive impacts in Glasgow. I think that the Government is receptive to that. Does income maximisation have a role to play?

John Dickie

That project is a good example of how boosting income could work. Having the right referral networks among the mainstream statutory services—in that project, midwives and health visitors refer expectant and new parents to income maximisation services—has worked to boost incomes.

The project was independently evaluated over two years and, I think, the financial gain was more than £3 million to households across greater Glasgow, which is an average gain of more than £3,000 per household. Money is available that people are entitled to, whether they are in or out of work, but some families are missing out on it.

We could build in referrals to income maximisation and provide the income maximisation benefits advice service to families at key transition points. The birth of a child, the time when a child becomes entitled to free early years provision, the start of primary school and the start of secondary school are points at which things change for families and additional costs start to be incurred, so ensuring that all families get access to a high-quality income maximisation check would be a useful contribution to boosting family incomes and achieving the targets that are laid out in the bill.

15:45  



Alison Johnstone

I will put the same question to Eddie Follan. Should there be a provision in the bill to offer all parents or guardians access to income maximisation advice?

Eddie Follan

I agree with what John Dickie said.

We are talking about delivery plans and we are saying that when ministers report they should report on what they are doing on income maximisation and provision of advice. We want the bill to include a number of things that the Government must report on, and income maximisation should be one of those things, because its role is crucial. As we said earlier, we must take every opportunity to increase people’s incomes. We have only a certain range of options, so that is what we want to see in the bill.

Pauline McNeill

I want to ask the panel the question that I asked the previous panel. There is a great deal of support in the committee and the Parliament for the Scottish Government having targets, which we hope that it will assess as we go along to 2030. Should the bill require the Government to set out, either in the budget or in the delivery plan, how it hopes to achieve the targets to reduce child poverty by 2030?

Eddie Follan

I echo what the previous panel said. The delivery plan will be crucial. The Government will have to come back to Parliament every year and it will have to report on what it does. The delivery plan should have to include particular aspects, such as the full use of Scottish social security powers, the provision of information and advice on income maximisation, the provision of suitable and affordable housing, the availability of childcare and the facilitation of employment for parents and carers. We want to see all those things in the delivery plan.

I can understand why the bill might not contain a commitment to spending. John Dickie will have something to say on that. I cannot speak for the coalition on that.

It is crucial that we ensure that there will be accountability, and that is where targets have a role. We on the outside of Parliament will be able to scrutinise whether the Government is reaching those targets, and you, as politicians, can do the same thing. Annual reports will be crucial and will allow us to hold the Government to account on the progress that it is making.

On poverty causes, we need to look at increasing the incomes of those in this country who are on the lowest incomes. As I said, we need to take every opportunity to do that. I know that John Dickie will want to talk about one aspect of that.

John Dickie

There is a range of policy levers. It is important that the bill sets out the legislative framework that will ensure that the Scottish Government, local government, health boards and their partners use the whole range of policy levers that will be needed to achieve the ambition of eradicating child poverty. As Eddie Follan and others have said, that is about employment—improving parents’ access to the labour market and the rewards for parents in the labour market. It is also about using social security powers, particularly the new powers that are coming to the Scottish Parliament, and it is about housing and not being complacent about housing costs.

A major reason for our seeing faster progress in Scotland and having lower levels of child poverty after housing costs is that housing costs have been kept lower. However, we should not be complacent about that, because they are increasing. More and more low-income families are ending up in the private rented sector, so keeping housing costs low and affordable needs to be a key part of the delivery plans, along with access to advice and information, as we have already discussed. All those policy levers will need to be used to the maximum in order to achieve the targets, which are ambitious. There is no single one of those levers that is the only one that needs to be used.

Having said all that, there is real potential to use this bill—this expression of the commitment of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to ending child poverty—to show how those policy levers will be used in a substantive way and to ensure that resources are allocated to make progress in tackling child poverty.

The new social security powers allow us to top up reserved benefits, including child benefit. That is one area in which there is evidence of what works in tackling child poverty; there is evidence of its impact in terms of numbers. We are talking about a £5 top-up reducing child poverty by lifting 30,000 children out of poverty—that is a 14 per cent reduction in child poverty.

The Convener

Can I ask a wee supplementary? I am conscious of what the previous panel of witnesses mentioned about child poverty in particular. Would you be looking to means test for the top-up?

John Dickie

No. To follow on from the earlier discussion, there is a real issue that we have to think about. There is a difficult balance to strike between universal approaches and means-tested approaches. We have thought about this very carefully within CPAG and, with stakeholders, we have modelled the impact of topping up child benefit and the impact of topping up the child tax credit. There are strong arguments on each side of that judgment call. We reached our conclusion given the administrative ease and efficiency of child benefit, with its near 100 per cent take-up. There is also the fact that families are very often living on child benefit, even when they are struggling with means-tested benefits and are not getting the tax credits that they are entitled to. There was evidence from food banks that the only income that families still had was their child benefit because of the problems with the means-tested system.

There is also the scale of the cuts to the value of universal credit and the fact that it will be limited to the first two children alone—there are a lot of reasons that make it quite complicated and difficult to work out exactly how a Scottish Government that is topping up a UK benefit would get round those hurdles and make it an effective and efficient way of ensuring that that money reached all the low-income families that we want to reach. There are also the arguments about not wanting to create any issues as parents move into work or increase their earnings. Those issues are avoided if child benefit is paid to families both in and out of work. There is a whole bundle of reasons why a non-means-tested approach makes sense in terms of being the most straightforward, efficient, effective way of investing in low-income families.

Pauline McNeill

I want to make a comment to both of you about what I am struggling with in the evidence that I heard from the first panel and a bit of what I am hearing now, notwithstanding the policy on topping up child benefit, which I have no difficulty in supporting. I am concerned about getting bogged down in targets and reports when we scrutinise the bill at stage 2. I know that those things are important, but it seems to me that, as advisers to the Government, you have to get across that, if we are trying to achieve generational change, that has to be the purpose of the bill. I cannot support the bill in any other terms.

I am not certain how we would achieve that generational change, but I am looking for more from all the organisations that we are getting evidence from. I will be honest—I am looking for more. I am relying on organisations such as yours to guide the committee and to give us ideas about what can bring about generational change, because I do not believe that just setting targets will achieve that. That is why I support the policy of the Child Poverty Action Group, but that will not be the only one.

The line that Adam Tomkins is pursuing about the link between educational attainment and child poverty seems to me to be quite an important one. Surely if we do not have something that links the targets to Government action, we will fail in 2030.

The Convener

Does anyone want to address that?

Eddie Follan

It is absolutely the case that we need more investment, and we would completely support that, but I cannot tell you today, “This needs to happen.” However, the targets are important. The bottom line is that we need to have ambitious targets in place and we need to hold the Government to account on them. In the interim, the Government must come back to Parliament every year and we must hold it to account.

Pauline McNeill

I presume, therefore, that you support interim targets, because we cannot just wait until 2030.

Eddie Follan

We absolutely support interim targets. Earlier, I said that there were two models that we could look at: the fuel poverty legislation, which did not provide for targets, and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which provided for annual reporting and annual targets. There is merit in looking at both models.

The Convener

I want to follow up on the issue of targets. You mentioned working locally and the need for a joined-up approach. If there were a joined-up approach—I assume that this would be looked at as part of the consideration of the social security bill—that would give us evidence for the targets. I am just surmising. I will follow up on that with the next panel.

Eddie Follan

One of the issues for the end child poverty coalition is the lack of a link between the local and the national. It is very important that we get that right.

To be fair, we have a very complex planning landscape in Scotland when it comes to things such as children’s service planning and setting local outcome improvement plans through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The committee will have to consider whether there ought to be a duty on local authorities to plan ahead. Potentially, that could be done within the bill as it sits. When the local authorities report annually, they could give an indication of what they were going to do over the next year. That would not necessarily need to be scrutinised, but we need to link up the different planning systems and make sure that they link to the national targets. That is a challenge, and the guidance will help with that.

John Dickie

We support the bill, because it is not just about setting targets for 2030 and then forgetting about them. The targets do not sit in isolation. There will be a duty on the Government to produce delivery plans and to lay annual reports before Parliament. I would be interested in exploring what commitments we can get, either in the legislation or from the committee and from the Government, that there will be annual scrutiny of those reports. This committee would probably be the most relevant one to scrutinise the reports and to hold ministers, local authorities and health boards to account on the progress that was being made and the action that was being taken to move towards the targets.

There is a link between the 2030 targets—hopefully, there will be an interim, halfway target in the bill—and the five-year delivery plans and the annual reporting. All that needs to come together so that the Government is held to account. In the delivery plans, there must be clarity on the expectations, which must include the use of all the key policy levers, whether on employability, social security, childcare or housing. There ought to be concrete, practical policies in the delivery plans. If there are not, the Government must be held to account on why those are missing from the delivery plans.

Ben Macpherson

It could be suggested that the question that I am about to ask is on a nebulous point, but I think that it is an important one, so I ask the witnesses to bear with me.

Your organisations work on the ground with children and families who are affected by poverty every day of the year. We have focused a lot on the practical issue of the bill’s capacity to have an effect through budgets, through targeting and through holding the Government to account, but I want to ask about the capacity of legislation to bring about social change and to shift social consciousness in such a way that we make sure that we keep a focus on child poverty.

In reading “Child Poverty Measurement Framework—Performance at a Glance 2016”, I was struck by the fact that 40 per cent of the poorest children do not feel accepted at school by those around them. In general or specific terms, how do you see the bill’s importance to the overall journey that we in Scotland are taking to build a social security system that is based on dignity and respect? How do you see its interaction with the social security bill and the overall programme of change?

16:00  



Eddie Follan

Naomi Eisenstadt touched on that earlier when she talked about the cultural change that is needed to tackle a lot of these issues. The important point is that there is no one single aspect that we can change that will get us to the 2030 targets, but cultural change is one of the aspects that will. As I said earlier, we were genuinely relieved that the income measures that had been taken away were going to be put back into the bill. We know the impact that having no money has on the people we work with.

I am not sure that that answers your question. We can look back to additional support for learning; there are arguments around that at the moment. It used to be called “special needs”, but the legislation changed that and it became much less about people having special issues; now we think of it as being about people who need additional support. Therefore, I think that legislation has a role to play in driving cultural change and how we think about poverty in this country.

For clarification, our submission seems to suggest that there is no measurement framework. I know that the Government is reviewing it, but we would like to see particular aspects included in the measurement framework that would improve it.

John Dickie

Legislation in itself will not create the change that is needed to end child poverty. That will require a wider culture change so that there is public support for the necessary measures and pressure on the Government and Parliament to take the necessary action to end child poverty. Children are living in poverty because work is not paying their parents enough; because there are too many barriers to childcare so parents cannot increase their hours of work or get into work in the first place; because the social security system fails to provide parents with adequate financial support whether they are in or out of work; and because housing costs are leaving people without enough money to meet the other costs of bringing up a family.

We need significant policy changes in all those areas to achieve what the bill seeks to achieve. The bill is part of the process for building support within and outwith Parliament for that culture change that will create the kind of environment in which the politicians can make some of the policy and budget decisions that are necessary if we are going to have a Scotland that is free of child poverty.

Eddie Follan

I am sure that my colleagues in health who are sitting in the gallery behind me will agree that there is a growing recognition of the impact of adverse childhood experiences. A lot of work has been done in Wales, England and Scotland that shows that the life chances of someone who has four or more adverse childhood experiences will be severely affected in later life. For the children and young people we work with, those experiences could include domestic abuse, alcohol abuse and violence. Poverty is one aspect of those adverse childhood experiences and, for too many children, it is their reality. Unfortunately, with poverty comes a lot of the other things that we work with every day, such as domestic abuse, alcohol abuse and substance misuse, and we need to remember that when we are here talking about targets, legislation, interim targets and so on. The question is spot on about that.

Poverty is essentially about trauma. People are traumatised by poverty, as we recognise through our work on adverse childhood experiences. If we can build that aspect into the way we talk about poverty, and if we change the culture and public opinion in that regard, we will be doing a good job.

Ben Macpherson

I agree that no piece of legislation is a panacea, but it is widely acknowledged that the bill is an important step.

Ruth Maguire

Alison Johnstone mentioned income maximisation, and I would like to talk about that in relation to the benefits system. We are well versed on the current impact of welfare cuts. I would like to hear your reflections on the difference that it would make to poverty levels if everyone claimed everything to which they were entitled. What are the reasons behind people not claiming those benefits?

John Dickie

That is an interesting question. I have not seen any modelling that shows what the impact on poverty levels would be if everybody got every benefit to which they were entitled. The figures that we have seen from successful income maximisation initiatives such as the healthier, wealthier children project suggest that significant amounts of additional income would go into household pockets.

As the social security and income maximisation policies in Scotland and in the rest of the UK diverge, it will be important for us to be able to capture the impact as shown in the data. That brings us back to some of the challenges that Andrew Hood spoke about earlier. Will we be able to capture data on whether maximising household and family incomes from the benefits system is successful? How best can we capture that data, and how can we know whether income maximisation is contributing to progress towards meeting the overall poverty targets as well as to improving the individual lives of those children whose families now have £3,500 more each year?

What was the second part of your question?

Ruth Maguire

What are the reasons behind people not claiming benefits to which they are entitled?

John Dickie

It is complicated—there is a range of reasons. It is partly because the system gets very complicated. For example, we very much supported tax credits, which have played a huge role in improving the incomes of low-income families. However, there were complexities and problems with the administration of the system, which meant that some people gave up as they heard from their friends and neighbours about problems with overpayments and having to pay money back.

There are issues around how we can simplify access to financial support for families. That is another big argument for the value of child benefit as a key part of the overall package of financial support for families, as it has a take-up rate of 95-plus per cent, and it does not give rise to the same issues that inevitably come with means testing. I take Naomi Eisenstadt’s point that, if we try to strip away all the associated stigma, there is potential for making progress on means testing. However, the reality is that any kind of means testing—with all the form filling and complicated administration—will create issues in ensuring that money gets to all the families who need it the most.

There is an opportunity with the new social security powers and the development of the new Scottish social security agency to ensure that the agency has a function in ensuring that people are able to access devolved sources of financial support and that, when people present for a devolved benefit, they are given full information about the wider package of benefits, whether those are UK Government, Scottish Government or local authority benefits.

The Convener

Does Eddie Follan want to come in on that? We are running over time, but I said that I would give you extra time. The witnesses from the next panel are being very patient.

Eddie Follan

In response to Ruth Maguire’s second question, it is clear from our perspective that people are in crisis, and having to deal with the benefits system is an added complication that they do not need. We have worked to support families who are not getting the benefits to which they are entitled. Investment in an income maximisation service will be crucial, not least, as John Dickie said, because of the new powers. The difficulty in accessing benefits puts more pressure on families.

The same applies to the wider social security system. I am thinking, for example, of conditionality with regard to return to work and the pressure being put on parents with two-year-old children to get ready to go back to work when those children turn three. Not only does that cause a lot of distress, it leads to a fair mistrust of the benefits system, and I think that we need to follow through on the dignity and respect agenda that we have been talking about.

The Convener

I see that Ruth Maguire has another question. Is it a very small one, Ruth?

Ruth Maguire

Tiny.

The Convener

I hope so, because we are running over and people are being very patient.

Ruth Maguire

The funds for the benefits that are being devolved will be transferred at current take-up levels. Is that right, or should they be transferred according to the number of people who are eligible for them, so that the Scottish Government can work to ensure that everyone gets what they are entitled to?

Eddie Follan

I think that that is a question for John Dickie.

John Dickie

The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a benefit take-up campaign, and we must do everything possible to maximise take-up to ensure that, at the point of transfer, those budgets, too, are maximised. As the transfer of resources is likely to reflect actual spend at the point of transfer, the key thing is to ensure—and with urgency—that people take up the benefits that they are entitled to.

The Convener

Thank you very much for what, once again, has been very interesting evidence.

I suspend the meeting for five or six minutes before we move to the final panel.

16:11 Meeting suspended.  



16:17 On resuming—  



The Convener

Good afternoon. I thank everyone for their patience—everything has run on. It is such an interesting subject, and the questions and answers have been so interesting, too. If those on the third panel need any extra time, I will be happy to give it to them.

I welcome to the meeting Fiona Moss, head of health improvement and inequality, Glasgow City health and social care partnership; Sandra McDermott, head of financial inclusion and improving the cancer journey, Glasgow City Council; and Jackie Erdman, head of equalities and human rights, and Sonya Scott, consultant in public health medicine, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

I will ask the first question and then bring in other members. The panellists have sat through the whole session, so my question will be familiar to them. Why do we need this legislation? Do you want to start, Sonya?

Sonya Scott (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)

I am happy to start. There is a growing body of evidence that socioeconomic inequalities are important determinants of a range of social outcomes, with child poverty being the sharp end for a particularly vulnerable group. It is important to set out an ambition—or aspiration—to tackle that in legislation to give the issue visibility and priority, not only among the general public but, as previous contributors have said, in allocating resources to tackle it.

Jackie Erdman (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)

There is a clear social justice argument for reducing child poverty—it is an issue of fairness—so I welcome the bill.

The problem is both complex and simple. It is complex in that it covers a wide range of policy areas. The bill, I hope, presents a chance to tackle that, as the fact that so many areas are involved has been a big frustration of mine in the years in which I have worked on this agenda. Co-ordinating everyone and getting them all to work together is challenging.

As Sonya Scott said, it is also a simple issue, in that it is about access to money, resources and power, which we know underpin health inequality. On that basis, again, I welcome the bill.

Although I would also welcome efforts to tackle poverty across the whole life course, for children the issue is about having the best start in life. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has shown that the health service can have a direct impact on child poverty, and we are proud of that.

There is a clear link to our children and families work. We can give advice, and you have already heard about the healthier, wealthier children initiative—I would just say in that regard that we have raised £13 million over the past seven years. We can also give practical help, and we have a universal approach, which means that we speak to more or less all parents at some time in their children’s lives. Further, we can be advocates in relation to child poverty. Again, that comes back to the social justice dimension.

Sandra McDermott (Glasgow City Council)

I welcome the bill. I have been responsible for tackling poverty in Glasgow for the past year, which has been a real challenge. The bill fits in well with the work that we are doing in the poverty leadership panel, which involves our partners in health and others right across the board. Our vision is that Glasgow should be a world-class city in respect of both economic growth and how it tackles poverty and inequality.

When I first started in my role, one of the most shocking statistics was that 36,000 children in Glasgow were living in poverty, and your briefing probably alludes to the fact that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that it expects the figure to rise by 50 per cent by 2020. I know that you are looking at the whole of Scotland but, in Glasgow, that would mean that 54,000 children were living in poverty in the city.

If we want to make a real difference to child poverty, reach our ambitious 2030 target and reintroduce what was in the UK child poverty legislation up to 2010, I welcome the bill, because it will bring about a cohesive effort by national Government, local government, the community planning partners, the third sector, the charitable sector and, more important, people with direct experience of poverty. One of the most powerful aspects of the poverty leadership panel has been our community activist panel, which is made up of people with lived experience of poverty, who can bring to us their voice, their experience and their views about what matters and is important to them and what we need to change. Because of all of that, I welcome the bill.

Fiona Moss (Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership)

You have quite a row of us here this afternoon. I am the stream lead for child poverty for the poverty leadership panel in Glasgow city. I have been working on this agenda for a few years now, and I have found it to be an agenda that you do not have to convince people to engage with. You will not have heard from anyone this afternoon who thinks that it is a bad thing to do. Any society that accepts child poverty is a poor society. Certainly, we cannot achieve what we want to achieve in Glasgow if we do not give due attention to child poverty.

I want to touch on one area that has not been mentioned so far. Child poverty is a focus for us in Glasgow, but it plays out in different ways in the city. We have some neighbourhoods where the rate of child poverty is as low as 5 per cent and we have one neighbourhood where 48 per cent of children live in poverty—there are a number of neighbourhoods where getting close to half the children live in poverty, which is unacceptable to me, working in the public service, and to everyone on the poverty leadership panel. Therefore, we welcome the bill.

The Convener

The point about ensuring that the voice of local communities is heard is important. I note the point about various areas suffering from child poverty more than others.

It is important that health boards and social work departments work together. Do you support having very localised neighbourhood data to use in relation to the social security bill and the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill? I know that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities very much supports that, but do you? We would have not data in the round but data from neighbourhoods, which would mean that everyone would need to work together.

Sandra McDermott

Fiona Moss alluded to the fact that we cannot have a successful child poverty strategy—or antipoverty strategy for children—in the city without it being both area based and people based. As she said, there are areas of the city where almost half the children live in poverty. We have a thriving places project in Glasgow that deals with areas with high levels of multiple deprivation, according to the Scottish index of multiple deprivation. Given that we already have the SIMD, it would seem sensible to go down the path of targeting area-based poverty as well as people-based poverty for specific groups of families and children, whether they be lone parents, families with disabilities or addiction issues, or kinship carers. There is room for both a place-based approach and a people-based approach for specific families that are experiencing poverty because of their circumstances.

Jackie Erdman

If I understand the convener’s question correctly, I think that it is important for local areas to know about their own progress. One of the things that springs to mind is the inverse care law, which states that people get care in inverse proportion to their need. Given the inequality that we have in Glasgow, it is important to show that we can use our resources in different ways to target different areas.

Fiona Moss

Place means different things in different parts of Scotland, but it is fundamental to how Glasgow operates. Because of our scale, we cannot do business if we just consider ourselves as a whole city. In that sense, place is very important to us. If I was sitting here representing Shetland, with its levels of child poverty, I am not sure that the issue of place would have quite the same resonance. I guess that the question is how the place issue is worked through in legislative terms. Therefore, place is important to us, but there are groups of children that we should be concerned about as well. In our written submission, we referred explicitly to children with a disability, because we know that they have a much higher risk of being in poverty throughout their lives, with all the implications that that has. So, there are maybe areas in which it is not just about place but about groups.

Sonya Scott

I agree with everything that the others have said, but I would add a wee note of caution about the limits of data. At the very small geographical levels, we will be able to use only area-based data; we will not get survey-level data, which, as has been said, is where we get that individual perspective that is really important, as quite a significant proportion of our families living in poverty are not necessarily in our most deprived areas.

The other thing to think about is spheres of influence. Jackie Erdman made a good point about the mitigation of child poverty through a service response and ensuring that services are delivered in proportion to need. We would want to get a reasonable disaggregation of data and geographical levels for that. However, the action that we would need to take to stop poverty in the first place would be at a higher level, so the data might be sufficient to monitor those actions.

Gordon Lindhurst

Possibly all of you were present for at least part of the previous evidence sessions and have heard my question already. Could interim targets be useful as a means of checking how far we have got, part of the way through the process, and of seeing how best assumptions or approaches might be adjusted?

The Convener

Who wants to go first?

Fiona Moss

Obviously we planned that it should be me. Certainly in public services, targets influence behaviour and activity. When I have a target, I tend to be able to work on it and make change—if targets are in place, they influence what we do. In that sense, I would certainly recommend that there are interim targets. The challenge is that, with everything that is going on, we are imagining that child poverty will go up in Scotland, so ensuring that we bring the level of child poverty down at the pace that we are aiming for will be challenging. However, without targets, how will we know?

16:30  



Sandra McDermott

As part of the work of the poverty leadership panel, we are developing an action plan just now, and Fiona Moss is leading on the theme of child poverty. It is very important that we set targets that highlight what we hope not just the poverty leadership panel but a city-wide approach will achieve. We need to ask what all partners across the city can do to tackle and reduce child poverty.

There are a couple of important reasons for having targets. One is the need for a clear, agreed baseline across Scotland against which we can measure progress on what we are working towards. We need to have not only interim reports but an action plan and to demonstrate clearly how the actions that we are taking deliver against our targets and the wider aspiration of reducing poverty. Targets enable us to see whether our work is on track, year to year, so that we can modify our interventions in the action plan and are not just constantly thinking that we are never going to achieve them.

There needs to be publicity or some way of reporting on things that a local authority, national health service board or community planning partnership has done that really work and have a fantastic impact, so that we are not all chasing around, trying to reinvent the wheel, but learn from each other about what works and what has a good impact. We should all be cohesive and do what works, taking account of the different approaches for cities and for rural areas.

It would be good to have a community of practice, so that we could all work together to share good practice and share experience of initiatives that we have tried but which did not work. That would enable us to direct our scarce but valuable assets and resources to what really makes the biggest difference. Interim reporting, along with the other things that I have mentioned, is key to that.

The Convener

Does anyone else want to comment?

Sonya Scott

I have a couple of points. Interim targets are important and I endorse their use. I agree with Andrew Hood that forecasting, and looking at trajectories and whether we are on course to meet an interim target, will be important. Interim targets would give us a sense of urgency, as 2030 is still relatively far away—although, as others have said, it will come round soon enough—and having a halfway mark might mean that people put their foot to the pedal a wee bit more. All in all, such targets are definitely worth having, and I would also introduce the forecasting element.

Adam Tomkins

We have heard a lot of evidence this afternoon from people who have welcomed the bill—in fact, we have not heard from anybody, be they a member of the committee or a witness, who has criticised the bill. We have heard about a number of ways in which the bill could be strengthened or improved, so that it becomes even more effective in not merely measuring but tackling child poverty.

I have two questions. First, given that you all work on the front line in helping to address these problems, how will the bill help you, practically, to do your job better? Secondly, what would you like to see added to the bill that would help you to do your job even better than that and help your effectiveness in tackling and reducing child poverty?

Jackie Erdman

I really believe that the bill will support our work. As other colleagues have said, targets can be very motivational. If we have interim progress and local reporting, that will focus minds on tackling child poverty, and I welcome that.

The bill could take a strategic approach to meeting targets. There has been a lot of discussion about that, and other colleagues have talked about the delivery plan and the measurement framework. I welcome the approach that the bill takes in providing for discussion with local areas about how the delivery plan is formulated. We need to be clear about the areas that we should be looking at, such as education, employment, childcare, the labour market, and other aspects beyond that such as gender and ethnicity, and we need to have a dialogue about how we meet the targets.

I will not go into whether that should be handled through legislation or should be done at the next level down, but I think that we need to have that discussion. That will help things locally. Particularly in health, there are some initiatives that it would be good to link the bill to directly, such as children’s services plans, the link workers programme, the new health visitors and the getting it right for every child initiative. There is a layer of such work going on in health and it is important that we hold those approaches to account on how they are tackling child poverty.

Sandra McDermott

I agree that the bill helps us in our work. Because it is a Scottish Government bill, it gives us authority, from the highest level, which can galvanise what we are doing in our community planning partnerships, local outcome improvement planning, health and social care partnerships and the poverty leadership panel. It is helpful to be able to say that we are working towards a target to reduce poverty levels that is in legislation. The target in the bill of reducing poverty levels to 5 per cent, or 10 per cent in some areas of Glasgow, is really aspirational and gives us a galvanising impetus to corral the city’s efforts to make it happen, although the work is not without its challenges.

One thing that would enhance what is in the bill is something on the use and sharing of data. We all use data on a daily basis and, as you probably know, the data protection legislation is being enhanced so that the rules around sharing data will be even stricter. However, in Glasgow, we have seen the power of data in reducing poverty.

I will give a brief example. By comparing the data that the council held on the uptake of housing benefit and the uptake of free school uniforms, we recognised that more than 5,500 children were not taking up their entitlement to free school uniforms. We researched why that was and uncovered some of the barriers that John Dickie talked about earlier, such as the forms being too complex, concern that the offer might impact on other benefits and, for some of the people, having to fill in another form when they were already dealing with quite a number of crises in their lives. We conducted a data-match between the school roll and the housing benefit records and sent out the payment to eligible people automatically, which increased uptake by more than 90 per cent. We were able to do that because the data was all held by the council, so it did not have to be shared with anyone.

It would be useful if the bill contained a provision that—for the benefit of reducing child poverty and within the limits of the Data Protection Act 1998—encouraged health and social care partners and housing providers to share data for the power of good and to use the data sets that are available in the country and the city to improve the lives and outcomes of children.

Sonya Scott

On the first question about how the bill will help me to do my job more effectively, as a jobbing public health consultant, I see my responsibility as being to reduce premature mortality, increase healthy life expectancy, increase wellbeing and the quality of life and reduce inequalities. We can think about what we are doing to deal with the fundamental causes of reduced life expectancy and reduced healthy life expectancy in the intermediate and the immediate.

Being a broad specialty in the NHS means that you are quite often pulled downstream to focus on issues around delayed discharge and avoidable admissions. That is understandable, because that is what the chief executive is held accountable for in the annual review. Having the reduction of child poverty as a statutory responsibility would give me a lever; I could say that the law requires us to focus on the fundamental causes of ill health and health inequalities, which would help me to rebalance my care efforts.

A few things could be added to the bill to strengthen it. I was struck by a comment from either Naomi Eisenstadt or Jim McCormick about the Government having to set out the budgetary response in relation to the bill. That would be really useful because, at the end of the day, this is about putting your money where your mouth is and allocating resource.

It would also be useful to have some guidance around the other areas of legislation that relate to the fundamental causes of poverty: employment; education, particularly non-academic skills routes; childcare; affordable housing; and so on. It would be useful if we were able to link those policy elements to the bill.

Finally, on local accountability, I think community planning partnerships are not mentioned with regard to local responsibility. Our community planning partners are really aware of the broader set of actions that could reduce child poverty, so it would be useful to draw them into that reporting responsibility.

Fiona Moss

I will pick up on a couple of points that have not been brought out so far. There is a cross-policy aspect to the measures that will impact on child poverty, which needs to come through in all legislation rather than just this bill.

On community planning, all community planning partnerships have their local outcome improvement plans in place for 1 October. In Glasgow, we are active within the child poverty arena and discuss how our LOIP can impact on child poverty. Where a local area has not engaged in the child poverty agenda, I wonder whether that will come through naturally in plans.

The difference that the bill will make for me in Glasgow is probably not much, because we are already very active and engaged on this, but it might make a bigger difference in other areas that have not taken on board some of the child poverty components. When I first began to look at the child poverty agenda, I was overwhelmed by what to do, because it is quite a challenging area to impact on. However, in the past three years in Glasgow we have managed to achieve a great deal—amazing things—from a zero start. Examples include work on the cost of the school holidays, on the cost of the school day, on healthier, wealthier children, and on lone parents. Where people focus on child poverty, it makes a difference, and that is how I hope the bill will have an impact across the rest of the Scotland.

One thing that would help me would be to have a greater influence on the Department for Work and Pensions. I have requested information on how many families—not single-parent families—have been sanctioned in Glasgow, and I have not been able to get the data. At accident and emergency departments, people have arrived with what I think is a child protection issue because of DWP policy, but the DWP is not required to comply with child protection legislation here in Scotland. There is a stack of things about being able to have influence in other spheres that would really help me.

The Convener

Thank you. We might be able to help with that point about data—we will check.

Adam Tomkins

That set of answers was incredibly helpful. I do not want to push you on anything that you would feel uncomfortable with, but as legislators, we need to understand your expert professional judgment on what should be in the legislation, the guidance and the regulations. If you have views on those, please share them with us, either now or later in writing. That is precisely the contribution that we as lawmakers can make to that field. Again, thank you very much for those answers.

Pauline McNeill

I was struck by what Sandra McDermott said about the power of data with regard to entitlement to free school uniforms and the point that many people do not apply for additional support simply because, if your life is in crisis, all you are doing is coping with things. We have to find those people.

I have two questions. I am interested in the practicalities on the ground, but I need to get some flesh on the bones. In that respect, I thought that Fiona Moss’s example involving the DWP was stunning. If you could have only one measure in the delivery plan, what would it be? Many years ago, the children’s commissioner talked about every child in every family having access to, say, a health visitor or someone who would be a support for that family. For example, in many families, children do not get the grades because their parents cannot provide the assistance with their homework that they require. It could be anything like that, but that struck me as a very practical measure that could help families and children.

My second question relates to the previous—and important—point about not just categorising areas as areas of deprivation, but trying to reach individuals who are also in poverty but who do not live in deprived areas.

16:45  



Sandra McDermott

There are a couple of issues, the first of which is the use of the Scottish Government’s devolved welfare reform powers, as has been mentioned. The recent benefit cap change throughout Scotland was implemented from 23 January, with some results in Glasgow. The change reduces the amount of benefit for families, lone parents or couples with or without children to £13,400 for single people or £20,000 for a family. Some 730 families in Glasgow have been affected, and 90 per cent of those families have children, which equates to just over 2,173 children. Therefore, children are obviously affected disproportionately by the cap.

We can look at that from Jackie Erdman’s point of view and consider the human rights aspects. The UK Supreme Court, for example, has said that the benefit cap denies children the protection defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the fact is that such sweeping policies have fundamentally and completely changed families’ income levels by up to around £400 a month.

Obviously, we have tried to take a co-ordinated approach in order to support those 730 families. For instance, our health and social care partnership has visited every single one affected to see what else we can do for them. Using our discretionary housing payment budget to mitigate the impacts would cost £2 million in Glasgow, which we obviously do not have. The impacts of the benefit cap throughout Scotland are huge and should be looked at urgently to find out how they can be mitigated, especially where children and families are involved, and how the situation might be changed.

The other issue is the erosion of working tax credits, child tax credits and child benefit—as John Dickie has already explained that issue articulately, I will not cover it again—and whether there is any provision at all in the bill to allow us to increase child benefit and stop the erosion of working tax credits and child tax credits if we really believe that families, including working families, are affected by poverty. In Glasgow, more than 61 per cent of the affected families that have children in poverty are in work. How do we address that? We can do so through addressing the uptake of welfare benefits, and national and local government can make a really concerted effort to ensure that everybody gets what they are entitled to, whether that is healthy start vouchers, welfare benefits, working tax credits, child tax credits or the sort of access that I have already mentioned. We need to share the data exercise that we carried out to ensure that everybody gets their free school uniform, their free school meals, access to leisure activities and all the free things that other local authorities and board areas can provide. Targeting holistic support at families in the first year would be a huge step forward.

Jackie Erdman

The bit in the bill that I would like to strengthen is, as we mentioned in our original submission, the gender dimension of child poverty. We have looked at that issue for years in the context of tackling child poverty locally, particularly the situation of lone parents. As Fiona Moss has said, we have recently done a lot of research on the impact of welfare reform on lone parents and what we can do practically in local areas to meet their needs.

The group most affected by welfare reform are working-age lone parents, who are losing about £2,500 a year. However, that is the result of a perfect storm of inequality in the labour market, the childcare difficulties that lone parents face and the fact that jobs are not flexible. I would therefore like the bill to have an impact on that area and address it in a focused way. We have done a lot of research on this, and we can share some practical approaches with the committee.

The Convener

It would be wonderful if you could send us your research. I look forward to seeing it.

Fiona Moss

To be honest, we could throw issues at you all afternoon, but I would focus on disability living allowance for children. Through the healthier, wealthier children service, we have come across a number of families who have not been claiming DLA for their children even though they are entitled to it. We as a health service know when children have a disability and we work with them, but there must be an easier way for families to get DLA than the current system.

Sonya Scott

I would love to see a basic income guarantee, although I am not sure whether that is possible under the devolved powers—that is probably more the committee’s area of expertise than mine. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that a basic income guarantee, which I am a big enthusiast for, would provide redress in a raft of problems, including both absolute and relative poverty as well as underemployment. Another aspect that would undoubtedly have a big impact on child poverty is affordable, flexible childcare.

I endorse the points that my colleagues have made, particularly Sandra McDermott’s comment about automating benefits, where that is possible. A general practitioner colleague of mine in Drumchapel talks about the collusion of exclusion; by that, I mean that we are quite happy to tolerate levels of non-access, which is where people who are eligible for benefits do not claim them. We need to go the extra mile to provide a link between eligibility and access, where we can.

The Convener

Thank you. Do any members want to come back in?

Pauline McNeill

I just want to thank the witnesses for their wonderful evidence. However, you talk about areas of deprivation, but we know from the data that there are minority groups of deprived people in areas that are not deprived. How do we tackle the issue of individuals who live in poverty in areas that are not being targeted?

Jackie Erdman

The healthier, wealthier children service shows the benefit of tackling child poverty through mainstream health services, because people are in contact with their midwives and their health visitors. We call it inequality-sensitive practice, because it is about looking at the social circumstances of the person who comes to a health professional for whatever kind of health appointment. That is where we have been able to develop pathways into mainstream financial inclusion support. We therefore have a lot of approaches on the ground; the committee has heard some good examples, which, if rolled out nationally, would allow us to start to tackle child poverty in an incremental way.

Sonya Scott

I wonder whether I can tack on to my previous response the issue of income maximisation. The committee has asked about the healthier, wealthier children service; I should point out that the Royal hospital for children in Glasgow, too, has a financial improvement programme, but it is currently under threat because it is partly funded by the third sector and one of the funding partners is no longer able to commit to it. The programme has, on average, raised £4,000 per year for each family who has come into contact with it. Some of my senior management colleagues in the health service would say that that is a DWP responsibility, but it would be good if whoever was responsible for income maximisation could link it in some way with our universal services, as it would have a big impact.

On Pauline McNeill’s question about how we reach deprived individuals who do not necessarily live in deprived areas, proportionate universalism might be the solution, and it would also be an answer to the dichotomy between targeting and universalism. For me, proportionate universalism would overcome that dichotomy, if we could get it right. In the old system of health visiting, we had core, additional and intensive approaches, which was a good example of a proportionate universal service.

Fiona Moss

One of the unique things about the healthier, wealthier children service is that we sell it to parents by saying that having a child affects your pocket. In other words, we do not sell it on the basis that people who are in poverty might value the service. However, over 70 per cent of the families who have used the service are actually in extreme poverty. Therefore, having a more universal service does not necessarily mean that we cannot reach the people whom we need to reach. We are conscious that people often make personal decisions to exclude themselves from services if they give them a label that does not actually help them or make them feel any better about their circumstances. The ability to support people without making them feel any worse is fundamental to our approach.

The Convener

Ben Macpherson has a supplementary question, and then Alison Johnstone wants to come in.

Ben Macpherson

I actually have a couple of supplementaries, convener. First, I wonder whether Sonya Scott can elaborate on the difference she thinks that free childcare makes to addressing child poverty.

Sonya Scott

As we know, childcare is one of the biggest costs facing families and lone parents in particular. I am not sure about the affordability of free childcare, but it seems from face validity that affordable and flexible childcare would have a significant impact. Perhaps others have statistics to hand that they could quote, but I think that that would have an immediate impact on child poverty.

Fiona Moss

In our work with families in the north of Glasgow on the cost of the school holidays, we found that childcare provision was a major issue, and cost was fundamental. More childcare was available than was being used, but people could not afford to use it. However, the issue is about not just cost but flexibility and timings. Another issue that came through very strongly was that the childcare options for children with additional needs are extremely limited.

Sonya Scott

There is a link with people in insecure employment and on zero-hours contracts, and something that came out strongly in the work on the cost of the school holidays was that flexible and free childcare would overcome issues for such people. We hear stories about people losing employment, because the insecurity and unpredictability of their work patterns mean that they cannot access childcare easily.

Ben Macpherson

Thank you both for that.

Sandra McDermott brought up the issue of the benefits cap. In your experience over recent years, have any other elements of UK Government welfare reform had a detrimental impact on efforts to tackle child poverty?

Sandra McDermott

That would apply to most of the welfare reform changes that have been made, whether it is the freeze on benefits up to 2020, the changes to the tax credits system, the current benefit cap, the previous benefit caps or the bedroom tax. Clearly, no welfare reform changes have benefited people in poverty; indeed, in Glasgow alone, the impacts of welfare reform have resulted in £348 million a year being taken out of the Glasgow economy. Really, that has been taken out of the pockets of our most vulnerable people in the city, including families with children in poverty, lone parents and people who are striving to get back into the workplace. They are completely affected by those changes. I could go through most of the welfare reform changes and show that there is a complete impact and a cause and effect. In 2012, there was one food bank in Glasgow; as a result of welfare reform and potentially other things that have happened in Glasgow, we now have more than 70. There is to my mind an absolutely unquestionable cause and effect relating to the UK Government’s welfare reform changes and their impact on levels of poverty in the city.

The Convener

Does anyone else want to come in on that?

Fiona Moss

We have some evidence of that. Every three years, we carry out an adult health and wellbeing survey in Glasgow city. The last time we did it, we asked people whether they had been affected by or had benefited from welfare reform, and in some neighbourhoods, not one single person indicated that they had benefited. Overall, I think that about 90 per cent said that their income had reduced as a consequence—I can check the figure for you if you are interested.

Ben Macpherson

Thank you.

17:00  



Alison Johnstone

I thank the witnesses for their compelling and helpful evidence. My understanding of the impacts of the reforms is that they are quite gendered and, in particular, have had a dreadful impact on women and children.

Sonya Scott spoke about the gap between eligibility and access, and we have taken evidence from welfare rights organisations who have spoken about some people’s difficulties in that regard. With universal credit, the digital by default assumption makes the process impossible for some people. We have heard of Citizens Advice Scotland advisers spending their time setting up email accounts for people and teaching them how to use IT. What scope is there in the bill to ensure that people have the right to access?

Those involved in the healthier, wealthier children work are trusted by most people; you would let them in your front door and trust them to help you. Are there any innovative solutions to the access issue? Are we using schools as widely as we might? I know that stigma, too, is an issue. Indeed, I remember how, when I was at school, some people who were entitled to free school meals would not take them up because they had to stand in a separate queue. We are more empathetic and sensible now, and we have taken steps in the right direction in that respect, but do you have any solutions to how we make access something that people can obtain without feeling stigmatised?

Sandra McDermott

One approach that we have developed in Glasgow involves our library service, because libraries are seen as safe and trusted environments. With Scottish Government support, we have set up a digital inclusion service in Glasgow’s 33 community libraries, and the library staff have been trained to support people in that respect. We have also recruited volunteers called digital buddies who go into that safe environment and, in a completely non-judgmental way, help people fill in forms, set up email accounts, help people apply for houses and jobs online and help them through their claimant commitment to ensure that they are not sanctioned. Moreover, through our financial inclusion work, people have direct access to wider financial inclusion support such as debt and money advice, where that is required, and financial capability.

Libraries are unique and trusted resources in most communities in most towns and cities, and people feel safe there. Most if not all have digital access through the Openreach programme, and the fact that it is available in that safe environment has made a huge difference. In fact, we have built on that premise by putting our housing benefit and council tax benefit practitioners into local libraries, and we have also included our citizens advice bureaux partners to ensure that, within the library setting, people are able to receive immediate debt and money advice, help to prevent homelessness and access to wider benefits. Allowing libraries to explore their role as community anchors and to provide that wider support is an approach that has really been welcomed, and the use of volunteers has added a really interesting dimension, too.

Jackie Erdman

I have not yet mentioned the work of GPs at the deep end in Glasgow, which is all about providing advice where people actually are and making access easy. There are not only people based in GP surgeries who can give welfare rights advice, but people who are able to access records in order to help with writing appeals letters and so on. That approach, which has been very successful, leaves the GPs to do their primary job of caring for people’s health. I think that a very good example in Possilpark has been written up, and it might be of interest to the committee.

Sonya Scott

I just want to fly the flag for automation again. Sandra McDermott highlighted the very good example of using existing data sets to check eligibility and put the money straight into credit union accounts or whatever, so that people did not have to feel stigmatised or face literacy difficulties in filling out forms. We are all quite well educated people, but when I recently looked at a healthy start form, I lost the will to live just pulling it up. I found it difficult to find and click on the link, and the form itself was quite big and complex. Where we can automate things—and I think that we can do so with a lot of existing data sets—we should do so and give the money directly to people.

From a child poverty perspective, schools are particularly good as community anchors. In Govan, Hill’s Trust primary school, which, I am sad to say, no longer exists, was quite innovative in, for example, having a full-time community development worker. My understanding is that she did a lot of work helping people complete benefits applications and helping with the IT side of things. You need human resource as well as the facilities, but automation seems to obviate the need for any of that.

The Convener

Unfortunately, at this point, I must close the meeting. I thank the witnesses for their evidence and answering our questions. We are now moving into private session, but I should remind people of our public round-table discussion at half past 5. The committee might well want a wee cup of coffee before we get on with that.

17:05 Meeting continued in private until 17:15.  



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Second meeting transcript

The Deputy Convener

Agenda item 2, which is the main item of business, concerns the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. This is the second of the committee’s formal evidence sessions on the bill, and we have two panels of witnesses. I thank all the witnesses for their attendance and their written submissions, which have been very helpful.

I formally welcome the first panel. Peter Allan is the community planning manager for Dundee City Council; Professor Andrew Russell is the medical director and deputy chief executive of NHS Tayside; Robert McGregor is the policy manager for Fife Council; and Dr Margaret Hannah is the director of public health in NHS Fife. It is a powerful panel, and I thank you all for coming along.

Why do you think that child poverty legislation is needed? Or do you think that it is not needed? Any one of you can kick off.

Dr Margaret Hannah (NHS Fife)

The legislation is welcome, partly because it focuses minds on a difficult issue that has ramifications throughout society. With the dropping of the target from the United Kingdom Government’s agenda, it feels appropriate that we are doing something in Scotland to address the issue. As a nation, we want to do something about it and feel very committed to addressing child poverty in the round. I am supportive of the idea.

Professor Andrew Russell (NHS Tayside)

Before I took up my current role, I was a general practitioner for nearly 20 years in some of the poorest parts of Dundee. I therefore understand the importance and significance of the legislation, and I recognise that, in the absence of the type of structure that the bill describes, we have had years of aspiration but limited evidence of delivery. The opportunity to see targets in the way that you describe gets us into a different territory around delivery, and I am personally very supportive of that.

Peter Allan (Dundee City Council)

If we are genuinely committed to reducing inequalities in the country, we must address child poverty as a fundamental question of social justice. Some people may misguidedly believe that people choose poverty or that their poverty is their own fault, but no one ever suggests that children who are born into poverty made a choice to live in poverty. That gives us a platform that everyone will support.

The other reason is that it gives us a chance to have a commitment that is not only positive but sustainable. Often, policy priorities come and go, but child poverty is not something that anyone would ever be willing to accept.

Robert McGregor (Fife Council)

It is an area that most local authorities and their partners have been working on for a number of years, but perhaps not all to the same extent. Anything that raises the profile of child poverty so that it becomes a “must do” rather than a “good to do” is a good thing.

The Deputy Convener

Thank you. That is very helpful in setting the scene. I will now call on members to ask questions. Witnesses should not feel that they have to answer every question, but if they wish to answer they should indicate to me.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Thank you for being here and for your written evidence. It was particularly helpful to see spelled out a number of the things that your partnerships are doing to tackle poverty. I want to explore a little bit how the bill will help with that and will not just add extra reporting or extra work that will not actually deliver results for the people that we are trying to help.

Peter Allan

I do not know whether there will be specific questions about the shape of the reports, and the contents or the value of them, but would that be a reasonable place to start?

Ruth Maguire

Yes, that would be helpful.

Peter Allan

The reports are interesting, in that everybody is going to have a story to tell about what they are doing about child poverty. I hope that, in developing local outcome improvement plans, the relevant people across the country would explicitly make a commitment to that and say what they are going to do. I am not absolutely confident that that would be the case, so, with any luck, the bill will reinforce the need for that.

On reporting, there are a few interesting questions to ask. There is the “So what?” question: “There is an annual report on child poverty from the Scottish Government or from Dundee City Council and its local partners—so what?” Another question is whether we know what “good enough” looks like in relation to local delivery on child poverty. Further, who will tell us what the report should include and whether it is good enough? We could have a report in which performance against all the long-term targets is going down even though we have done incredible things; or, vice versa, we could have a report in which performance against those targets is going up even though we have done nothing very much about them.

The issue and the factors that contribute to change are so complex that properly reporting on reasonable progress will be really hard. However, it is crucial that organisations are held to account to demonstrate the specific action that they are taking to reduce child poverty. There probably needs to be more of a discussion about what targets would look like and how we would frame positive local short-term action. If you want, we can talk a bit more about that later.

Professor Russell

From a health perspective, targets are always a challenge because there is a fine line between something that is a reasonable aspiration and something that is unachievable. We need to ensure that we frame targets within the context of the things that people should be doing anyway and use measures of things that people and systems are doing anyway.

The opportunity to produce integrated children’s service plans is emerging across Scotland. We could see some of the outcome measures that might be described within the bill as being legitimate and quite useful ways of measuring improvement within the context of those integrated children’s service plans. To pick up on Peter Allan’s point, it is important that we do not get into a model that reports solely for the purpose of reporting.

Robert McGregor

To pick up on that, one of the risks around what I see written in the bill is that it appears as though we are being asked simply to report activity. If that is the case, there is a risk that we will just continue to do what we are doing and what we have always done around all that. It is not absolutely clear to me what we are being asked to do over and above what we currently do, or whether the bill, when enacted, will eventually provide a great deal of scrutiny and support around sharing learning and so on.

Dr Hannah

The other thing is that, in order to make sense of the actions that we are all taking locally, everything needs to be joined up. Our work is not just between the national health service and the council; it involves a wider partnership effort to address poverty in the round. Of course there are specifics around children and families, but if we are called to account on only one specific target, there is a risk that we will not address the issues as effectively as we could.

Part of the challenge is conceptual. A target can be something that you aim for—the bull’s-eye to the arrow—but it can also be an attractor to mobilise effort towards a goal. I think that that is what this target is about because we all want to mobilise societal efforts to address poverty for children and families and, if we see it in that light, it will have more meaning for us at the local level.

Ruth Maguire

I am interested in hearing how you are currently measuring the outcomes of the work that you are doing on poverty, specifically around children and families. You have detailed quite a lot of work in your submissions so it would be good to hear about outcomes.

Dr Hannah

I will comment on some of the health statistics. Stillbirth, low birth weight, infant mortality and maternal mortality all have a strong social gradient and we are keeping a close eye on that and are considering what mitigating factors we can introduce.

Peter Allan

If you view the outcomes in terms of the long-term income and poverty targets, we have very little to show us what marginal incremental change we are achieving each year. I think that it is more important to have some kind of logical approach where we can work back from the long-term outcomes and ask, “Reasonably, what actions can we take now that would have the biggest impact over the longer term?” and set really stretching targets around those. It might be the number of kids who are getting their uniform grant, the level of income maximisation, or the number of people who are being supported to do social prescribing.

We need to have a range of practical measures and put all our efforts into doing as much as possible on those, on the basis that everyone would have faith that those were the right things to do to achieve support over the long term. In Dundee, we are focusing less on the long-term outcome that is really hard to reach and more on what we can do this year and next year. We need to demonstrate a logical connection between what we are doing and the long-term outcome and then put all our efforts into making the short-term stuff happen and doing that really well.

Robert McGregor

One of the interesting things for me is that both Dundee and Fife have recently had fairness commissions, and one of the challenges that came from the work of those commissions concerned outcomes, measures and targets. Certainly, from a Fife perspective, we are therefore looking to refresh our approaches to how we measure success in light of the challenges that came from those commissions. The work of the commissions will be heavily reflected in local outcome improvement plans. If any legislation comes through on child poverty, we will also need to consider how to reflect that within those plans.

Ruth Maguire

Thank you.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Our job as a committee is to focus our scrutiny on the bill as introduced and to think about ways in which it might be improved. I want to ask a range of questions with that task in mind.

The four income-related targets are the centrepiece of the bill. It is notable that the targets are all income related. My first question to panel members is whether it is sufficient—we probably agree that it is necessary—to measure child poverty by reference to income alone.

09:45  



Peter Allan

When we discuss this in Dundee, we always say that it is not all about money, but it is definitely about money. One phrase that drives me crazy is “worse than income poverty is poverty of aspiration”. No. The poverty of having no money and sending your bairns to bed cold with nae food—that is poverty.

Whatever else the approach is about, it has to be about the money, but we know that the issue is not just about money. That is my quick answer.

Professor Russell

I tend to agree. Understanding the way in which the statutory sector targets its resources as a consequence of that approach is an element that needs to be captured somewhere.

Adam Tomkins

Do other members of the panel want to answer that question before we move on?

Dr Hannah

A potential addition to the process could be an inequality measure such as the Gini coefficient, which could be used to look at the distribution of income across all income groups in society, rather than targeting the measurement only on levels of poverty in childhood. A lot of evidence suggests that social gradients contribute to such outcomes as poor health.

Questions of wealth and debt can also leave people disabled with regard to their income. It is not just that their income is inadequate; they feel really stuck, and that can have huge consequences, particularly for mental health.

Peter Allan

When measuring income, we tend to talk about the lives of parents, because the income comes from them. That is crucial: if we want to change income, we must focus on families and parents. However, those targets do not say a lot about the experience of the child, and what the child’s life is like. We make presumptions about the child’s life based on the possibility that there might not be a lot of money in the house, but it would be a positive step if we had progress targets that measure improvement in the lives of children who experience poverty.

Robert McGregor

I agree with Peter Allan that we need to be clear about what outcomes we want for our children, particularly those from low-income families. We presumably want them to be safe and healthy and to be able to aspire towards their potential. How do we put in place measures and targets that relate to all of that? Income targets are essential, but as part of a wider dashboard.

Adam Tomkins

Let me give examples of the sorts of things that some of us have considered adding to the bill, which we discussed with the last panel of witnesses in our first stage 1 session, which took place just before the Easter recess. John Dickie of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland was enthusiastically in favour of my proposition that the bill should include the attainment gap in education as a measure of child poverty, and a requirement to take steps to reduce it.

Given that John Dickie is in favour of that, what does this panel think about such a measure being included in the bill? We know that there is a relationship between educational under-performance, educational attainment gaps and child poverty. There are also relationships between child poverty and wealth, debt and health, as Dr Hannah said. The question is whether a statutory duty specifically requiring ministers to take steps to close the attainment gap should be added to a bill that is focused on trying to reduce and eventually eliminate child poverty in Scotland.

Peter Allan

I do not know whether it should be added to the bill, but I described earlier the logic modelling that we do, with which we think about what the biggest contributory factors are and how we can take early action to change them. Attainment issues will be one of those factors. Strong targets associated with those would be more meaningful than waiting for five or 10 years to see whether the income measures have changed.

That approach helps us with making policy choices. When John McKendrick spoke to our fairness commission in Dundee, he said that difficult choices might have to be made in tackling poverty and that we might not be able to do everything for everyone. We believed that attainment was one of the biggest priorities, and our fairness commission recommended that, rather than improving attainment for everyone in the city of Dundee, we should close the gap by improving the performance of the kids who are getting the poorest results. That is a different strategic approach. It is difficult to argue across the population that we will focus help on the people who need it more, rather than do everything for everyone.

Dr Hannah

Peter Allan makes a good point.

For me, the target of addressing child poverty is an indicative target to mobilise us as a country towards something more ambitious on what is an intractable or difficult challenge. The challenge has many dimensions: educational attainment is one and health is another, and a third dimension is ambition for children living in poverty and the availability of opportunity for them in their surroundings. How much can we achieve on reducing food deserts and improving the green environment and play spaces for children? To my mind, those elements are all part of the target. I have a broad view of it.

I am not sure about including additional targets in the bill, however. The devil will be in the guidance and in how we report on our progress. For example, we will need to think carefully about the impact of housing. We have a very big housing programme under way in Scotland, which will make a difference to child poverty because it will maintain or peg housing costs, which are an important part of household costs. One of the reasons why Scotland has lower levels of child poverty compared with those in the rest of the UK is that housing costs are relatively low here. The housing programme is a huge contribution to achieving the target. I feel that the issue is the motivation and the spirit of the bill, if you like, rather than the specifics.

Adam Tomkins

That is helpful. I have a quick follow-up question before other members come in. The written submission from the Fife partnership says that you believe that the bill provides a good opportunity

“to use rich data and evidence—much of it held locally—to consider new approaches, reconsider targeting and how we can do much more work on early intervention to prevent child poverty and to break cycles.”

That is an interesting contribution. What in the bill will enable us as a country to do that? If the bill does not do enough to enable us to do that, what should we add to it to ensure that the ambition is realised?

Robert McGregor

I am not absolutely sure whether that issue needs to be written in the bill, but it would be helpful if there was reference to it in the guidance. Quite often, the devil is in the guidance rather than the bill. We were referring to the point that, through the administrative data that we hold on many different things, we understand a lot about families and children, but we do not as yet make enough of that kind of information or consider how we join everything up between the various partners.

I can give some examples of that, although this might be leaning too much on the deficit side of things. We know who accesses things such as crisis grants, who applies for discretionary housing payments, who seeks debt crisis support and who uses food banks. We actually know a great deal about the families in our areas, but we need to do much more to develop understanding of their circumstances and characteristics, to enable us to target the action that is needed to reduce child poverty.

Professor Russell

The health service has a long history of using data to reflect on past harm, and it is moving in various parts internationally and across Scotland and the United Kingdom into the territory of using those data to anticipate future harm. There is an opportunity through the alignment of health and social care to bring the local authority and other partners into that conversation and into the discipline around the way in which we collectively use data, and we can see real opportunities against the background of that agenda.

Dr Hannah

One of the fairer Fife commission’s recommendations was to take that opportunity and use it in a much more co-ordinated way.

There is a wider comment to make, which echoes partly what Peter Allan said earlier. Michael Marmot has written widely about the whole agenda and has talked about proportionate universalism. The idea that we have universalism in our public provision, but that a proportionate element of that is necessary to reduce the gradient across society might be quite a helpful way of seeing how we can address the issues together.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

Good morning. The Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, has talked about a human rights-based approach in the area. The committee has received a number of submissions on the bill as drafted, including from the Law Society of Scotland, which said that laying annual progress reports before Parliament would

“encourage progress, scrutiny and oversight however, we are concerned that these measures alone will not secure the success of the Bill’s aims. It is unclear to us what the consequences, if any, would be if the targets are not met. We question whether the Bill, in its current form, is justiciable and are concerned that it could prove largely unenforceable and therefore ineffective.”

In using the word “justiciable”, one is probably considering the question of an individual’s rights to enforce anything before the courts, which is what one would normally understand human rights to be in effective form or in respect of an individual’s situation. Will members of the panel comment on that?

Peter Allan

We have not considered the matter specifically from a human rights perspective. My reading of the bill is that it is a good-faith thing and that the Government will expect local authorities, their partners and the other bodies to act in good faith to reduce child poverty. However, I have not looked into that matter in more detail than that. I am sorry.

Professor Russell

I have a similar view. My expectation is that the bill will be something that is perceived to be facilitative and supportive. There is always an anxiety that we will get into the territory of sanction in anything that we put in statute. Experience of the sanction-based model in other areas is that we do not get into sustainable solutions with that. We quite often get into models of temporary improvement that seek to offset the potential of a sanction, but we do not get into the territory of sustainability. The bill presents the opportunity to take us into sustainable solutions.

Robert McGregor

I agree with that position.

Peter Allan

There are two issues that we might want to separate: one is human rights and whether the bill is justiciable; the other is the level of scrutiny and who would scrutinise the reports, which is absolutely crucial. In previous sessions, members have asked about the role of the ministerial advisory group. Scrutiny might be a role for such a body. Who will look at all the reports that are produced, the delivery plan for the Government, or the local plan and say whether they are doing enough: going far enough and fast enough to seriously reduce inequality? I would be interested to know what that would be based on.

10:00  



The notion of a broader outcome framework for child poverty might be helpful. I know that you are thinking about a range of measures as well as the income target.

I can suggest a good starting point. In Dundee, we based some work on NHS Health Scotland’s mental health outcome framework, and we adapted that to deal with issues around fairness and poverty. That has started to form a broader picture of the causes and consequences of poverty, and we may be able to use that as the basis for better scrutiny.

Gordon Lindhurst

The Law Society’s concern was probably about lack of accountability. Of course, scrutiny can be done through the courts, particularly when it comes to human rights issues. As you say, a bill may or may not have a particular purpose. If I understand what you are saying correctly, you do not necessarily view the lack of any individual rights-based approach in the bill to be a difficulty.

Scrutiny can be done through other means, however, not just through the courts. For example, Inclusion Scotland and the Poverty Alliance have called for the bill to include additional reporting provisions. That would entail that reports are not just laid before the Scottish Parliament but require parliamentary approval, and that reports laid before the Parliament should be scrutinised by the Parliament prior to official publication.

If the panel does not think that it is necessary to have provisions that provide an opportunity for scrutiny through the courts in relation to human rights, which is the normal manner in which human rights are enforced, do you think that the other propositions, which are more parliamentary-scrutiny based, would be a good idea? Would that make up for the lack of the other possibility of scrutiny?

Dr Hannah

It goes to the heart of the purpose of the bill whether it takes that rights-based approach to individuals and their circumstances, which would therefore result in matters being taken through the courts and being addressed through that process, or whether it is about our collective ambition as a nation to articulate an aspiration, for which we—or rather, the Government—is prepared to accept responsibility.

I see a parallel with the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. In many ways, addressing child poverty is as complex as addressing climate change. The measures are there to support a process and an endeavour across society to address something that, if we did not have the legislation in place, we would probably put further down the list of priorities.

I am not convinced that we are talking about an individual human rights approach for the bill. I do not think that that is its purpose.

Gordon Lindhurst

That was on the first aspect—the first question—but the second question is about the other possibility of scrutiny: having parliamentary scrutiny. Would that be appropriate, given that we are possibly talking more about a societal responsibility approach?

Dr Hannah

We need a reckoning against which to judge our progress, and that reckoning needs to happen at the level of the Government, I think. The best way forward would probably be through Parliament scrutinising the Government’s collective effort in this regard.

Robert McGregor

My understanding from a reading of the bill is that local authorities and health boards would be required to report actions retrospectively. That is quite interesting when it comes to seeking approval or otherwise, because we would be saying what we have done in the past year. That does not tally well with an approval approach.

I can understand the point about the delivery plans and the responsibility that will sit with ministers—that is a different proposition. At present, however, it would not be helpful on the local authority and health board responsibility side of things.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

We spoke earlier about the attainment gap. It is interesting that Barnardo’s Scotland stated recently:

“It is natural that so much of the debate around the attainment gap focuses on what happens inside our classrooms. However, what happens before and beyond the school gates can be even more important in ensuring every child has every chance to learn.”

For that reason, I would like to bring the discussion back to income, although I appreciate the holistic nature of the issue, which Dr Margaret Hannah spoke about.

In that context, I am interested in Robert McGregor’s answer to question 2. The final paragraph of the Fife partnership submission states:

“It is ... important to recognise that ... many of the factors and levers to impact on poverty are at UK or international level so income targets set for Scotland have to be caveated.”

I will be interested to hear your thoughts if you want to expand on that. I am also interested in your comment that

“It should be explicit that it is not only public agencies that have leverage on income and others should be drawn into the wider partnership discussion—initiatives such as the Living Wage campaign, drawing in business, are key to this.”

I would be interested to hear the panel’s thoughts on that pertinent point about how income is distributed widely in the economy.

Robert McGregor

On the point about business and the living wage, I emphasise that we need a partnership response rather than just a health board or a council response. In Fife, we are keen not just to work with the usual partners but to expand the set of partners that we have at community planning level. That is one of the challenges that came from our commission on fairness. Even if people do partnership work well, there is plenty of scope to expand, do more and bring in other players who hold some of the levers as part of a new strategic partnership to tackle inequalities and poverty.

Ben Macpherson

In that mode of thinking, will the bill create useful leadership, initiative, direction and focus—the things that Dr Margaret Hannah picked up on at the beginning of our discussion—in order to create those wider relationships and help to build the networks to tackle the issue in an holistic way across our economy and society?

Robert McGregor

It depends on the way the bill is finally written. If it makes specific reference to the contributions of wider partnerships—as long as it is explicit about the additional responsibilities and who can play a part—that will be helpful.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

The bill proposes targets and measures, but it does not go into detail about how those targets can best be achieved. Does the panel think that the bill could give more direction on that front?

Peter Allan

As I said earlier, a logic model or an outcomes framework would be really helpful. If we can agree on what the major causes of child poverty are and what effective action can be taken to address them, we will be able to have targets associated with those actions. That would give us a range of short-term, intermediate and long-term outcomes and measures, which would help.

Professor Russell

From a health perspective, we are always thoughtful about how we use measures of improvement and bring that philosophy of improvement into what we do. There is something helpful about having a focused target and guidance that supports the delivery of improvement measures against the background of an evidence base for what we can achieve, so the way in which we produce guidance to support the bill might deal with some of the areas that you highlight.

Robert McGregor

There is a good and improving understanding of what programmes and project interventions work in Scotland, but we need to do much more to share learning on that and ensure that those who are less active on the agenda can pick up positively on what works. That should be part of the initial focus.

Dr Hannah

I echo what Robert McGregor said. I read the comments from Dundee and was interested to learn what people are doing there in response to the Dundee fairness commission. There is a lot of commonality across our areas and Dundee is just across the river from Fife, but we do not necessarily get a chance to learn much about the detail of what even a neighbouring local authority is doing. If we can find better ways to learn together about what works for us, we will be able to accelerate the pace at which we address the challenge.

Alison Johnstone

How confident is the panel that the data that we have is robust and accurate enough? Are you confident that we are measuring child poverty accurately?

Professor Russell

Dr Hannah is better placed than I am to offer a view on that but, from a public health perspective, I think that we are measuring the right things. However, I am not sure that we are as sophisticated as we could and should be in our ability to understand the impact of some of the interventions that we can collectively offer.

In Tayside, we have embraced the integrated children’s services plan with our local authority partners, the police and the voluntary sector in a way that will help us to define a different suite of measures against the background of our children’s services provision, a subset of whichh will focus on poverty. I do not think that we are there yet, but the focus that the bill will bring will give people an opportunity to describe the problem in a slightly different way.

Peter Allan

The more information that is available at local authority or individual data zone level, the better, especially if the Parliament wants us to be able to chart progress in local areas. There is a need to improve the Scottish index of multiple deprivation because, as terrific as it is—it is really helpful—the information on some of the factors in it tends to lag behind quite a bit. We use the SIMD so much that the better it is, the more influential it will be.

I firmly believe that it is not the data that is preventing us from doing something about child poverty. Everyone knows what the issue is and what the factors are, and everyone knows that we should be doing something about it. It would be tragic if we waited for a better statistic to come along and tell us what we should be doing. The issue is not a lack of data, although data helps us to measure progress.

Dr Hannah

Alison Johnstone asked about the accuracy of the data. The data that we have are pretty good—they have gone through an in-depth methodology. We are just using what was previously done with the UK Government’s methodology. I can assure the committee on that. We are dealing with very big numbers, so the likelihood of variation is real rather than apparent.

I have welcomed the addressing of the issue in addition to SIMD. We have become almost habituated to SIMD, so our thinking is about clusters, with an area-based approach. What is proposed is a slightly different way of representing our challenge, which I think gives us a bit more ambition to make a difference to families’ lives. Robert McGregor’s point that we could use our local data to make an impact is important as well. It is not just about the target that is set; it is also about what we will do locally, using an intelligence-led approach, to address the challenge.

Alison Johnstone

May I ask—

The Deputy Convener

No. I am sorry, but we do not have time.

George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

It is lucky that my question follows on from Alison Johnstone’s line of questioning—that has worked out for us.

I am a former councillor, and I have heard all the talk about sharing information and doing things together. I do not doubt that great work is happening on child poverty in the 32 authorities throughout Scotland, but there has always been a problem with the sharing of information. Dr Hannah said that, although she is across the water, you are all listening to each other. You are all here today, after all. Does the bill give us an opportunity to focus on and create such dialogue? Does the targeting help with that?

10:15  



Dr Hannah

Very much so. Annual reporting on the agenda will keep it alive, and we will have events and a lot of learning. I anticipate that that is how we will want to go forward.

Professor Russell

I absolutely agree with Mr Adam on the focus. An important part of this is that we develop a common understanding of what good looks like.

George Adam

Various issues keep coming up. Peter Allen talked about good faith and local authorities working with everyone else, and Robert McGregor spoke about joined-up thinking. We get bogged down in the SIMD figures, but the bill gives us an opportunity to broaden our scope. Is the point of the bill not exactly that—for us all to sit here and ask whether we can do other things? We already do the work, but can we find a way to get the thinking together and ensure that we put it through? It is a simple question, but is that not the main point of the bill?

Dr Hannah

That is right.

Robert McGregor

I agree. On partners, and on sharing information and working collaboratively, one of the challenges for us is how we bring the Department for Work and Pensions to the table.

George Adam

We definitely do not have time to discuss that. [Laughter.]

Robert McGregor

The DWP holds rich data, too. We have begun to establish a positive relationship with the DWP at the most local levels, but we still have difficulty with timeously accessing from it good, strong information that will help us with our planning.

George Adam

We had three academics at our meeting in Glasgow, who, in that lovely academic way—God bless them—fell out with each other very politely about whether we have the data. Being academics, they wanted to know exactly where all the data was, but they could not say. We all agree that the bill will be a step closer to a situation where the academics will be able to go off and study the data.

Dr Hannah

Yes, I think so.

The Deputy Convener

I have to confess that I sometimes struggle with one aspect of the bill. I do not want to underplay the need for unique data to work on, but we need to boil that down and ask ourselves what we would expect any Government to do. I think it was Peter Allen who asked whether we can agree on the major causes of poverty. I am not sure that there is agreement about that. Perhaps more work needs to be done so that we have a broad consensus. As someone said, if we just spend the next 20 years looking at the data and recording poverty, we might not provide the boost that is needed.

Will each of you briefly tell me one or two measures that you think would make the biggest difference? If the bill was to contain a duty on the Government to implement specific measures, what should they be?

Peter Allan

I am not going to be terribly helpful. The thing that we need to focus on most is the stigma and how we change perceptions and how people are treated. I do not know how we could turn that into an indicator, but it is an enormous issue in the lives of people who are poor.

Professor Russell

I agree. It is critical that we address the associated poverty of opportunity in order to provide people with different life chances.

Robert McGregor

Mr Tomkins made an interesting and relevant point about educational attainment. A continued push on that would take us some way towards addressing child poverty in the longer term.

Dr Hannah

I am looking at the graph in annex A to the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing, which shows how relative poverty has levelled off. Is it potentially now getting worse again? There have been tax credit reforms and a lot of changes to welfare and so on, and the extent to which those can be reversed is a political issue.

The living wage is important. We want to make Fife a living wage region and Scotland a living wage country. Those are aspirations, but they are things that could be considered.

Increasing child benefit is a fairly obvious measure. One of the responses to the committee’s consultation states that adding £5 a week to child benefit would lift 30,000 children a year out of poverty. Some simple things could be done involving fiscal and benefit measures.

The issue is not just poverty of aspiration; it is about people having lives that are worth living in the 21st century. What environment are our children going to live in? Can we create an environment in which children and young people are encouraged to aspire to something better in their lives regardless of their background? We have a good long tradition of that in Scotland. Many of us have come from working-class backgrounds and are where we are today as a result of education and encouragement. That message should still be there for our young people in future.

The Deputy Convener

That is an excellent note to end on. Thank you all for your evidence. I acknowledge, as you asked us to do in your submissions, the wonderful work that local authorities do in relation not just to poverty but to fairness, which is also important.

I will suspend the meeting briefly to allow the panel to leave and a new panel to join us.

10:21 Meeting suspended.  



10:23 On resuming—  



The Deputy Convener

I warmly welcome Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, who has been with us many times before, and Emma Trottier, policy manager at Engender, who has also been in front of the committee before. Thank you for coming. We are under the usual time pressures. We must finish by 11, but that gives us 40 minutes or so.

Ruth Maguire

My question is for Emma Trottier and is specifically about women and poverty. You mentioned that a gendered approach in the bill would be helpful. What is a gendered approach?

Emma Trottier (Engender)

When we looked at the bill we thought that it was important that the gender dimension of poverty should be part of the considerations. What we mean by that is that it is not possible to separate a child’s wellbeing from that of their mother. One in four children in Scotland is living in poverty. Cuts to social security, and the wider austerity agenda, will have significant ramifications for families and children, but especially for women. Eighty-six per cent of cuts to social security come from women’s incomes. It is a significant sum.

We know that the biggest rise in inequality in the United Kingdom will come over the next decade. When we consider children, we should remember the people who care for them—the women who are mothers in those households—and how difficult their futures look right now. In Scotland, nine out of 10 lone parents are women, and 95 per cent of them support their children through social security programmes.

When we speak of a gendered approach to the bill, we are saying that we must remember the gender dimension of poverty.

Ruth Maguire

That is helpful.

Adam Tomkins

I have a follow-up question. In terms of the practical consideration of the bill, what amendments would you like to see to be confident that the gendered approach to poverty has been recognised? Does the bill have that approach already?

Emma Trottier

In our submission, we make the comment that many changes will hinge on what will be in the delivery plans. When looking at the actions to be taken, we must be sure that they consider gender.

For example, research evidence shows that significant change to alleviate poverty and help women involves significant and meaningful childcare reforms. Will the delivery plans for the policy areas to be considered look at childcare? Will they look at education and the gender stereotyping of boys and girls? Will they look at whether employment strategies are gendered, to close Scotland’s gender pay gap?

Adam Tomkins

Do you think that there should be on the face of the bill a statutory requirement for the delivery plans to do that?

Emma Trottier

Do you mean a requirement for the plans to consider gender, or a requirement for them to consider all those policy areas?

Adam Tomkins

Either of the above—the options are open. I am genuinely interested in the extent to which you think that the bill already satisfies the stringent and perfectly reasonable criteria that you have set for it. If it does not meet those requirements, what amendments would you like to see the committee urge upon the Government to improve the bill?

You can come back to the committee in writing, if you want to take that back to the office.

Emma Trottier

Yes.

Bill Scott (Inclusion Scotland)

The bill should include a requirement to address known societal inequalities of wealth between various equality groups, including women specifically. Disabled women are much more likely to be living in poverty than disabled men, again due to caring responsibilities, and family break-ups—many more disabled women than men are lone parents.

A gendered approach would assist disabled women, but an approach that addresses societal inequalities of race, gender, age and disability would see everybody pulled up. As our submission says, the problem is that we can improve things generally but leave certain groups behind; inequalities would grow for those groups because everybody else would do better. We would like to see something on the face of the bill to address the inequalities that are mainly identified in equality legislation.

Adam Tomkins

Thank you very much.

The Deputy Convener

I have a comment before we move on. The suggestion makes sense, and we have heard from the panel’s organisations many times that those are the underlying issues that the Government needs to address in addressing poverty. However, as I said to the previous panel, there is an issue that I sometimes struggle with and worry about. We will all be happy if we get a good statement on the face of the bill of where we want to go. However, it is worth considering specific measures that would make a difference to tackling poverty. As Emma Trottier said, nine out of 10 lone parents are women. That is a fact, but does that imply that we need to address the needs of lone parents specifically, to take them out of poverty?

10:30  



Emma Trottier

We have to look at the issue more broadly. To go back to social security reforms, we have to ensure that we are maximising people’s incomes, because we know that 95 per cent of lone parents are living with the assistance of social security. We have to look at supporting them through the provision of flexible, high-quality, affordable childcare. How do we use employment strategies, including measures on childcare, to support lone parents into employment where we can? It is not about looking at lone parents exclusively so much as looking at how we fit everybody into bigger policy areas.

The Deputy Convener

Would it make sense to place a duty in relation to income maximisation, given that it is so important, in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, rather than social security legislation? You can come back to us on that. What I am really interested in is how we turn the targets into specific measures.

Bill Scott

That should be in the delivery plan; the delivery plan should say how you are going to achieve the targets. The problem with putting something in the bill is that that concentrates minds on the things that are in the bill. That then becomes everything that local authorities, the NHS, the Scottish Government and so on will address. If something is not in the bill, the groups who are not mentioned might find that there is no local or national activity to address the poverty that they experience. You face the problem of how to make sure that everybody is covered. Putting things in the delivery plan would be a better approach, as long as there is proper parliamentary scrutiny of the plan and its implementation.

Alison Johnstone

I read an Engender publication that suggested that, since 2010, of the £26 billion of welfare cuts, £22 billion had impacted on women. I find that staggeringly discriminatory. I do not know what sort of gender impact assessment has been carried out; it would seem that none has been carried out—it clearly does not matter. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the projected increase in absolute child poverty is entirely explained by tax and benefit changes such as the ones that we have already seen.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has called for the use of an after-essential-costs focus, rather than just an after-housing-costs focus. Last night, I sponsored an event in the Parliament that was about learning from abroad. One of the issues that we looked at was childcare. Two academics reported back on a study that showed that the cost of full-time childcare in Norway is £190 a month, compared with £920 a month in Scotland. One contributor spoke of childcare costs of more than £1,400 a month for two children. If we are not including costs that are higher than the average mortgage or rent, we are missing something. Will you talk about the need to include more than just housing costs? Should there be a provision in the bill that requires ministers to conduct annual checks to see how effectively the social security system is contributing to reaching our child poverty targets?

Bill Scott

We are very aware of the impact on women. Disabled women, especially those who are carers, have been doubly affected, because a lot of the cuts also fall on disabled people. For example, with the introduction of universal credit, 100,000 disabled children have seen the amount that their family is awarded in disabled child tax credits cut by 50 per cent, from £54 a week to £27 a week. When fewer resources are available, there is an impact not just on the child or the mother but on everyone in the family. That is why disabled children and the children of disabled parents are more likely to be living in poverty.

The issue is that some poverty seems to be invisible and is not addressed. For example, the higher rate of the disabled child addition has been raised in the current budget, but the lower rate has been frozen, which will affect people who have already experienced cuts. There has been no publicity about that whatsoever. It was not announced in advance of the budget and there has been no consultation with disabled people’s organisations, yet the impact on families with disabled children will be quite profound because their benefit will not rise in line with living costs; it will be frozen.

This—and I include social security—is not all the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. However, part of it is, and within what we have responsibility for there should certainly be a focus on addressing poverty. What else are the benefits for?

Emma Trottier

Alison Johnstone asked about people’s income after housing costs. I think that the point was linked to the suggestion in some of the submissions that we should perhaps be looking at the essential costs for families. I agree that we should do that, given the cost of childcare in Scotland and how difficult it is for families to afford to put their children into childcare, which has a downstream impact on women.

When I was reading the submissions, I was thinking about how we look at targets and household income. One thing that we should consider when we are thinking about women is that access to resources is a fundamental element of gender inequality. If we just look at household income, we miss the dynamics that happen inside the home. Access to resources is not equal. There are power imbalances in households in Scotland, so how do we account for those? It is a tough question but it is one that we need to ask.

Bill Scott

Unfortunately, because universal credit rolls up so many benefits into one, there is an increased likelihood that only one person in the household is in control of that income. That person is usually the male claimant rather than the woman with caring responsibilities in that household, which is why we have been very supportive of the idea that, within households, the payment should be split to ensure that at least some of the money reaches the person who is most likely to use it for the care of the child.

Alison Johnstone

Thank you.

The Deputy Convener

Emma Trottier mentioned the power balances within households. Obviously the bill focuses on income but you make a really important point about the need to look at what that actually means. How could the bill address that point?

Emma Trottier

I have looked at UK studies on poverty and women, and there is a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Oxford University that says that it is really hard to understand women’s poverty because of how we collect data, which is done by household. It recommends that we think about how Governments collect data. If we want to start making some big changes to household incomes, we have to think about the women and men who are in those households. The study suggests that Governments should capture and interrogate data that is disaggregated by gender and by race at the individual level, which is an approach that would complement the examination of household incomes as targets for poverty reduction.

Ben Macpherson

In your written submissions, you both comment on interim targets. Can you detail your thoughts on them and why you think that they are important?

Bill Scott

They are important because they concentrate minds. If a goal is way off into the future, the Government that is held to account for the attainment of that goal might be two or three times removed from the Government that set the goal. Unfortunately, because of that, not a lot might happen in the meantime. However, if delivery plans are reported on regularly and interim targets are set to measure whether progress is being made towards the ultimate goal, it is much more likely that the minds of planners, officials, politicians at a local and national level and Government itself will be concentrated on what they are doing, how they are going about it and whether they are making the progress that is being demanded of them. Interim targets are a good idea because they set milestones against which progress can be measured.

Gordon Lindhurst

My question is for Bill Scott. I think that both panel members heard my question to the earlier panel, so I will not repeat it in full. Basically, it is the question of accountability. I take Bill Scott’s point that if we were to start to list specific groups in a bill or an act of Parliament, other groups might not be covered, so it would be better to cover the detail in the delivery plan, the guidance, the policy notes or whatever form that detail takes. However, the question still arises as to how one holds the Government to account on the targets in the bill.

As I indicated to the earlier panel, Bill Scott’s organisation, and at least one other organisation, commented that reports should not only be laid before the Scottish Parliament, but be scrutinised by the Parliament and require parliamentary approval. That would, as I understand from one of the earlier panel members’ comments, bring in a national element of scrutiny on what is being done. Will you amplify that and indicate how the bill could be amended to take that on board?

Bill Scott

The bill could be amended quite easily to require parliamentary approval of the delivery plans, the progress reports—especially those on interim targets—and so on. With that approach, we would at least have scrutiny at a parliamentary level. Also, because the media covers what the Parliament does, there would more likely be scrutiny at a public level of what is happening, with people being held to account by the electorate on whether the targets have been achieved. Without that requirement, the bill lacks teeth.

I was interested to hear your quotation from the Law Society’s submission and your point about an individual’s rights. We think that those rights exist under the current legislation. For example, the right to an adequate income and so on is guaranteed—supposedly—by human rights legislation and should be justiciable. I think, however, that we would be of the same mind as the previous panel members and say that the bill is about setting a target for Scottish society to achieve over the longer term. We were not thinking about the issue from the perspective of an individual’s rights, although human rights are always part of our approach. It is an interesting thought, however, that the bill could create individual rights.

Gordon Lindhurst

Scrutiny can happen at different levels; it can also be through the courts. Bill Scott will be aware—as I am as a lawyer—that measures not included in an act of Parliament are potentially more difficult to enforce before the courts, or for individuals to make anything out of, if I can put it in colloquial terms. On that basis, would simply having parliamentary scrutiny be sufficient, if that were added into the bill?

Bill Scott

I am not sure that it would be this bill that we would rate that on. If the Scottish Government adopts the social and economic duties under international law that it said that it would, those duties might provide the correct vehicle for individuals to assert their rights to an adequate income and so on. If the Government adopts those duties, I imagine that it will do that through legislation. Perhaps members of the governing party can tell me.

10:45  



Gordon Lindhurst

Emma Trottier, do you have any further comment on that?

Emma Trottier

No, Engender supports Inclusion Scotland’s submission.

Ben Macpherson

I have a quick point for Emma Trottier and Engender. You made reference to childcare in some of your previous answers. There is a commitment from the Scottish Government to significantly increase the provision of free childcare, and there is a consultation taking place on the flexibility of that provision. What impact might the provision of free childcare have on the reduction of child poverty? Would it be advantageous?

Emma Trottier

It would have a significant impact on child poverty. We know that pathways into poverty are different for men and women. The risks for falling into poverty change over the course of women’s lives, but there are certain moments in life when women face increased risk and one of those is motherhood. I point committee members to some interesting testimony that has been given to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, which is looking at the gender pay gap. Anna Ritchie Allan from Close the Gap and Emma Ritch from Engender appeared before the committee and spoke about what that risk looks like for women.

Childcare and investment in childcare will play a huge role in helping women and in alleviating poverty. There is a bigger conversation to be had about what we mean by flexible, affordable and high-quality childcare, but that might be for a different committee meeting. Those are crucial elements of delivery plans that need to be talked about and considered.

Ben Macpherson

Thank you. It is a holistic issue so it is good to get that on the record.

Adam Tomkins

Building directly on what Ben Macpherson was talking about and in the context of what Emma Trottier said about delivery plans—Bill Scott has talked about it, too—the more I look at the bill, the more I realise how critical the delivery plans will be to the bill’s success. However, at the moment, all that the bill says about delivery plans is that they should be produced at five-yearly intervals. I can see no statutory requirement in the bill—unless I have misread it—about what should or must be in the delivery plans.

I have two questions. One is about the frequency of the plans and the second is about the things that you would like to be added to the bill to impose requirements and obligations on the people writing the delivery plans with regard to what they have to include.

It has been suggested in oral evidence by a number of witnesses, including Children in Scotland and Citizens Advice Scotland, that delivery plans should be produced at three-yearly intervals, rather than five-yearly intervals, as proposed in the bill. Do you think that that is right? From the powerful and effective evidence that you gave this morning, do I take it that you would like there to be a statutory requirement for the delivery plan to include detail on, for example, the steps that are taken to reduce childcare costs?

Bill Scott

We agree with a three-yearly, rather than five-yearly interval, because that would fall within the lifetime of a Government, usually. That would be one step forward. We would also like statutory duties to be placed on local authorities and other community planning organisations about the eradication of child poverty at a local level. Specifically, we would like the issue of child poverty to be included in local outcome improvement plans and children’s services plans, so that organisations do not just report on what they are doing, but develop plans to address the issue.

We would argue that the most important thing regarding the delivery plans is that the Government should speak to the people who are living in poverty. They know what it is, and often they could tell us how to get out of it, if we would only listen to them. There is a need to speak to lone parents, disabled people, parents of disabled children, black and minority ethnic groups and so on, because those people are more likely to be living in poverty. They know the stigma and discrimination that they face and they know some of the things that need to be done to address the problem. In the bringing together of the delivery plans, whether nationally or locally, there should be a requirement to speak to those groups, and their ideas should be incorporated in the plans wherever possible. Otherwise, there will be high-level stuff going on that will not connect to the people who are most likely to face poverty.

I do not think that attainment should necessarily be in the bill, but I strongly agree with Adam Tomkins that it is a huge issue. Disabled children are twice as likely as non-disabled children to leave school with no qualifications, regardless of the type of impairment that they have. There are disabled children with sensory impairments and physical impairments but no intellectual impairment whatsoever who are leaving school with no qualifications. That makes their chances nil in the current job market. Unless we change that, we will not change their future, and when they become parents they will be parents living in poverty, and their children will be living in poverty, so we have to change the cycle. It is certainly possible to address the attainment gap without addressing the needs of disabled children, but it will be much more difficult if we do it that way. We need to concentrate minds: if we are going to have an attainment challenge, it must take into account the needs of those who have been most left behind.

No more than a month ago, I took part in a workshop with Educational Institute of Scotland representatives. I was in one of the six workshops that were going on. Five workshops said that the key issue that was facing teachers and union reps was the lack of support for additional support for learning in the classroom, and the cuts that had been made to the support that disabled children receive in the classroom. As a result, classrooms have been becoming more disruptive, because it is harder to deal with non-disabled children if teachers are devoting their time to ensuring that disabled children are being kept up to speed. Cuts have consequences. We definitely see the attainment gap as one of the key issues that need to be addressed over the longer term.

The Deputy Convener

That is a good note on which to end. I thank Inclusion Scotland and Engender for their on-going support of the committee and for their evidence today.

10:53 Meeting continued in private until 11:12.  



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Third meeting transcript

The Convener

Item 3 is the last of the committee’s formal evidence sessions on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. I welcome Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, and her team of officials, who are Gillian Cross, bill team leader, and Paul Tyrer, head of social justice strategy. I invite the cabinet secretary to make an opening statement.

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

Thank you, convener, and good morning to committee members. I am grateful to you for inviting me to give evidence as part of your scrutiny of the bill.

I thank all who have given their time and expertise during the bill’s development, which has helped us to get to this point. I hope to assure committee members that the bill will provide the robust framework that we need for monitoring, measuring and reporting on child poverty, with four ambitious income targets at the heart of the bill.

We are all aware that the 2015-16 poverty statistics that were published in March showed that child poverty rates in Scotland have increased and that 26 per cent of children were living in relative poverty after housing costs. I know that members will agree that those numbers are absolutely unacceptable. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that child poverty at a United Kingdom level will increase further in the next few years, partly because of welfare changes imposed by the UK Government. On top of its damaging programme of welfare cuts, the UK Government announced in 2015 that it intended to repeal large parts of the Child Poverty Act 2010, including the four UK-wide income targets. The Scottish Government was vocal in its opposition to that.

With the bill, the Scottish Government is making a clear statement: first, that child poverty is neither acceptable nor inevitable—that is why our targets, which are set on an after-housing-cost basis, will be even more stretching than those in the original 2010 act; and secondly, that income, or a lack of income, is central to poverty, which is a view that our stakeholders strongly share and is why the four targets that are at the heart of the bill focus on a range of aspects that are to do with low income.

If passed by Parliament, the bill will establish Scotland as the only part of the UK to have statutory income targets. All of that is in stark contrast to the approach of the UK Government, which repealed the original income targets, abolished the child poverty unit and removed the child poverty remit from the then Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

Our consultation on the bill was held between August and October 2016, and a broad range of individuals and organisations responded. They overwhelmingly supported the proposals for statutory income targets and for national and local reporting requirements. The consultation has been complemented by our on-going engagement with stakeholders, many of whom the committee heard from during its stage 1 considerations. Those stakeholders have warmly welcomed the bill and the reinstatement of income targets. They share our vision and bring with them their wealth of experience. We will use that in the development of the associated delivery plans.

When the bill was published, Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said:

“The publication of this legislation is very welcome. Too many children in Scotland have their lives blighted both now and into their future as a result of poverty. By taking a more strategic approach and setting realistic targets, we can ensure that Scotland becomes a leader in tackling child poverty.”

The bill will galvanise action across all Scottish Government portfolios, and it will build on a range of work that the Government has under way to tackle poverty and inequality.

The bill is made up of three key elements, which I will set out in turn. First, it places a duty on the Scottish ministers to meet four income targets by 2030. Those targets are ambitious, and they provide a clear picture of the fairer Scotland that I am sure we all want to see.

A key issue that has been raised in evidence is setting interim targets. I am open to that idea. I am interested to hear the committee’s views on interim targets and, in particular, on how we ensure that any interim measure is realistic, achievable and effective in maintaining momentum towards our ultimate aim of eradicating child poverty.

Secondly, the bill places a duty on the Scottish ministers to produce delivery plans regularly, the first of which is to be published by April 2018. Each delivery plan will clearly set out the measures that the Scottish ministers will take to meet the child poverty targets. Ministers will also be required to report annually on progress towards meeting the targets. As part of the process of developing the delivery plan, we will build on the child poverty measurement framework. The framework was developed with a range of stakeholders and experts, and it covers the wide range of drivers of poverty and impacts that poverty has on the lives of children and their families.

We have committed to reviewing the framework with a view to including an updated version as part of the delivery plan that will be published in April next year. I know that the subject has come up in the committee’s evidence sessions. At last week’s meeting, witnesses from Fife and Dundee supported the overall focus on income measures but highlighted the need for a wider dashboard of indicators. I absolutely agree with that assessment, which is why the revised measurement framework will be crucial to the delivery plan’s success. I am keen to hear the committee’s views on that.

Thirdly and finally, the bill places a duty on local authorities and health boards to produce annual local child poverty action reports that will outline the action that they have taken to reduce child poverty. I will shortly present proposals for an overarching socioeconomic duty that will require public bodies, including local authorities and health boards, to take socioeconomic disadvantage into account when they plan at a strategic level.

The duty in the bill will complement the socioeconomic duty by requiring public bodies to set out the action that they are taking locally to reduce child poverty. The local duty has been the subject of extensive discussions with a variety of stakeholders, including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, NHS Health Scotland and a number of local authorities. It is clear from those discussions that there is an appetite to involve community planning partnerships in reporting and in providing a joined-up local focus to tackling child poverty. We have therefore been working to establish a reference group, which will help to develop guidance for local authorities and health boards on the reporting duty.

We must be ambitious for our children and young people, and we must take decisive action to end child poverty in our country. I am confident that the targets and the robust framework that will underpin them will provide the focus that we need. I am open to hearing the committee’s views on how we can work together to improve the bill, which I am sure we all agree is critical. As ever, I am happy to answer colleagues’ questions and to have constructive dialogue with the committee.

09:45  



The Convener

Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. I will start the questions. You mentioned ambitions and challenges. The policy memorandum describes the bill’s targets as

“stretching and ambitious, but realistic”.

How much of a challenge will it be to reach the targets? Will it be a challenge?

Angela Constance

It will be a challenge. The targets are achievable with the right focus, the right commitment and the right policies in place, as reflected in the delivery plan, but that will not be easy. We know from organisations such as the IFS that the relative child poverty rate is likely to rise across the UK to more than 30 per cent. As child poverty is on the increase and is predicted to increase further, it would be wholly unacceptable and a dereliction of duty to downgrade the importance of addressing it by not having statutory income targets.

I point out that, as a Government, we do not have all the resources or the powers that I would like to see. Nonetheless, for a country—and for us as individuals—nothing is more important than children and their future. Our priority therefore has to be to eradicate child poverty.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

I welcome your openness to considering interim targets. As you said, you are aware of the evidence that has been given to the committee on the matter. You said that the bill will provide a robust framework. It is probably not a source of disagreement that the bill will not provide a right of action that an individual could go to court to enforce. There may be reasons for that—namely, that the bill is a piece of framework legislation for Government policy.

In the circumstances, do you agree that it is even more important to set interim targets, so that progress can be reviewed? It is not necessarily a question of asking only whether we have met the targets; we need to review progress towards the targets and the approach that is being adopted. I think that Naomi Eisenstadt gave evidence to the committee that interim targets would and could be useful in that respect.

Angela Constance

As I indicated, I am open to revisiting the issue of interim targets and coming back with proposals for stage 2. Interim targets can be helpful in keeping momentum, ensuring that progress is being made, diminishing the risk of drift and helping us to break down the overall ambition. The overall ambition is to meet the very ambitious statutory income targets and to eradicate child poverty. I suppose that interim targets help to identify the milestones, the stepping stones or the interim steps towards achieving that.

On how the interim targets should be framed, they need to be realistic and achievable and need to help us on our way. They also need to be driven by evidence. There is a crucial point about data projections and the trajectory of child poverty. I am open to the principle of the bill saying that we should have interim targets, but we would have to be careful about setting such targets in the bill, given that the work that we need to do prior to the delivery plan, on understanding the projections and the trajectory of child poverty, is still being done.

Gordon Lindhurst

Are the bill’s scrutiny provisions sufficient? As some witnesses have pointed out, there might be more appropriate or stricter scrutiny provisions at a parliamentary level. I am not suggesting judicial scrutiny—there are different forms of scrutiny—but could the bill be improved with regard to how Parliament is involved in the scrutiny of interim progress or in the requirements that it sets out, which you referred to as duties that are to be placed on the Scottish ministers?

Angela Constance

We will lay an annual report before the Parliament. It will be up to Parliament, Opposition parties and parliamentary committees to make of any annual report what they wish and to use the means that they have to hold the Government to account.

We want to produce the annual reports and the overarching delivery plans in the style of co-production. We will want to produce draft delivery plans for consultation, and the reports will be produced annually, so they will be regular. We are not sweeping the child poverty agenda under the carpet; we are bringing it to the Parliament, to parliamentary committees and to wider civic Scotland. I do not doubt that the Parliament and the committees will scrutinise the resulting act and, in due course, how we will meet its aims.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I welcome the bill and I am interested in exploring with you ways in which we might be able to work to make it even stronger. You said in your opening remarks that the bill has provisions for monitoring, measuring and reporting on child poverty, and I agree with you that that is important. However, do you agree with me that what is even more important is tackling and reducing child poverty?

Angela Constance

Yes. That is the goal. However, we need to have a process and a way of tackling such a huge problem, so we need to have a mechanism that keeps us focused and evaluates throughout our journey what works, what is less effective and where our priorities should be.

Adam Tomkins

Tackling child poverty is even more important than monitoring, measuring and reporting on it, but the bill does not contain any provisions that enable or, indeed, require you or the Scottish ministers generally to tackle or reduce child poverty. All the targets are focused on income, not statutory duties that you and the Scottish ministers must undertake in order to achieve the ambition of reducing child poverty in Scotland. Is that right?

Angela Constance

There are two aspects to that question. I would contend that the Scottish ministers having a duty to monitor, measure and report on child poverty provides very important foundations for achieving our ambitions. I know that the bill is described as a technical, framework bill, but it is laying very important foundations. As parliamentarians, we all know that legislating is rarely sufficient in itself—I think that we are all mature enough as parliamentarians to agree on that—but the bill puts cornerstones in place, because it is about getting the foundations right. The bill does indeed place duties on ministers.

I will speak about policy and delivery plans, but the important point about the targets is that we have a small number of focused targets on income. There is broad agreement about the importance of income and, in many ways, poverty is defined by income. There are many aspects of poverty and it has multiple drivers, but at its core is lack of income. We can, of course, debate why poorer families have lower incomes, but at poverty’s core is that lack of income, which we need to focus on. However, the measurements in the measurement framework are broader and we know that our work must be placed in the wider context of the economy. None of us has a crystal ball for what will happen between now and 2030.

I did not want to mention the B-word, but Brexit will unfold, so it is important that our delivery plans are flexible and responsive to changing needs. There are opportunities—the 2010 UK act, for example, listed areas that could be covered. I am not averse to the bill listing areas that the delivery plan should address or cover. To be transparent with the committee, I say that my only concern would be that the list would be too narrow; we want to be able to respond to the evidence and to emerging need.

Adam Tomkins

But it could be an indicative list not an exhaustive list of matters that delivery plans must, by law, include. Would you be open to that?

Angela Constance

It could be an exemplar, yes.

Adam Tomkins

Would you be open to going even further and adding targets to the bill in addition to income-related targets? For example—this is an issue that I have explored with a number of witnesses, and John Dickie from the Child Poverty Action Group said that he is enthusiastic about this and others have echoed that—we all know that the First Minister has made it the Government’s defining mission to close the attainment gap in Scottish schools and we also all know that one of the many underlying drivers of poverty is educational underattainment. Would you be open to adding some kind of duty to the bill stating that ministers must take steps to close the attainment gap as a means of tackling and reducing child poverty in Scotland? If not, why not?

Angela Constance

I can forgive Mr Tomkins for that question, because he was not around in the previous parliamentary session. However, some members of this committee sat on the Education and Culture Committee in session 4 and will have followed and indeed contributed to the passage of the Education (Scotland) Act 2016. That act places duties on ministers and on local authorities to address and reduce the attainment gap. A lot of the work that underpins how we will do that is in and around the national improvement framework, so I contend that those duties already exist.

To lay it out in a broader sense, the overarching duty will be the socioeconomic duty. Four strands will underpin the duties on ministers and local authorities, three of which already exist—the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, the important Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, and the landmark Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, through which ministers and local authorities have duties, not least for looked-after children. The other cornerstone will be the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill.

Adam Tomkins

I have one last question. Is the socioeconomic duty that you have been talking about this morning coming in this bill or in separate legislation?

Angela Constance

The duty will come separately. We will introduce proposals on how we will do that shortly. Again, this goes back to the Scotland Act 2016. It is a duty that lay dormant under the Equality Act 2010. We now have some very discrete powers or potential powers in and around equalities legislation as a result of the Scotland Act 2016, so we want to introduce a socioeconomic duty. We will be doing that shortly, and we will hold a consultation because we want to ensure, particularly for local authorities, that we proceed in such a manner that duties are streamlined and people are not overburdened.

Adam Tomkins

Thank you very much.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary says that there will be a socioeconomic duty, which is to come after the bill. I am a little concerned about that. These are all principles that I would fully support. You said at the beginning that there is a need to focus; I would like the bill to be more focused and I would like some of the issues to be contained within it rather than being in different places.

I am interested in whether you think that there should in fact be a statutory duty to include in the delivery plan a requirement to take specific measures. We all have different opinions about what measures might lift children out of poverty. I feel that the bill would benefit if it contained a much more powerful statutory duty to include in the delivery plan a requirement to take specific measures. That is a point about the operational side of the bill. I would be interested to hear your view on that.

10:00  



Angela Constance

I understand the motivation behind your question, but if we want to galvanise activity within and outwith Government, and if we want to be in a position to respond to changing economic circumstances, whether positive or negative, or other big global events, we will need to be flexible. We can include things that should be covered, as was done in the Child Poverty Act 2010. There are commitments that we will not stray from. For example, we know that affordable housing has a contribution to make on all four indicators. Increasing the supply of affordable housing will help us to address all four targets. We know that measures that are designed to target support for people who are unemployed, single parents or people with a disability will help, and there is a body of evidence on the contribution that childcare makes.

There are platforms that could be included as examples of what should be in the delivery plan, but it is extremely important that we are robust in our delivery plans and that we take an evidence-based approach. We know that some measures are effective but that they will have an impact in the longer term; there are other measures that will have a more direct impact on the targets. All of that is in the context of what is happening with welfare reform and the economy. If the bill is too prescriptive, our response to child poverty will be less flexible. Through the poverty and inequality commission, we want the experts in the field to inform us and to help us to develop the delivery plan.

Pauline McNeill

Yes, but there is a danger that the bill might not be prescriptive enough. I take your point, which is why I am interested in whether there should be a statutory duty of the kind that I suggested. You gave the example of affordable housing. The building of 35,000 affordable houses is a target in itself. Although it will make a massive contribution in tackling child poverty, that contribution is not quantifiable. There are measures on which there is evidence of the impact that they would have. For example, there is widespread consensus that a £5 top-up in child benefit, which other members of the committee have pursued, is a measure whose effect in taking children out of poverty could be measured. I am concerned that the bill might be too wide.

You mentioned some discussion about a local duty. We have heard from local authorities that are doing excellent work in Fife, Dundee and my home city of Glasgow, and I have talked to people in Glasgow about that work. What did you mean by that? What relationship do you see there being between the work that those local authorities are doing and what would be included in the delivery plan?

Angela Constance

It is important to stress that the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is a very focused bill. Its focus and purpose have been overwhelmingly supported and welcomed by stakeholders. With regard to housing, our targets on social rented housing, in particular, would have a prominent role in any delivery plan.

Although child poverty in Scotland is way too high, there is a reasonable body of evidence to support the view that one of the reasons why it is lower than in the UK is the contribution of affordable housing and our policies on that. Actually, if we take the three-year average, relative child poverty in Scotland is lower than in any of the other home nations.

However, it is important that the bill is not overcomplicated, and that has come through in some of the evidence from stakeholders. We need focus and a mechanism to help us to tackle a massive problem, which costs the UK £29 billion according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. We should not make the bill unwieldy or unworkable.

That is very important for our partners in local government who, along with our partners in health, will have a duty to produce reports about the progress that they are making locally, while the duty to achieve the income targets will rest with the Scottish ministers. That is all in the context of looking at the overall responsibilities that local authorities have for reducing educational inequalities. As Naomi Eisenstadt said, we want local authorities to report on their progress, but they should have the freedom to be able to do what works at a local level without that being prescribed from the top or, indeed, in the bill.

Pauline McNeill

Thank you.

The Convener

Did Ben Macpherson want to come in with a supplementary on Pauline McNeill’s question?

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

It is on a similar theme, but not on the same question.

The Convener

I am sorry—Alison Johnstone wants to come in on that question. I will put Ben Macpherson down to ask a question later.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

First, I will focus again on the issue of scrutiny. In its evidence, the Child Poverty Action Group referred to the need for independent scrutiny. I would like to understand why you think that the poverty and inequality commission that is proposed in the Government’s plan for a fairer Scotland might be a body that would provide that scrutiny. You have obviously not followed the blueprint that was set up by the UK Government with its commission. Why was that decision made?

Angela Constance

I have not followed the UK Government’s blueprint, simply and bluntly because I do not see any added advantage to that. Despite the fact that the UK-wide commission is a statutory body, a different Government of a different colour came in and fundamentally changed the commission’s role and purpose.

We have a manifesto commitment to establish a poverty and inequality commission. The chair of that commission will have to be independent. We will be scrupulous in identifying individuals who will be appointed to that commission on the basis of their expertise. They will have a role in advising ministers. As with other advisory bodies or individuals, such as the poverty adviser, the committee will be able to engage with that body.

I was absolutely clear that I wanted the poverty and inequality commission to be established so that it can help us to develop the first delivery plan. It will have an important role in relation to the annual reports—we expect the commission to be very engaged in that process. However, I did not want to make a pre-emptive announcement about the poverty and inequality commission, because I was conscious that there are stage 1 proceedings for this bill and also that civic Scotland and Oxfam were keen to pull together their thinking to inform the process as well.

Alison Johnstone

Is it your view that the poverty and inequality commission will be in a position to be truly independent and as critical of the Government as it needs to be?

Angela Constance

It will be full of independent-minded individuals. The commission will be appointed by ministers, as is the norm with bodies that advise the Government. We have a good track record in appointing credible and independent individuals such as Kaliani Lyle, the race equality framework adviser, and Naomi Eisenstadt, the poverty adviser. We have a clear commitment to establishing a poverty and inequality commission and that is a real opportunity for experts, including those with lived experience of poverty, to advise Government and help us to galvanise cross-portfolio work and our team Scotland approach to tackling child poverty. We also need them to take a hard look at the evidence, which should inform what we do, when, and why.

Alison Johnstone

There is a lot of evidence to show that the work on income maximisation has been successful—I will mention the healthier, wealthier children project again. I would like to understand your views on how important income maximisation work is in reducing child poverty and whether you think that there should be a provision in the bill to offer all parents or guardians access to income maximisation advice as a right.

Angela Constance

That is being considered under the social security bill. Income maximisation has a clear role to play in addressing poverty and many benefits are underclaimed. Perhaps that is more of an issue for pensioner poverty. I was once very struck by a presentation from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that showed that if we could get all pensioners to claim what they were entitled to, we would almost eradicate pensioner poverty.

Child poverty is somewhat more complex, in that poorer families often claim what they are entitled to, but the issue is their level of entitlement to tax credits as a family.

On the indicative list of what the bill should cover around the delivery plan, there is a role for income maximisation, certainly.

Alison Johnstone

Finally, I find myself slightly at odds with Adam Tomkins’s assertion that the Child Poverty Action Group suggested that educational attainment should be one of the measures, because its evidence is contrary to that view. However, it is clear about its suggestion that we use social security powers to reduce child poverty. Pauline McNeill mentioned the £5-a-week top-up to child benefit. Do you have a view on that?

Angela Constance

I have a view on both matters. Educational attainment is a cause and a consequence of poverty and that is reflected in our current child poverty measurement framework, the broader dashboard that covers literacy, numeracy and exam performance. There might be more sophisticated ways to connect the child poverty measurement framework with, for example, the national improvement framework in education, and we are committed to reviewing the measurement framework to ensure that we have the right measurements.

On the top-up to child benefit, I have gone on the record numerous times as saying that we should indeed be debating these matters. We should be debating the use and application of new social security powers. The proposal to top up child benefit is not a bad idea, but it is not the best idea. I go back to my exchange with Mark Griffin in the chamber a few weeks ago, when I said that topping child benefit up by £5 would also apply to people on incomes of up to £50,000 to £60,000 and would cost £250 million per annum. Seven out of 10 of the children who would benefit from that would not be children who live in poverty. From the history of child poverty in the UK, we know that there is a place for targeted measures to increase income. My concern about the child benefit top-up is that the vast majority of the money would not be directed at children who currently live in poverty. We need to thoroughly debate and discuss those matters.

10:15  



Adam Tomkins

Will the poverty and inequality commission be statutory or ad hoc?

Angela Constance

We have no plans to make it a statutory commission, for the reasons that I outlined to Alison Johnstone. The UK body was statutory, but that did not stop radical changes being made to it by a different Government. Also, if it were to be a statutory body, the timescales involved mean that it would not be established in time for the publication of the first delivery plan, which must be in April 2018.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I would like to ask for your views on some local level stuff. The local authorities and partner health boards will report annually on the activity that they undertake, and we have had a few calls in written and oral evidence for there to be a duty on local partnerships to set out their plans for what they will do to tackle child poverty in the future, as well as reporting on what they have done.

Angela Constance

We looked very closely at that. In my dialogue with COSLA, there was a shared instinct to look at making duties applicable to community planning partnerships. However, I received very strong advice that that was not possible, because community planning partnerships, unlike health boards or local authorities, are not legally constituted bodies and they do not employ people. With a little bit of regret, we could not pursue that option, which is why the reporting duty is on health boards and local authorities. They will need to exercise their duties in partnerships, which will inevitably bring in and involve community planning partnerships.

Ruth Maguire

We heard about lots of good work that is on-going in local areas, but another concern that was raised was about the availability of robust data to measure the impact that the actions are having. What is your view on that? My question is not from the perspective of stopping action and we want to be careful that looking for more and more robust data does not do that.

Angela Constance

I agree that we need enough data to inform action. We do not want to tie up everybody from Government to local authority officers on the front line in generating data. There needs to be a proportionate response and it is more about the right data and the quality of the data. Although some local authorities have reasonable data at a local level, there is an acceptance that they would prefer better local information and we have given a commitment to work with them on that through the reference group, which I referred to in my opening statement.

We have also been doing some very interesting work on the Scottish index of multiple deprivation and how that work could be adapted at a local level to give us more insight into child poverty. We did a pilot project in Orkney on how we could use the analytics of SIMD to tell us more about child poverty there. We could share that with the committee, if members are interested.

Ruth Maguire

That certainly sounds interesting. Thank you.

Richard Leonard

You mentioned unclaimed benefits. Your estimation was that they are an issue more for the pensioner population than for the population as a whole. That may be true but, as I understand it, in Glasgow, there have been moves to put entitlements to free school meals and school clothing grants in place automatically. The figure that I saw was that, out of 25,000 eligible families, an additional 5,000 or more have now received benefits or grants to which they are entitled that they would not otherwise have got. The barriers to families claiming were the complexity of the forms; the fact that, sometimes, English was not the first language; and a concern that they would lose out on other benefits. Do you see a role for such an automatic approach to entitlements, either locally or nationally?

Angela Constance

I do. I do not demur—and I hope that I did not give that impression—from the importance of income maximisation for families. I just think that we need a different approach to how we maximise income for different groups. Although it is always good to have general income maximisation campaigns, they always need a follow-up approach that is more targeted, to families in need, for example, or older people.

There is a space for measures that cut out bureaucracy or stigma. For many families, there is a stigma associated with free school meals, school clothing grants or attending a food bank. That level of detail is not for the bill, although we can encapsulate in the bill the need for income maximisation measures to be reflected in delivery plans.

There is a case for such initiatives at a national or local level, but it is important that we are not overprescriptive with local government.

Richard Leonard

Will you develop that and shed some light on your thinking about what you expect to be in those local delivery plans? What measures would you expect a local authority or health board to report on annually?

Angela Constance

From the work that we are doing in the reference group, we will produce some guidance on what we expect from our partners in local government. The reference group will be made up of people who are appointed from a range of local authorities, because I am conscious that the nature of child poverty will be different in different parts of the country. That is because, although Scotland is a small country, local economies are different and have different challenges and strengths.

We will set out what we expect from local authorities because some parameters and consistency in reporting are needed. Nonetheless, as democratically elected bodies, local authorities need to have the space to respond to the needs of their own communities.

Richard Leonard

Will you expect them to take action to tackle poverty and not simply count the local levels of poverty?

Angela Constance

Yes. We will all be needed to take action to eradicate child poverty, but there is an important place for reporting because it is about transparency and creating a shared understanding about the scale and nature of the issue.

We want to develop—I give a personal commitment on this to the committee—more of a consensus about what works so that we all feel that we have a contribution to make towards tackling child poverty and that we can all work together on it. I have some experience of that, given the work that I did a number of years ago on youth employment. When I became the Minister for Youth Employment, there were 113,000 unemployed young Scots and youth employment was at 25 per cent. It was highly politicised, and we had a lot of very robust committee and parliamentary exchanges.

We managed to build a consensus around the work that was produced, particularly on developing Scotland’s young workforce. I do not know of any party in this Parliament that is not committed to the developing Scotland’s young workforce agenda, and we have seen tremendous progress on youth employment. It is obviously something that is hugely affected by the context of the economy, but Scotland now has the third lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe. That is because local and national government and the third sector worked together and we developed a shared understanding of the issue and of what works. We went forward with a team Scotland approach, with all the arrows flying in one direction. That is what we are going to do in relation to child poverty.

George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

My question follows on from information that we have already discussed. At our meeting in Glasgow, a number of academics sat there and fell out with each other in the way that only academics can—in a very polite manner. The one thing that they did agree on was that there was not enough data. The SIMD was the only show in town for them, and they said that there were flaws with that being the only measure available to them.

At the committee’s meeting last week, talking to our witnesses from Dundee and Fife was particularly interesting. They said that the spread of water that splits them might as well be the Atlantic Ocean, because they do not exchange a lot of views. Is the point of the bill not about gathering data and focusing on it? The Dundee and Fife witnesses said that being here with each other last week gave them the opportunity to exchange ideas, which was one of the first times that they had done so.

As former councillors, Ms Constance and I both know that great work is happening in local authorities; it is perhaps just a case of focusing both the NHS boards and the local authorities to make sure that they share some of that expertise and try to make a difference.

Angela Constance

I am a former social worker and, in my profession, we spoke at length about that old cliché, sharing best practice. We still talk about that in many fields and sectors across the country, and it remains true. The problem should not be insurmountable. We are a small country and where there are barriers to sharing good practice, we just have to find ways to deal with that.

We have unanimity—or consensus—around the importance of the four statutory income targets, but we need to involve people more in reviewing the measurement framework. The issue about data is that, in some areas, there is a lack of Scottish as well as local authority data on the trajectory of child poverty. We know that, across the UK, as of here and now, the trajectory is predicted to go up, but we want to have a better handle on that at a Scottish level so that it informs our actions. However, we want data with a purpose. We do not want to create a complete industry that generates data that nobody reads or uses. It needs to be proportionate. On the work that we will do with the reference group that involves local authorities and the third sector, we are taking a hands-on approach to help local government to get the right analytics and the right data.

George Adam

I was very interested in what you said earlier about targets in the bill feeding into various bills that we have had in the past and that will come in the future. You said that the bill is like a foundation stone for that process.

One of the things that you will also have to measure is the impact of legislation that comes from Westminster. The child tax credit situation is a classic example. Data on that would possibly be part of the information, because that will affect child poverty too—no woman worth her salt would fill in that form relating to the so-called rape clause.

Is it not the case that, although we can measure the data and work together, there is still the issue, as you mentioned earlier, that there could be further UK legislation on welfare reform and that problem could still affect us? The bill probably provides a way in which we can get the data and highlight the problem.

10:30  



Angela Constance

At a basic level, the issue is reporting, measuring and adapting what we do. There is a real role for the proposed poverty and inequality commission in supporting the Government to develop delivery plans based on evidence, because a core part of the commission’s role is evaluating the Government’s current and new policies. The commission will also evaluate the UK-wide context and the wider impact of the economy and welfare reform.

The challenge is immense, but it is not insurmountable. I would not come to the Parliament with a child poverty bill if I thought that we could not do it and work together to achieve our ambition. However, it is true that some of what we are doing in terms of mitigation is to prevent things getting worse for people, rather than spending a resource to make things better.

The scrutiny of current and new policies will apply to the Scottish Government in the same way that it can and should apply to the UK Government and local government. What matters is what will be effective and what is going to work. There is a substantial body of evidence, but there are knowledge gaps and gaps in the data.

Ben Macpherson

You spoke earlier about the complex nature of child poverty, but you also said that it is principally to do with monetary concerns. That is why I support the holistic approach of focusing on income targets in the wider context of the economy.

I would like to ask about delivery plans. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said in evidence that it supports the publication of a new delivery plan early in the next and subsequent parliamentary sessions, rather than at the end of them. That is in order to support accountability and strategy within each session. As far as I can remember, the foundation suggested that delivery plans should be published on a three-year cycle. What are your thoughts on the delivery plans being flexible and responsive to need, particularly given that—as you and George Adam mentioned—they will need to take into account the potential negative and prohibitive effects of UK Government policy?

Angela Constance

I listened to the stage 1 evidence, in which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that the timing of the delivery plans should be tweaked. We will listen to other people’s views on that; I am relaxed about it. Annual reporting enables scrutiny, accountability and transparency in ensuring that child poverty is at the forefront of our minds in the political debate and that, in our activities in Parliament, we are always focused on eradicating child poverty.

There are debates to be had about the period that delivery plans should cover. The current child poverty strategy covers a three-year period. Some people say that the period needs to be longer so that we can demonstrate greater change, bearing in mind that although the eradication of child poverty is possible within a generation, the year-on-year changes will be more subtle. Among stakeholders and within the Government, there has been some thinking about the fact that the three-year cycle tends to fall bang in the middle of parliamentary sessions.

I am quite relaxed about the timing of the delivery plans, but they need to cover a long-enough period to give the Government and its partners a run at it. I would consider five years to be about right but, as always, we will listen closely to what others have to say.

The Convener

Pauline McNeill wants to come back in.

Pauline McNeill

My question follows on from Alison Johnstone’s point about automation of benefits, and it relates to the context of Richard Leonard’s question about the work in Glasgow that shows that there are many unclaimed benefits. That work has made a dramatic difference, because the data can be used. For example, anyone on housing benefit has certain entitlements, so the cheques can just be sent out.

Would it not make sense to look at bringing the duty that is being discussed for the social security bill into the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill as well? If the bill passes into law, the Government would be required to do the first delivery plan in 2018, so it would bring that focus to the Parliament a bit sooner. I think that that idea is worth considering.

Angela Constance

The evidence on automation is really interesting. There are great examples of what can be done on a pragmatic level to cut through bureaucracy and to get to folk in need more quickly.

I go back to what I said about the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill being a focused bill. Therefore, I think that the place for the provision of more detail on the opportunities around automation is the delivery plan. It might be possible for the bill to include pointers about what should be covered in the delivery plan that encapsulate the use of modern, efficient approaches. I am genuinely concerned that if we are overly specific on the face of the bill, the world around us will change before we know it, and we will be stuck with ways that have become outdated. However, I genuinely think that there is great merit in automated processes and the intelligent use of data.

Pauline McNeill

Thank you very much.

The Convener

I have two questions: the first is on the back of those from Ruth Maguire and Richard Leonard about local authorities and health boards looking forward rather than backward.

You mentioned the proposed requirement for local authorities and health boards to report on activity. Does that go far enough? Should local partners also be required to set out their intended actions to tackle child poverty?

Angela Constance

I think that we have the right balance of duties and responsibilities on local authorities, bearing in mind the overall responsibilities and duties that local government has under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, and the approaches at its disposal under community empowerment. All of that will be encapsulated by the socioeconomic duty. Inevitably, that is an issue for the reference group and the guidance; a progress report is forward looking and backward looking, because evaluating evidence on what works is at its core.

The Convener

Thank you. My second question is on the back of George Adam’s comments. You mentioned the proposed poverty and inequality commission. Could you clarify the commission’s intended remit and role, and its relationship with the current ministerial advisory group?

Angela Constance

We hope to say more about the poverty and inequality commission in the near future. I indicated earlier that the role of the commission is about advising ministers, using its expertise to help to ensure cross-Government connectivity and connecting us with the wider world and the wider evidence. We are giving great thought to the future of the ministerial advisory group on child poverty, which I have engaged with prior to today and as part of our work in preparation for the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. As a minimum, that group will remain in place as the bill passes through Parliament and becomes bedded in.

As far as the future is concerned, we need to be up front and actively question whether we will need a poverty and inequality commission and a ministerial advisory group on child poverty. That is not a debate or discussion that can be resolved here and now, but I advise the committee that we are giving the matter some thought. In the same way that we need the right range of data, we need the right range of advisory groups and experts. We do not necessarily want to have a cluttered landscape when we are trying to provide focus and drive in this area.

The Convener

Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. I thank you and your officials for coming along.

10:40 Meeting continued in private until 11:31.  



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27 March 2017

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20 April 2017

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27 April 2017

Social Security Committee's Stage 1 report

What is secondary legislation?

Secondary legislation is sometimes called 'subordinate' or 'delegated' legislation. It can be used to:

  • bring a section or sections of a law that’s already been passed, into force
  • give details of how a law will be applied
  • make changes to the law without a new Act having to be passed

An Act is a Bill that’s been approved by Parliament and given Royal Assent (formally approved).

Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee

This committee looks at the powers of this Bill to allow the Scottish Government or others to create 'secondary legislation' or regulations.

It met to discuss the Bill in public on:

7 March 2018

13 June 2017

Read the Stage 1 report by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee published on 18 April 2017.

 

 

Debate on the Bill

A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.

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Stage 1 debate on the Bill transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05879, in the name of Angela Constance, on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

I am delighted to open the debate on the principles of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. The principles are indisputable. The bill will establish Scotland as the only part of the United Kingdom that has ambitious targets to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty.

The background to the bill is that, in July 2015, the United Kingdom Government announced its intention to repeal significant portions of the Child Poverty Act 2010. It proposed to replace the four income-based targets with measures on worklessness and educational attainment; to remove child poverty from the then social mobility and child poverty commission’s remit; and to rename the legislation the Life Chances Act 2010.

The Scottish Government fundamentally disagreed with that approach and particularly with the removal of targets and the use of alternative measures that do not take income into account. That represents a shift towards characterising poverty as a lifestyle choice rather than addressing the social and economic drivers that cause people to fall into or remain in poverty. The Scottish Government therefore requested an opt-out from the UK Government’s plans and committed to bringing forward our own approach. Since then, we have worked quickly to consult on and produce the bill that members are considering.

The income and poverty statistics for 2015-16, which were published in March this year, indicate rising levels of child poverty in Scotland, with 26 per cent of children living in relative poverty after housing costs. I know that members from across the chamber will agree that those numbers are unacceptable. At the UK level, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that child poverty levels will increase further in the next few years, partly because of welfare changes that the UK Government has imposed. By the end of this decade and the start of the next decade, the number of children who are living in poverty will have increased by 1.2 million to more than 5 million.

With the bill, the Scottish Government is making a clear statement that child poverty is neither acceptable nor inevitable. That is why our targets, which are set on an after-housing-costs basis, will be even more stretching than those that were in the 2010 act. What is more, we acknowledge that income, or a lack of income, is central to poverty, which is a view that our stakeholders strongly agree with. If passed by Parliament, the bill will establish Scotland as the only part of the UK to have statutory income targets on child poverty.

Our consultation on the bill, which ran from August last year, was designed in collaboration with the ministerial advisory group on child poverty, the First Minister’s independent adviser on poverty and inequality and other relevant stakeholders. I take the opportunity to thank all who contributed to the bill’s development and all who took the time to respond. We received a total of 116 responses, which showed broad support for the proposals that the bill sets out.

Today, I hope to reassure members that the bill provides the robust framework and the strongest of foundations that are needed to drive our ambition to eradicate child poverty. The bill is made up of three key elements. It places a duty on the Scottish ministers to meet four ambitious income targets by 2030. Those targets provide a clear picture of the fairer Scotland that we all want.

The bill also places a duty on the Scottish ministers to produce regular delivery plans, the first of which is to be published by April 2018. Each delivery plan will set out the measures that the Scottish ministers will take to meet the income targets, and ministers will also be required to publish annual progress reports.

Further, the bill places a duty on local authorities and health boards to produce annual local child poverty reports, which will outline the measures that they have taken to reduce child poverty locally.

I thank the Social Security Committee for its detailed scrutiny of the proposals and for its comprehensive stage 1 report, and I will take full account of its suggestions as we take the bill into stage 2. I am sure that we will have the chance today to debate some of the recommendations in great detail, but I will highlight a few key points.

Having listened carefully to the evidence of stakeholders, I take the view that interim targets would be a helpful addition to the legislation. To be most useful, interim targets need to be set at levels that challenge the Government to take strong action. However, they also need to take account of the evidence about, for example, projected increasing levels of child poverty in the UK and consider what that means for Scotland.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I very much welcome what the cabinet secretary said about wanting the bill to be amended at stage 2 to introduce interim targets. Does she agree that interim targets need to be set out in the bill, rather than in secondary legislation?

Angela Constance

I will come imminently to the specifics of what I propose to do at stage 2. I emphasise that the interim targets need to galvanise action, to be stretching and ambitious enough, and to focus minds. My concern about setting out the specific interim targets in the bill is that that would come prior to eminently sensible and crucial work being completed.

As I will outline, I will bring forward measures to ensure parliamentary scrutiny of interim targets but, given that we know that child poverty in Scotland and in the UK is projected to rise, we need to do work now on the implications of the child poverty level rising to 5 million children in the UK. What will the impact of that be in Scotland and what increases will we expect to see? An important piece of work has to be done and we must be led by evidence in that and in all such work.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

What the cabinet secretary said is, broadly, welcome. The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland has made the point that, if young couples who live in poverty have children, those children will be brought up in poverty. What is the link between poverty among adults and poverty among children? As welcome as the bill is, does the cabinet secretary accept that we need a coherent anti-poverty strategy for Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I can allow you a little extra time, cabinet secretary.

Angela Constance

That is fine. I will answer Mr Rowley’s point, but I will come back to the parliamentary scrutiny of interim targets, as I had not completed my point.

Mr Rowley’s point is well made. Children are poor because their parents are poor, and any child poverty strategy must not sit in isolation from a wider anti-poverty strategy. As a Government, we introduced the fairer Scotland action plan, in which the number 1 action is to introduce an overarching socioeconomic duty across the public sector.

The bill forms one platform of the work, but other aspects include the Education (Scotland) Bill that we passed in 2016 and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. One thing that we can learn from the history of child poverty in Scotland and across the UK is that the progress that was made in the early years of the previous Labour Government stalled because there was no joined-up, all-government, all-country response to tackling child poverty.

To go back to Mr Tomkins’s question, my proposal is for the bill to refer to the interim targets and for the levels of those targets to be specified in regulations that are made under the bill. I will ensure parliamentary scrutiny by seeking parliamentary approval for the interim target levels that are set out in those regulations.

In response to the consultation on the bill, we received general support for our proposals on delivery plans, but the evidence that was heard at stage 1 identified two further areas that merit consideration and on which I will lodge amendments at stage 2. First, I agree with the principle that delivery plans need to be aligned more closely with parliamentary terms. It is crucial to have a clear link between the priorities of a newly formed Administration and the duties that ministers will be subject to under the legislation.

As for the content of delivery plans, my initial view was that we should not restrict ourselves to a shortlist of issues that delivery plans should consider. However, I accept the arguments in favour of including more detail in the bill, so I will carefully consider the areas where that might be appropriate, and I note the committee’s reference to the suggestions from the end child poverty coalition. The evidence tells us that there are touchstone issues in tackling and eradicating child poverty, which we can place in the bill.

I know that achieving the targets in the bill will be incredibly challenging—that is probably an understatement—but I hope that everyone in Parliament today, no matter which side of the chamber they are on, supports our aim of eradicating child poverty. I look forward to an open and constructive debate, and I welcome members’ views on the proposals that the bill sets out.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill.

14:42  



Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

As convener of the Social Security Committee, I am pleased to speak in today’s debate on behalf of the committee. I begin by thanking committee members very much for the constructive way in which we were able to reach a consensus view in our report on the bill’s general principles. I am pleased that we were able to be open with each other during committee meetings and in other sessions, recognise our differences of opinion on some issues and yet still reach agreement, as set out in our recently published stage 1 report.

I also thank everyone who took the time to respond to the committee’s call for evidence, either in writing or in person. In particular, we very much enjoyed hearing from our witnesses in Glasgow at the formal evidence session and at the informal event that we held in the city chambers. Hearing from experts in the field and those directly involved was very helpful to our deliberations at stage 1.

I put on record our appreciation of the cabinet secretary coming to the committee with an open mind and being prepared to listen to the evidence that we had received and the views expressed by committee members. We very much welcome her willingness to reflect and to come back with amendments in key areas, and we look forward to discussing those amendments at stage 2. I also extend thanks to the committee clerks for all their hard work, and I thank everyone who took part in the evidence-taking sessions and beyond.

As all of us in this chamber will agree, there should be no place for child poverty in a modern Scotland. The effects of growing up in poverty can last a lifetime and can impact on health and educational prospects long after a child has grown up. We need to make a difference now to the lives of children in Scotland who are facing poverty. With that in mind, I acknowledge the fact that the Scottish Government introduced the bill as a direct response to the UK Government’s repeal of significant sections of the UK-wide Child Poverty Act 2010, including those that provided for the previous income-based targets for child poverty.

Research published by the end child poverty coalition at the end of last year shows the number of children in low-income households by local authority area across the UK. The figures tell us that one in four children in Scotland live in low-income households and more than one in three children in Glasgow live in such households. That is totally unacceptable. The committee felt, therefore, that it was important to meet in Glasgow, to find out about the work that is being done there, and in other areas, to tackle child poverty and to hear what more needs to be done.

What we heard was powerful. I will touch on some of the specific points that were made a little later in my speech but, across the range of evidence that we received, there was strong support for this Parliament reinstating the income-based targets for child poverty. We were told that putting the targets back on a statutory footing would send a message about the importance that we in Scotland attach to addressing child poverty. The targets focus minds and resources and set a direction for where we as a society want to get to.

We all know that targets will not in themselves reduce child poverty, but they are an important part of the bigger picture, enabling us to measure progress in Scotland and to hold the Government here to account.

The targets mirror the targets that were set out previously in the Child Poverty Act 2010. They are already widely recognised and were arrived at following extensive consultation. The targets are all income based because, at the heart of all poverty is a lack of income. The amount of available income in a household is what counts when we assess whether a child is living in poverty.

For the purpose of the bill, income is arrived at after deducting housing costs. That is an important difference between the targets in the bill and what was in place previously in the UK. We welcome the approach that the Scottish Government has taken in that regard. Housing costs are invariably the largest regular outgoing for a household and they are an essential cost. That is why we support the approach taken in the bill.

In its evidence to the committee, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recognised the benefit of taking an after-housing-costs approach. It also sounded a note of caution and set out a caveat around the element of personal choice that can sometimes exist in relation to housing. We were given the example of two households with exactly the same money coming in. One might decide to prioritise the quality of the housing that they live in and the other might choose to prioritise the quality of the food that they purchase or how they live. In such an example, one household could be measured as being in poverty while the other could be measured as not being in poverty. The only difference would be that one family preferred to prioritise one thing over another. Despite that note of caution, it is clear that using an after-housing-costs basis for calculating income makes the targets in the bill more challenging. We acknowledge that and we welcome that approach.

When we discussed household incomes, we heard evidence from a number of witnesses about the inequalities that exist between certain groups in our society. For example, Engender and others told us that women are more likely than men to be living in poverty, as are lone mothers. Engender told us that tackling child poverty in Scotland is closely linked to tackling gender inequality. Inclusion Scotland told us that disabled children and the children of disabled parents are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, disabled women are much more likely than disabled men to be living in poverty and many more disabled women than disabled men are lone parents.

I will highlight evidence about householders who, through no fault of their own, face additional essential costs that greatly reduce their available household income—costs that relate to essentials that are not a matter of personal choice.

Inclusion Scotland and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation told us about the extra costs for a household in which one or more parents have a disability. They pointed out that the targets in the bill take account of additional income that is received from disability benefits but not the full impact of the additional costs that disabled people face. Inclusion Scotland said:

“This has the effect of boosting household income and lifting many households containing disabled people out of ‘poverty’ when the current measure of poverty is applied ... Whereas in fact those same households are consistently shown to be at twice the risk of material deprivation compared to households where there are no disabled children or adults”.

The committee was struck by that and, for that reason, we have asked the Government to consider whether other deductions should be made when calculating net household income, particularly when thinking about people with a disability.

I want to say some brief words about the date by which the targets are to be achieved—the end date is 1 April 2031. Tackling child poverty meaningfully will take time and the committee absolutely recognises that. However, a strong message that came through in our evidence—the cabinet secretary has mentioned this—was that interim targets would be helpful. We were pleased that the cabinet secretary said that she was open to revisiting the issue and that she would introduce proposals at stage 2. I thank her very much for listening to not just the evidence but the committee.

The other important part of the bill is the mechanism for the Government to report its progress to Parliament. We welcome the provisions for delivery plans and annual progress reports, which will enable robust and comprehensive parliamentary scrutiny.

We received a lot of evidence on the importance of the delivery plans and a number of suggestions about what the delivery plans should cover. Again, our report has made a number of recommendations, and we welcome the cabinet secretary’s willingness to look at them and come back at stage 2.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Would the recommendation for a statutory commission cover the call for independent scrutiny?

Sandra White

That point was certainly covered in our report and we discussed it. There are differing opinions on whether the commission should be statutory and what exactly it should be. The committee will be looking at that issue once again at stage 2, but I thank the member for raising that important point.

Local authorities and health boards will also report annually on the measures that they have taken to address child poverty in their local areas. Again, the committee very much welcomes that. That point was raised with us on numerous occasions and has been raised by members. We all know of initiatives undertaken locally that could be tried in other areas, and an important role of the local reports will be to share information on what works.

Earlier, I said that I would come back to some of the evidence that we heard in Glasgow. Therefore, I would like to draw attention to the good work of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the impact that has been made on child poverty through its healthier, wealthier children initiative. I know that other members are aware of that work.

I will just mention another couple of initiatives, Presiding Officer—I know that I have gone slightly over my time. We heard similar stories from Dundee City Council and Fife Council, together with NHS Tayside and NHS Fife, all of which are building a growing understanding of what works. There is a great willingness across the whole of Scotland to increase our focus on tackling child poverty and to roll out tried and tested initiatives.

The Social Security Committee welcomes the bill. It should act as a foundation for ensuring a focus at national and local level on tackling child poverty in Scotland. We need a consistent and sustained effort, alongside a culture change in society. For those reasons, the committee supports the general principles of the bill.

14:53  



Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I have been looking forward to the debate for a while. On these benches, we will be supporting the general principles of the bill today, but we look forward to trying to make the bill stronger over the course of stages 2 and 3.

I have been thinking about and working on the bill for a little while and, like Sandra White, I would like to thank the committee clerks and all the witnesses who helped us with our stage 1 report on the bill, which is, in my view, the best piece of work that the Social Security Committee has produced so far in this Parliament.

I would also like to thank John Dickie and Peter Kelly for their time and insights and the Child Poverty Action Group, end child poverty, Barnardo’s and the Poverty Alliance for discussions and advice about the bill.

The Scottish Conservatives share the view that has already been expressed by Angela Constance and Sandra White that measuring child poverty is important. However, we strongly believe that taking steps to tackle, reduce and, eventually, eradicate child poverty is much more important. The bill as introduced includes various provisions to measure child poverty in Scotland, but on its own—as I think Sandra White said—it will not do anything at all to lift any child in Scotland out of poverty. As such, it is a missed opportunity.

The Parliament has the chance to improve and strengthen the bill as it progresses through its legislative stages so that, by the time it reaches the statute book, it can help us, as parliamentarians, not merely to understand the scope and incidence of child poverty but to hold to account effectively and robustly the Government of the day on what it is doing about child poverty.

I will set out three ways in which the Conservatives will seek to improve the bill. First, as we have heard, the bill focuses very narrowly on income. The cabinet secretary says that poverty is all about not having enough income, but we on the Conservative side of the chamber do not believe that that analysis gets to the root of the problem. We believe that, unless we get to the root of the problem, no anti-poverty strategy, whether it is a child poverty strategy or—as Alex Rowley described—a more general anti-poverty strategy, will succeed.

In our view, it is not enough to say that the solution to poverty is increased income; we need to dig deeper to investigate and understand, and—without fear or favour—to address and confront the drivers that lead families to have insufficient income in the first place.

Although I am sure that we all have more to learn about the subject, we know quite a lot about what those drivers are. They include addiction, family breakdown, unemployment and educational underattainment. That list is not exhaustive, but those are all relevant considerations. All those issues are drivers of poverty in general and child poverty in particular.

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

Will the member take an intervention?

Adam Tomkins

I will finish my point, and then I will happily give way.

Our core contention in relation to the bill is that no anti-poverty strategy will be successful unless those underlying causes of poverty are addressed robustly and systematically.

Alex Neil

I hear what Adam Tomkins says: he thinks that addiction is a driver of poverty. However, is it not the case—indeed, much more likely—that poverty is the driver of the addiction? In most cases, poverty is the root cause of those problems, not the other way round.

Adam Tomkins

No, I am afraid that I do not accept that. There are behaviours that drive people into poverty, so I absolutely do not accept what Alex Neil just said.

What does the bill say about matters such as addiction, family breakdown and educational underattainment? The answer is nothing, which I find puzzling. We have all heard the First Minister solemnly proclaim that closing the attainment gap is her Government’s number 1 priority. We all know that educational underattainment is one of the key drivers of child poverty. In the bill, Scottish ministers have a legislative opportunity to turn the First Minister’s stated political aspiration into hard legal reality, yet it is an opportunity not taken: an opportunity missed.

At stage 2, therefore, the Conservatives will lodge an amendment that seeks to place ministers under a legal duty to take steps to close the attainment gap and report annually to Parliament on the progress that they are making.

Angela Constance

I am somewhat puzzled and bemused that Adam Tomkins wants to make the legislation “stronger” and more effective, while his Government in London has ripped the heart out of similar legislation that covers the length and breadth of the UK.

As I have pointed out to Adam Tomkins, we already have legislation that places responsibilities on ministers and local authorities to address the attainment gap. As he well knows, the issues that he mentions are properly to be dealt with in the first delivery plan in a way that is based on evidence and on economic needs at the time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I can allow you extra time for those interventions, Mr Tomkins.

Adam Tomkins

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

On the first point, the whole point of devolution is to allow parties to have priorities in different parts of the United Kingdom without ripping the UK up. On the second point, section 1 of the Education (Scotland) Act 2016 places on ministers a duty merely to “have ... regard to” the importance of closing the attainment gap, not necessarily to do anything about it.

It is plain from the Government’s own documentation that the duty does not go far enough. In the Government’s child poverty measurement framework, the percentage of primary 7 pupils from the most deprived areas who are performing well in numeracy and in writing is going down. It is plain that more needs to be done, and more can—and should—be done in the bill to force ministers’ hands.

As we have already heard, the Social Security Committee agreed that whether the bill’s targets are met will depend on the delivery plans that are to be published in 2018, 2021 and 2026. Those delivery plans are absolutely critical. There was some discussion in the committee about the frequency and timing of the delivery plans, but for my part I am more concerned about their content. On that matter, again, the bill is next to silent.

The committee agreed that the bill should set out in detail the matters that must be addressed in those delivery plans. As a minimum, delivery plans must include information about the full use of Scottish social security powers—that is, not only those over benefits that are devolved in full but also the top-up power and the power to create new benefits.

The plans must also include information about employment for parents and carers. That addresses another of the key drivers of child poverty—children who grow up in workless households. The UK’s Life Chances Act 2010 requires the secretary of state to report on the number of children in England living in workless and long-term workless households. In our view, delivery plans under this bill similarly should set out the measures taken by and proposed to be taken by the Scottish ministers to reduce the number of children in Scotland growing up in families in which no parent, guardian or carer is in employment or paid self-employment.

The final matter that I want to address is independence of oversight and scrutiny—the key word is “independence”. The UK’s Social Mobility Commission is a statutory body, whose powers and functions are set out in law made by Parliament. Scottish ministers, by contrast, propose to establish an ad hoc—that is Latin—non-statutory poverty and inequality commission, in respect of which, as I understand it, Parliament will have no oversight of its terms of reference, powers, remit, functions or personnel. That is not, in any language, a recipe for independent scrutiny, and the cabinet secretary knows it.

To conclude, right across the chamber there is the political will to take the problem of child poverty seriously. I have set out how we in the Scottish Conservatives will seek to amend the bill to strengthen it, so that it may realise its ambitions. I look forward to working with members from across the chamber to make that happen.

15:01  



Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Labour fully supports the principles of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, and I echo the words of Sandra White and Adam Tomkins in giving thanks to the many organisations that gave evidence and assisted us in our work.

We think that the bill as it stands lacks the ambition that is needed, but we can work together across the Parliament to ensure that it has the level of ambition that such an important issue requires. We are fully behind a targets framework to measure child poverty and a framework that will set out policy and action that is designed to reduce child poverty by 2030. It is policy and action that matter—targets only measure what we do.

The committee worked well together to produce a very productive report. I hope that our consensus will strengthen the bill at stage 2 and stage 3. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s acceptance that the introduction of interim targets would be an important contribution. However, we are clear that that should be on the face of the bill and that there should be a statutory right for those targets to be tested at some time before 2030. I look forward to seeing the detail on that.

The committee rightly adopted from the end child poverty coalition the idea that there should be at least five specified areas in the delivery plan, such as the full use of social security powers and income maximisation. I agree that it should not be restricted to that, but there should be some prescription in the bill so that we can ensure that any Government would be expected to address policy in those areas.

I agree with Adam Tomkins that independent scrutiny of the Government’s work is essential. The committee did its job on that by making a bold recommendation for the establishment of a commission on a statutory footing to ensure that successive Scottish ministers will be held to account for their actions. In the past I have not been a great fan of commissions—I have had my arm twisted on more than one occasion. However, in this case I believe that a commission will make a significant difference to the scrutiny of whichever Government is in power.

The last Labour Government created a tax credits system that transformed lives and reduced levels of child poverty. According to IFS research,

“both absolute and relative measures of income poverty fell markedly among children and pensioners”,

and that was

“driven by very significant additional spending on benefits and tax credits.”

I quoted that because I think that it demonstrates the kind of policy ambition that we should support in this session of Parliament. Fundamentally, it is the redistribution of income that will make the big difference. That is why Labour supports CPAG’s proposal to increase levels of child benefit by £5 a week—£20 a month. We believe that the impact of that would be large and transformational.

I agree that there are other factors that entrench poverty in children’s lives but, fundamentally, it is a lack of income that makes children live in poverty. CPAG shared with me some comments by those who might benefit from such a policy. One parent said:

“It would pay for the breakfast club to help me get to work ahead of time”.

Another parent said:

“It would cover my daughter’s bus ticket to school or pay for an activity once a week like swimming”.

Those are the kind of things that change a child’s quality of life. A child can carry some of those experiences with them into adulthood, so they matter.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Does Pauline McNeill accept that the child benefit top-up of £5 a week would also apply to folk on incomes of £50,000 to £60,000? Does she agree that, although universalism is a good thing, we have to get over the stigma of applying for benefits and that we cannot use that as an excuse?

Pauline McNeill

Sometimes, universalism is necessary in order to help the poorest people. That is why we support CPAG’s policy.

Children who live in poverty are less likely to go to university and they are more likely to have poor health continuing into adulthood. The cold reality is that living in poverty is likely to affect someone’s ambition, especially if there are not clear ways out of the cycle of poor housing and low pay.

Child poverty is on the increase, and projections by the IFS, which the cabinet secretary mentioned, are bleak. They forecast an increase of more than 50 per cent in the proportion of children living in poverty in the UK by 2021, which is not that far away. That would reverse most of the fall in child poverty that has been observed in the UK since the late 1990s.

The excellent report that Oxfam provided for this debate sets out the fundamental point that wealth inequality has risen in recent years and that wealth is now even more unevenly distributed than income, with the richest 1 per cent owning more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent put together.

Over the past few months, I have listened to the Tories saying that the best way to get out of poverty is to get into work. I agree with that, to some extent, but the figures belie the position and are worth examining, because 70 per cent of children who are in poverty are in working families. It is not enough simply to say that work will solve the problem. In fact, the Government’s independent adviser, Naomi Eisenstadt, who has done wonderful work and produced the “Shifting the curve” report, says that being in work is not enough, and that people need good pay and enough hours in their work. That is why Labour supports other key measures such as a £10-an-hour living wage. We have identified that poor people are missing out on £2 billion-worth of benefits, which is why we must consider initiatives such as automating benefits, and why we must think about whether it might be appropriate to legislate for income maximisation in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and the forthcoming social security bill.

It is important that we recognise the work that local authorities currently do and the work that they will do on delivery under the legislative framework that we are discussing. It is important that we consider placing a duty on local authorities and health boards to plan in line with the existing planning process so that there is streamlining throughout the legislation.

I fully support the principles of the bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. I want speeches of around six minutes, but we have quite a bit of time in hand, so I can allow extra time for interventions.

15:09  



Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

I, too, welcome the bill. It is high time that the Parliament sent out a loud and clear message from across the chamber that we are determined to do something effective and with reasonable speed to tackle the level of child poverty in our country.

I also welcome the excellent report from the Social Security Committee, under Sandra White’s convenership, although, on its recommendation 10, I say in passing that, given the Scottish Government’s intention to set up a poverty and inequality commission, we should not have a separate child poverty commission. Alex Rowley is absolutely right: tackling child poverty has to be part of a wider, broader and more comprehensive programme for tackling poverty across the board. However, I have a lot of sympathy with the suggestion that the poverty and inequality commission should be placed on a statutory basis.

We all know the scale of child poverty; very often, we cite it in the chamber. However, we should also remind ourselves of its costs to society, which are as high as we could imagine. A solve UK poverty report that was published in August 2016—not that long ago—stated that

“the public service costs of poverty amounted to around £69 billion, with identifiable knock-on effects of child poverty costing a further £6 billion, and knock-on effects of adult poverty costing at least £2.7 billion”,

that

“this gives a total cost of poverty in the UK of around £78 billion”

and that

“a large proportion of what we spend publicly (about £1 in every £5 spent on public services)

is spent to deal with the consequences of poverty in our society.

To those who say that we cannot afford to deal with child poverty, or poverty more generally, I say that they should look at the facts and the evidence. We cannot afford not to deal with child poverty, and poverty in general, in our society.

I fully appreciate the motives of Adam Tomkins. I am sure that he is motivated—as we all are—by the need to abolish child poverty. However, I fundamentally disagree with his analysis, because the evidence does not back it up. I draw his attention, and that of the Parliament, to an excellent report produced by one of the first-class quangos that we have in Scotland: Health Scotland. It does a massive amount of first-class research into poverty and, in particular, how to reduce health inequalities. About 18 months to two years ago, Health Scotland produced its excellent report, which addressed the fundamental issue that we must all address: what do we need to do to reduce and abolish child poverty and poverty more generally? It addressed the question of the most effective way of reducing health inequalities in Scotland.

When I heard about the Health Scotland report, I expected it to give a litany of actions to be taken by the national health service, but its evidence pointed to the conclusion that the single most effective measure that could be taken to reduce health inequalities would be to make the living wage mandatory for everybody in this country. Were we to have the living wage—not the Tory version, but the real living wage—that would very quickly start to reduce health inequalities. I make a similar point on reducing the educational attainment gap. We will not achieve our objectives on that if we do not, as a prerequisite, tackle child poverty. If a child goes to school hungry, and with an empty belly, no amount of tuition will overcome the negative impact of that on that child’s education.

As a grandfather—I am a young grandfather, Presiding Officer—along with my wife I take our grandchildren to different activities almost every Sunday. They are lucky, because their parents—like their grandparents—can afford to do that. However, I wonder about other children. The cost for four of us to go to soft play on a Sunday morning is about £15. If we go to the pictures to see “The Baby Boss”, it is then over £30; if we are having lunch, it is £50—if we go to McDonald’s. That is just one Sunday morning outing. If my grandchildren did not get those experiences, their ability to be confident, to explore the world, to read their books and to be able to mingle with other children and adults would be, quite frankly, severely restricted. How can any parent who is living on the minimum wage, who has a zero-hours contract or who is on benefit afford to do that? There is no way on earth that those parents or poor grandparents can afford to do that for their children or grandchildren. Therefore, even if the children are going to an incredibly good school, they will still end up not doing as well as their peers, because they do not have that support at home.

I fundamentally disagree with Mr Tomkins. I see tackling child poverty and poverty more generally as being initially, and as a priority, about putting cash in the pockets of the poor. If people do not have the cash, many of the other support services will not work to their full potential. It is important not just to set targets—that is dead easy to do—but to put in place a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that has tackling child poverty at its core, while tackling poverty more generally.

Let us look at the level and the definition of poverty. People who are living in poverty are defined as having 60 per cent or less than the median average household income. When I was doing the job that Ms Constance is doing, I asked my officials how much it would cost a year if we were to give every family in Scotland that falls within the poverty category enough money to get up to the 60 per cent level. I expected the figure to be about £6 billion or £8 billion. It was not. The gross cost would be £2 billion a year.

That £2 billion would pay for itself, because if we were to take away the cost of the poverty, the net figure would be a lot less than £2 billion a year. We are going to set targets, we are going to have an independent commission to monitor them and we are going to look at how we publish them and all the rest of it, but the key message that must go out from this chamber is that we are, once and for all, really going to tackle poverty, starting with child poverty, in our society.

Elaine Smith

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Through you, may I ask that colleagues speak into their microphones? Unfortunately, I missed part of an otherwise excellent speech by Mr Neil.

Alex Neil

Should I do it again, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No, thank you.

I thank Elaine Smith for raising that point. I was just about to mention that, even with Mr Neil’s bellowing style—if he will excuse my saying so—people can miss what is being said if members do not speak into their microphones. For the benefit of everyone here and the official report, it is important that members are fairly close to their microphone when they are speaking.

15:18  



Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I will try hard to stay close to my microphone, Presiding Officer.

I suspect that no Government anywhere would argue that there is an easy path when it comes to finding wholly effective policies to address poverty, but for exactly the reasons that Alex Neil set out—I obviously do not agree with his entire assessment, but he put the issue in an important context—such policies are clearly crucial when it comes to supporting our most disadvantaged communities. For generations, policy makers have struggled to unscramble many of the complexities that surround poverty, including what many people argue are inadequate definitions that are so often tied to arbitrary income levels.

Relative poverty is particularly hard to define and, of course, there are the on-going tensions—Alex Neil talked about them in his speech—between economic policy statistics and social policy, which has a much more subjective foundation. For that point alone, Alex Neil’s speech was worth listening to, because we all recognise the symptoms of social exclusion when they occur, the effects that they have, and how they are linked to problems including unemployment, poor housing, crime, educational difficulties and low incomes.

However, as my colleague Adam Tomkins rightly identified in his speech, the most important focus for all of us—I do not think that there is terribly much disagreement politically on this—must be on the causes of poverty, rather than on the symptoms. We do not have any major concerns about the general direction of the bill, but we believe that it does not go nearly far enough in addressing causes.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I appreciate what Liz Smith is saying, but the problem that some of us on the SNP side of the chamber have with what Mr Tomkins said is that he conflated symptoms and causes. We believe that the area that he mentioned in particular, the attainment gap, is a symptom of poverty and not a cause.

Liz Smith

I will come to the attainment gap in a minute, because it is a very important part of policy.

If we are going to deal properly with poverty, we have to look at its root causes. If we do not do that, we will not be able to take on board the point that Alex Neil made at the end of his speech, which is that we actually have to do something. That is not to forget about the symptoms.

Alex Rowley

The previous Labour UK Government introduced tax credits and, as a result, more than 1 million children in the UK were lifted out of poverty, including 200,000 in Scotland. The evidence is clear that when the Government intervenes and ensures that more income goes to families, child poverty goes down. What is Liz Smith’s view of the fact that today 40,000 more children in Scotland than last year are in poverty? Does she accept that that is something to do with the UK Government?

Liz Smith

I agree only to an extent, because the key issue is not specific income levels but the root causes that underpin income levels. We will not get rid of poverty just by lifting income levels; we have to deal with some of the underlying causes. I do not pretend—I do not think that anybody in the chamber pretends—that this is an easy topic: it is not. As Clare Adamson reminded us, so many factors are interlinked with poverty. However, the deficiency in the bill is that it does not deal with enough of the genuine underpinning of some of the causes, which is where we have to concentrate our energies.

I want to talk about education policies that I think are important in addressing child poverty, and I will start with the early years. To come back to what some SNP MSPs are asking for, the evidence is important. A critical aspect of educational evidence is evidence on what is determined in children’s early years. That is not just about when children are at nursery school; it is also about what happens before nursery school. There is a lot of evidence that the attainment gap, which we all want to address, starts early. That is why we believe fundamentally that we have to focus delivery of early years services not just on the three and four-year-olds—although what the Scottish Government has done in that respect is extremely welcome—but on disadvantaged one-year-olds and two-year-olds, among whom there are specific issues.

I also believe fundamentally that literacy and numeracy, which we have talked about a great deal in the chamber over the past few months, are crucial for improving young people’s education opportunities and aspirations, and for acquiring the skills that they will need in later life.

We agree that the pupil equity fund is the right way forward and is an opportunity for schools, but decisions on it must come from the schools themselves. I hope that there will not be too many edicts from local authorities or national Government about how the money should be spent, because headteachers are the people who are in a position to make the right decisions about what will help their pupils best.

There is nothing in the basic principles of the bill with which we disagree, but we can do a lot more to ensure that it adopts the robust stance that we all want. That is why we will lodge a variety of amendments at stages 2 and 3.

15:25  



Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The number of children who are growing up in poverty in Scotland is rising, not falling. Relative child poverty has gone up from 22 per cent of Scotland’s children to 26 per cent in just 12 months. Absolute child poverty has gone up from 21 per cent of children in Scotland to 24 per cent in 12 months. More than 250,000 children in Scotland are now living in poverty, and almost 70 per cent of those children are in households that are in work, which is—as I keep pointing out to the Government—a sign not of a resilient labour market, but of a labour market that is mired in poverty pay, underemployment and insecure work. To Conservative members I say this: those are not lifestyle choices; they are economic impositions that people are facing.

We rationally expect equal treatment before the law, so why should we accept such a huge irrational inequality? Why should we accept a society with a shameful contrast of, on the one hand, unbridled private adult wealth, and on the other, public childhood destitution and squalor? That condition is visited upon those children: it is visited not upon those who have created those severe and capricious inequalities but upon those who are, through a chance of birth, simply born into it. We know the result: horizons are limited and life expectancy is cut, with cycles of poverty that pass from one generation to the next. That is what Parliament needs to tackle, and the bill provides us with a start.

There is an emerging consensus, which I hope the cabinet secretary can join, that the time when Parliament can merely set targets has passed. The time has passed when Parliament can simply count the growth in child poverty. The time has come to end child poverty.

The cabinet secretary recently told the Social Security Committee about a new socioeconomic duty that she is contemplating, but our other duty here in Parliament is our moral duty to act. That is why that committee, which contains members of the cabinet secretary’s party, is demanding statutory interim targets in the bill—not in regulations, but on the face of the bill. That is why the committee is demanding tougher action to root out persistent poverty, as well as a tougher definition of it.

It cannot be right that, in a household in which there is an adult or child, or both, with a disability, material deprivation is so much worse. That is why we are also asking the Government to revise its calculation of net income in such households.

Neither can it be right that children from minority ethnic backgrounds are twice as likely to live in poverty than white kids are. We need robust delivery plans, with a clear and traceable link to the Scottish Government’s budget, to tackle that and other inequalities.

As we have heard, the committee recommends the establishment of a statutory commission to provide independent scrutiny and oversight of progress, with powers to investigate and, where necessary, to call this or a future Scottish Government to account—not a ministerial advisory group, but an independent commission, established by statute through the bill and subject to parliamentary power of appointment. As the Child Poverty Action Group spells out, the commission should have

“members with expertise in measuring and understanding poverty, expertise in engaging with those people experiencing or at risk of poverty and an in-depth understanding of the causes and effects of child poverty.”

The bill mentions income after housing costs, and it is right that it focuses on statutory income targets. That is why Labour advances the case for increasing child benefit—an already universal benefit—by £5 a week. That would, at a stroke, lift 30,000 children in Scotland out of poverty.

However, the economic condition that people find themselves in is not just pecuniary deprivation; a deprivation of power comes with poverty, as well. That powerlessness leads to hopelessness and, all too often, to acquiescence.

We need not just economic growth; we need a fundamental change in the wider organisation of the economy. We need not just a redistribution of wealth, but a redistribution of power. Our demand—the Labour demand—is not simply to take the tears out of capitalism; it is to bring about a change that is much more radical than that. It is to bring about change that is based upon transformed relations of power, and upon foundations of equality and democracy in our economy, so that Government spending on housing, education, old-age pensions and social security is viewed not as a private burden, but as a social investment, and so that we create a truly civilised society that is productive, but shares its wealth with a sense of social justice, social cohesion and solidarity of human spirit, with all of that standing on a rock of faith—that old Labour rock of faith—in equality and the equal worth of all.

15:31  



Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

The main purpose of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is to set in law a series of targets for the reduction of child poverty. The challenge of achieving those targets was underscored earlier this year, when the latest child poverty statistics revealed that there had been a 4 per cent rise in relative child poverty in just one year. As we know, that is a rise of 40,000 children, to 260,000 children.

Relative child poverty can be an opaque term—Liz Smith touched on that—but Peter Townsend, who was Britain’s leading expert on poverty, argued that it occurs when someone lives with resources that are

“so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities.”

They are excluded from the little trips out that some may take for granted, which Alex Neil described so well.

There are 260,000 children whose families cannot afford to feed them the same breakfast as their classmates have every morning and, as a result, they struggle to concentrate at school. A quarter of a million children are not able to go on the school trips from which their peers get great educational benefit. For constituency members in the chamber, that is 3,500 children in each constituency; for regional members such as me, that is 32,500 children in each region. That is the scale of the challenge that we face.

I will remind members why the bill is needed. The statutory child poverty targets in the bill have existed before, but they were removed last year by the UK Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 in favour of measures that relate to worklessness and educational attainment. Although I agree that worklessness is linked to poverty—as, indeed, is educational attainment—the focus on worklessness implies that work is always a route out of poverty, and, as we have heard, that is simply not the case.

In December, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released figures that showed that one in every eight workers in the UK—that is 3.8 million people—is now living in poverty. A total of 2.6 million children across the UK are in poverty despite their being in a working family, and in Scotland—we have heard this, but the figures bear repetition—70 per cent of children in poverty live in households with at least one working adult. That is a 15 per cent increase between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

Child poverty is multifaceted, but the lack of an adequate income—whether that income is from work or benefits or from a mixture of both—remains its defining characteristic, and that must remain central to any poverty measurement and any strategy to decrease child poverty. That is why the Greens warmly welcome the reinstating of the targets and why we will support the principles of the bill at decision time.

I will lodge an amendment to the bill to ensure that the delivery plans cover five key recommendations of the end child poverty coalition. The first relates to the full use of the social security system. We know that using social security benefits to boost the incomes of our poorest families can pull hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. We know that because it has been done before—Richard Leonard and Alex Rowley touched on that. However, that has been undone in recent years by so-called welfare reform.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the projected increase in child poverty can be entirely explained by the direct impact of reforms to tax and benefits. The IFS also argues that investment in child benefit and child tax credits between the mid 1990s and 2010 was the key factor behind historically and internationally unprecedented reductions in child poverty and associated improvements in child wellbeing.

Now we are going backwards. It is projected that, by 2020, child benefit will have lost 28 per cent of the value that it had in 2010. We can start to address that by adding an extra £5 to the benefit. The Child Poverty Action Group and the Scottish Greens have called for such a top-up, and Pauline McNeill called for that approach today.

We know that, when child benefit is paid, it goes to more of its intended recipients than is the case for almost any other benefit apart from the state pension, with 95 per cent of those who are eligible for child benefit making a successful claim. I very much welcome the significant improvements to early years grants that were announced on Tuesday, but the sure start maternity grant reaches only around 50 per cent of eligible families. I have no doubt that the Scottish Government will work hard to increase that proportion, but we know that an increase in child benefit will get to those who need it and will make a huge difference to child poverty.

I accept that the near universality of child benefit means that some of the additional spending would go to relatively well-off families, whose children are not in poverty, but there are a range of problems with having a more means-tested approach.

CPAG commissioned research that shows that a £5 top-up would cut child poverty by 14 per cent, lifting 30,000 children out of poverty. That would quickly go a long way towards achieving the targets that the Scottish Government is setting. It is no wonder that the idea also has support from the Poverty Alliance, One Parent Families Scotland, the Church of Scotland and the new Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland as well as the outgoing one. Food banks report that child benefit is often the only source of income for the families that present to them, for whom means-tested benefits and the system that delivers them have failed.

The Scottish Government describes social security as an investment and I agree whole-heartedly with that approach. At a cost of around £250 million annually, a £5 top-up would indeed be a significant investment. However, as we heard from other members, Loughborough University conservatively estimates that child poverty costs us £750 million a year. It is an investment that we cannot afford not to make.

The targets in the bill represent a major challenge, but it is a challenge to which we must rise. We should be ashamed that, in such a wealthy country, so many of our children live below the average accepted standard. The likelihood is that children who live in poverty will stay there and that their own children will experience poverty, too. We need to break that cycle.

The bill needs to be clearer about how the targets will be achieved and should provide for more policy tools to achieve the targets and break the cycle. Nonetheless, what we have before us today is potentially the beginning of the end of child poverty in Scotland, and I commend the Scottish Government for having that ambition.

15:38  



Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

When Alex Neil is on his feet and on such form, I always think that he needs a stage, not a microphone.

Let me say, first, that the Liberal Democrats very much support the bill, and, secondly, that my social liberalism is rather closer to the views of Alex Neil and Richard Leonard than it is to the economic views of members on the Conservative benches. I say that not in a politically aggressive way but because the arguments are stronger on that side of the equation.

There are two influences on me in the context of this vital area of public policy. One is Sir Harry Burns, the former chief medical officer. In evidence to a parliamentary committee of which I was a member—I forget which committee it was, but it was in the previous session or the session before—he laid out in stark, simple but incredibly elegant terms the crucial links, for young people as well as older people, between having no job—or, as Richard Leonard rightly put it, poverty wages—and a lack of educational attainment or educational failure, poor housing, health inequalities and stress and mental health issues. He set out the need to address the issue in the round and to address the underlying reality of what poverty means for far too many people.

As the cabinet secretary and many other members, including Alison Johnstone, have said, the bald statistics are scary and frightening—we can use whatever rhetoric we want to use, especially seven days before an election. It cannot be good enough that so many young Scots fall into the definition of poverty and face circumstances that none of us finds in any way acceptable, whichever side of the political equation we belong on.

The second influence is Naomi Eisenstadt, whom Pauline McNeill rightly mentioned. She is not an academic that I would take on on any basis whatsoever, and she gave a tub-thumping speech at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry forum a month or so ago. The cabinet secretary will forgive me for mentioning that she was not particularly kind about such things as the council tax freeze—that can be no surprise to anyone on the SNP benches. She said fundamental things about universalism and the challenge that it means, as opposed to the choices that we can make in politics and where we should direct our resources, efforts and approach.

We should listen to those people of Scottish and international importance when they analyse why poverty has to be addressed, how we should address it and the reasons and underlying feelings behind public policy at this time. I hope that the bill will be part of a series of measures that should be taken to address exactly those issues. It is right, philosophically and in practice, to produce legislation to eradicate poverty. It cannot be acceptable that more than a quarter of young Scots live in relative poverty. As members have said, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecast that child poverty across the UK will rise by 50 per cent by 2020 has to be utterly unacceptable to any Government of any political persuasion. The response to that forecast cannot be to say that we will have more of the same.

Those are the challenges, and there seem to be three points to address on the specific measures that the Government proposes in the bill, although I am not sure that I have got them worked out yet. The first point is on targets. As Alex Neil said, we can all agree to targets—all Governments run those out, and they are the easiest thing going—but, if we do not meet targets, what happens then? A response to that question is what happened with CO2 emissions: the Government missed its targets but, because of parliamentary pressures including from its own side, it has started to move in the right direction.

I was not sure about Adam Tomkins’s analysis that more targets are needed in the bill, although I may have picked that up wrongly and would be happy to give way on that point. If educational attainment targets were to be included in the bill, which is what I think he was hinting at, why stop there? We could include sports participation levels, fuel poverty targets—in my part of the world, fuel poverty comes down to a choice between heat and food for too many families—or targets for house build completion based on building insulation challenges and standards.

If we were to amend the bill to widen the targets, we would have to be conscious of where that would lead for the organisations on which we would lay those targets. Local government or an agency or body, not the Government, would ultimately have to achieve the targets. We would then haul ourselves into a world of constant ministerial direction irrespective of which party was in Government. If the Parliament agrees to a target and X local authority area—for example, Glasgow—does not achieve it, what will the minister do about it? In making such proposals for stages 2 and 3, members need to be careful and analyse what they are setting themselves up for.

My second point is on the proposal for an independent commission. The briefings that we received for the debate were thoughtful and highly articulate, and they seemed to share a common view that an independent commission is the right way forward. Like Pauline McNeill, however, I have my doubts about setting up yet another independent commission, and I hope that the Government will think carefully about it. Alex Neil made a sensible proposal—[Interruption.] Did you hear the baby cry when I mentioned Alex Neil, Presiding Officer? He brings tears to our eyes on so many occasions—sorry, Presiding Officer. A poverty and inequality commission is a worthy route forward on the issue.

My final point is on the independence of local government. The Scottish Government has every right to lay a duty on health boards; after all, they are at the beck and call of ministers—they do what they are told. The Government says, “Jump,” and the health boards say, “How high?” It should be remembered, however, that local government is different because it has its own mandate and responsibilities. It is also being told day in, day out that our Government’s number 1 priority is educational attainment and closing the attainment gap. We need to be careful about now saying that the number 1 priority is child poverty. I would like the Government to reflect on the challenges of the approach that it wants to take. Education fits with child poverty, so what are the absolute criteria in that area?

Today is a long overdue call to arms. As Alex Neil rightly said, the challenge is now about getting things done. I make one final observation to the cabinet secretary. As the Deputy Presiding Officer and Mike Rumbles will remember, we went through some of this some years back with medical inequalities and the Arbuthnott formula. Proposals were made to move money from one health board area to another but politics got in the way. Good luck.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

I have been a bit generous because we have a little time in hand.

15:46  



Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

The introduction of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which contains ambitious statutory income targets and stringent reporting requirements at national and local level, is an important move and one that I, along with many others, welcome whole-heartedly.

Achieving the four main targets in the bill would, to quote the Child Poverty Action Group,

“make a huge difference to the health, wellbeing and future prospects of tens of thousands of children across Scotland”,

because only by increasing the incomes of families at risk of poverty can

“lasting progress be made towards improving child wellbeing”.

For that reason, it is correct that these targets are based on net household income. Although there are many dimensions to poverty, income, or lack of it, is unequivocally at the heart of them all. That is widely recognised by stakeholders, who have warmly welcomed the income-based focus of the bill. I share Peter Allan of Dundee City Council’s disdain of the claim that is often made by people in positions of privilege that poverty of aspiration is worse than poverty of income. It is not. Rather, as he said to the Social Security Committee,

“The poverty of having no money and sending your bairns to bed cold with nae food—that is poverty.

Whatever else the approach is about, it has to be about the money, but we know that the issue is not just about money.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 20 April 2017; c 6.]

The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland has also stated its strong support for the four income-based targets, noting:

“These measures are internationally recognised as robust measures of child poverty and are the product of more than four decades of consultation and development by successive governments at UK and Scotland level.”

It is correct that the bill is target focused because, although we are well aware that targets and measuring on their own do not solve a problem, they create an unambiguous and overarching national aspiration of focusing diverse minds, approaches and organisations on one clear shared goal. When she gave evidence to the Social Security Committee, Dr Margaret Hannah of NHS Fife said:

“For me, the target of addressing child poverty is an indicative target to mobilise us as a country towards something more ambitious on what is an intractable or difficult challenge.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 20 April 2017; c 7.]

Similarly, Shelter Scotland recognises that the statutory income targets of the bill serve to focus the priorities and resources of policy makers at a national and local level.

The four main income targets provide a clear goal and a robust framework within which all manner of more detailed and nuanced approaches towards tackling child poverty can be discussed and included. They will be set out and scrutinised through the regular delivery plans, the first of which will be published by the Scottish Government before April 2018, with annual reports on progress also a requirement. Local authorities and health boards will also be required to produce annual local child poverty action reports outlining the action that they have taken to reduce child poverty.

The bill will galvanise action and focus minds across all Scottish Government portfolios and all local authorities and health boards. It will allow us to build on the wide range of work that is already being done to tackle poverty across Scotland, from the attainment fund to the council tax reduction scheme and the Scottish baby box, to name but a few. It will also give Parliament an opportunity to scrutinise and monitor the progress that is being made.

As a member of the Social Security Committee, I have heard extensive evidence in favour of interim targets and I agree that they would be helpful. I am pleased that the committee’s recent stage 1 report included the recommendation that interim targets should be on the face of the bill. However, any interim targets must be realistic and achievable and, crucially, they must drive momentum towards our goal of eradicating child poverty, not stall it.

It is worth reflecting on why we are even debating a Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill in the first place. We are here because the UK Tories took the disgraceful decision to repeal the UK-wide income-based targets for child poverty and to remove the child poverty remit from what was then the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. As is so often the case when we discuss social security, the contrast between the values and actions of this Scottish National Party Government and the Tory Government in Westminster could not be starker. As the Tories abandon their child poverty targets and push countless more children and families into poverty, the SNP Government is introducing its own ambitious targets and signalling its unwavering commitment to eradicating child poverty.

I am not surprised that the Tories are anxious to bury the figures when it comes to their plans for lifting people out of poverty. In 2010, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition estimated that

“as many as 350,000 children and 500,000 working ... adults could be moved out of poverty”

by changes to welfare such as the introduction of universal credit. Far from reducing the numbers by hundreds of thousands, the scandalous reality is that the Tories’ programme of welfare reform, which now includes the callous two-child cap, is dramatically increasing child poverty, with a million more children expected to be living in poverty by 2020. I shudder to think of the further cost to society at the hands of an unfettered right-wing Tory Government.

Here at home, there will always be limitations to what the Scottish Government can achieve with one hand tied behind its back and shackled to a UK Tory Government whose hostile welfare policies are having a devastating impact on our communities. Too often, it can feel as though we are running just to stand still.

Much of our recent debate about social security in the chamber has been about mitigation and opposition, from the bedroom tax to the two-child cap and the rape clause. That is important, if regrettable. However, my ambitions for Scotland go far beyond mitigation and opposition. I do not underestimate the challenge that stands before us, which is a task that is made all the more difficult with a Tory Government in Westminster that is pursuing a cruel assault on low-income households, families, and pensioners. Child poverty, family incomes squeezed and pensions cut—that is the true cost of a Tory Government.

As we debate the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill today, it strikes me now more than ever that there is a clear choice to be made next week between Tory MPs, who will simply rubber-stamp more devastating cuts to social security, and SNP MPs, who will oppose austerity and call for a fairer society for all.

We all know which would be more helpful as we pursue the aim of this bill.

15:52  



Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

As a member of the Social Security Committee, I have had the opportunity to engage with the finer details of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and to listen to the evidence that was presented to us by a number of organisations that do important work in this area. The organisations that gave evidence to us included Inclusion Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland and the end child poverty coalition. They have had their say on the bill and it is encouraging to note their broad support for it. I thank them all for their input.

As my colleague Liz Smith said in her very careful and reasoned speech, tackling child poverty is not an easy task for any Government. Poverty in itself is a complicated issue and can arise for a number of different reasons. It can afflict any of us at any point in our lives. It is perhaps the complex nature of the issue that gives rise to varying views as to how it should be solved, and the bill that we have before us, contrasted with some of the suggestions that we have heard today, indicates how difficult it is to arrive at an agreed position on how to improve the situation.

What is clear is that, with 21 per cent of children living in a household that is in absolute poverty—16 percentage points from the 5 per cent target that is set for 2030 in this proposed legislation—progress must be made.

In order to really tackle the problem of child poverty, we cannot simply identify the numbers and then throw money at the problem without thinking about what lies at the heart of it. We must have credible and detailed plans for tackling it at its root, including a holistic approach in which the Government facilitates the tools that give people who need it a helping hand up so that they can help themselves.

Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

A number of Conservative speakers this afternoon have referred to the need to discover the “root causes” of child poverty, as if the issue is in some way mysterious. Perhaps I can explain the matter by pointing out that in a recent report the Institute for Fiscal Studies said—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

This is an intervention, not a speech.

Ash Denham

I am coming to a question.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Keep it short, please.

Ash Denham

The IFS says that an additional 1.2 million children will be pushed into relative poverty by 2021 because of UK tax and benefit changes. The root cause here is a Tory Government. Will the member reflect on that?

Gordon Lindhurst

No, not at this stage. I thought that the member was asking a question, not giving a speech.

Returning to my own speech, I suggest that the attainment gap and worklessness are examples of the problems that need to be solved. We need to make sure that our young people, from all backgrounds, are equipped with the skills that will be vital to them throughout their life and which will send them out, justly confident, into the world of work.

Sandra White

Will the member give way?

Gordon Lindhurst

Why not?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I do not think that that was terribly gallant.

Sandra White

I do not mind, Presiding Officer—I can be gallant in return.

The member mentioned the attainment gap. It seems to be the issue that the Tories are pushing, but does the member not agree with me and, indeed, experts that a child who is not getting the right food or heat will find even going to school a challenge? If people are not getting the right food, their brains will not develop in the same way. Surely the member must recognise that, in order to attain, people need to eat the right food and, at least, have heat in their houses.

Gordon Lindhurst

I meant no disrespect to the convener of the Social Security Committee in my response to her desire to make an intervention, and I would not wish it to be understood in that way. I agree with her, because as I have said the issues arise from the complex interplay of many factors. I therefore do not disagree with what she has said, and I thank her for her intervention.

It is unacceptable that the percentage of primary 7 pupils from the most deprived areas performing well in numeracy dropped by more than 7 points between 2014 and 2016. Such a drop does nothing to end the cycle of poverty in some of our most deprived communities, and I am confident that closing and eventually ending the attainment gap could play a big part in meeting the targets that have been set out, alongside other measures that have been referred to by other members and which clearly relate to the underlying causes of poverty.

The Government also needs to step back regularly and assess the broad picture of the effects of its measures on tackling child poverty. The risk of not doing so is that we reach 2030 and find child poverty unchanged—or worse. That would be a waste of 13 years.

Elaine Smith

Will the member give way?

Gordon Lindhurst

Not at this point. At this stage, I wish to make some progress.

Like others, I raised the issue of interim targets in the committee, and I am pleased that the committee report includes the recommendation that interim targets be put on the face of the bill and on a statutory footing. Of course, that is different from including the targets in a statutory instrument; it will aid our focus on them, give them greater immediacy and provide the certainty that statutory instruments do not. Statutory instruments can be so easily hollowed out to defeat the purpose of primary legislation and render it ineffective.

I acknowledge the comments that the cabinet secretary has made on interim targets, and I agree that they must be considered carefully instead of simply being plucked from a particular point on a scale that works towards the end goal in 2030. Targets are important; they must be bold, but they must also, as has been said, be credible.

It is important that successive Governments between now and 2030 are accountable for the actions that they take to bring down child poverty. It is an issue that pervades political cycles and cannot simply be dropped beyond the next election, whatever party happens to be in power. I hope therefore that the Government takes on board the committee’s views on the establishment of a statutory commission that has parliamentary oversight and is fully independent of Government, so that it can have the confidence of the Parliament to hold the Government to account.

The Scottish Conservatives are pleased to support the principles of the bill in the hope that the measures to tackle child poverty are strengthened. Parties in the chamber are agreed on the end goal and I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues on the process of how we get there. We must be tough on child poverty and the causes of child poverty.

16:00  



Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

As a member of the Social Security Committee, I thank all the witnesses who gave evidence to the committee, fellow committee members for their collaborative spirit and the committee clerks for all their work and assistance.

We live in a rich country—Scotland and Britain are rich countries. However, despite that, today hundreds of thousands of children on these islands will, totally unjustifiably and inexcusably, suffer the consequences of unnecessary man-made poverty. As David Hayman put it so powerfully recently,

“they will go to sleep at night in unheated rooms with [little or] nothing in their bellies; they will never get a birthday present; they will never get a Christmas present; no one will ever buy them an ice cream; no one will ever take them to see Star Wars.”

Their opportunities to give their best and make the most of their abilities will be needlessly curtailed and damaged. Every day will be a struggle to get by for them and their families.

In Britain right now, 4 million children live in poverty. The IFS has stated that, under UK Government welfare reform and austerity, that figure will rise to 5 million—which, shockingly, is around the same as the population of Scotland.

It does not have to be this way. By progressing the bill through Parliament we can start another chapter in the process of trying to change the unacceptable reality that here in Scotland more than one in four children—approximately 260,000 children—are officially recognised as living in poverty. That figure has increased by around 40,000 since 2014-15, principally as a result of UK Government policy.

I very much welcome the bill as a means to focus the minds of policy makers by way of the income-based targets that it proposes and its introduction of a set of robust reporting mechanisms. If, by the will of the Parliament, the bill is passed, it will re-establish income targets on child poverty in Scotland after the UK Government regrettably repealed large parts of the Child Poverty Act 2010.

I support the enhanced targets set out in section 1 of the bill. They are suitably ambitious and realistic. Although the bill alone will not eradicate child poverty, it will meaningfully pave the way for more action to be taken to

“ensure the scandal of child poverty remains high on the public and political agenda.”

Those are the words of the campaign to end child poverty.

On the subject of keeping the issue on the public and political agenda, the committee heard strong and persuasive evidence from many witnesses that interim targets would aid focus and create greater immediacy. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment, made in response to the committee’s report, to lodge an amendment at stage 2 to place the principle of interim targets on a statutory footing.

In order to meet interim and final income-based targets, I strongly support the Scottish Government’s determination for the bill to co-ordinate action to tackle poverty through the proposed delivery plans. Those will be pivotal in focusing Scottish Government and multi-agency action on achieving the targets and making the necessary difference to assist the children who are so unfairly affected.

The delivery plans will also be crucial in ensuring that we adapt to and deal with any further UK Government cuts or unhelpful decisions that the UK Government might make on reserved issues.

Given the importance of the delivery plans, the committee recommended that the Scottish Government consider the evidence that we received about issues, concepts and strategies to be included in them, so I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to lodge an amendment at stage 2 setting out appropriate areas to be taken account of in the delivery plans, including making specific reference to the measurement framework and taking budget considerations into account.

When I made my first speech in this chamber around a year ago, I spoke of our

“unifying hope of a better Scotland”—[Official Report, 26 May 2016; c 81.]

and, despite some apparent party-political differences, I believe that there is a unifying hope in the chamber that we get this right and that the legislation and resulting action make the difference that is undoubtedly required.

What is equally, if not more important is the continued need, for as long as Scotland remains part of the UK, for all of us to oppose destructive and unhelpful Westminster Government policies, which have most often been the cause of increases in child poverty in our time. Therefore, in good faith, I ask all fellow members of the Scottish Parliament, of all parties, to press whoever is in the next UK Government to reverse the austerity and welfare reform policies that are having a devastating effect on communities and increasing child poverty on these islands, and to press any UK Government to tackle low pay and insecure work because the root causes—as has been mentioned today—are low pay, insecure work, welfare cuts and fiscal austerity, powers on all of which primarily lie with the Westminster Parliament.

Austerity and child poverty are not only ethical issues; they make no economic sense. The Child Poverty Action Group has identified the costs of child poverty as coming to £29 billion a year. That includes the cost of policy interventions, long-term losses to the economy, lower educational attainment and poorer mental and physical health. It is therefore in all our interests to tackle child poverty in Scotland and beyond, for ethical and economic reasons.

Shelter Scotland has stated:

“The interconnected issues of poverty, homelessness, high housing costs and welfare changes must be addressed together if we are to meaningfully tackle them.”

I support the general principles of the bill because it is an important and helpful step in the wider process of positive socioeconomic change. If passed, the bill will send a message of intent and provide the foundations for ensuring a sustained focus at a Scottish Government level and at a local level.

Child poverty is not an inevitability of a market-based economy; it is a result of ideological neo-liberal economic policies that have been created by politicians on the right and encouraged by those with power and an interest in preserving the status quo.

I believe that the bill can be part of a process of change and will help to create a renewed shift in social consciousness towards creating a fairer and more compassionate society.

The bill helps to refocus all our efforts and reminds us that we can tackle the man-made problem of child poverty in our communities and in our time with urgency and collective determination.

16:08  



Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Last Sunday, at a Jeremy Corbyn event in Glasgow, Ian Lavery—Labour’s candidate for Wansbeck—told us that on a school visit in his constituency, he saw a young boy in detention. When he inquired as to why, he found out that the boy’s crime was taking a sandwich from a classmate’s bag because he was so hungry.

It really is unbelievable that we have to debate child poverty in the 21st century. However, the statistics in the committee report show that we do. The report tells us—and we have heard it from other members today—that more than a quarter of children in Scotland in 2015-16 were living in relative poverty after housing costs, which is an increase from the previous year, and more than one in three children in Glasgow are currently living in poverty.

I commend the committee on its report, which is certainly a very worthy piece of work. However, it lacks the real-life stories that lie behind the statistics and the passion that drives the determination to end child poverty. Of course, that may be because the bill under scrutiny is one that simply sets out targets and provides a framework for reporting. As such, it does not specify the policy actions or level of resources that will be needed to reduce levels of child poverty.

On that issue, I note the cabinet secretary’s remarks earlier in the debate, and the committee convener’s speech in which she provided more depth on the report.

As it seems that we all agree that the general principles of the bill should be supported, it is important to consider exactly why we need targets and reporting, and why—as Labour believes—we need a statutory duty to reduce child poverty.

The Holyrood baby initiative is interesting. I am sure that we all know a Kirsty—a child who lives in poverty in a working family. The Kirsty I know is a smart wee eight-year-old. She is a talented singer and she has fantastic class reports, but the worry is whether that will be sustained as she goes through the school system, living in a family in which her parents work hard but are struggling just to get by.

Kirsty spent the first five years of her life sharing a bedroom with her parents in a private flat with no outside space. In those five years, there was not one offer of council housing, so the family scrimped, saved and borrowed to buy a small two-bedroom flat. Kirsty’s dad works shifts in a factory, and her mum can work only part-time in a shop because the family cannot afford childcare. Kirsty’s mum has no choice but to work Sundays and, to make matters even worse, her employer has just taken away her Sunday allowance. It is a rare occurrence for Kirsty’s mum and dad to have a day off together, so the right to family life is not obvious for this hard-working family, and holidays are a luxury that they simply cannot afford.

Originally, the family got tax credits, which were welcome, but then the department made a mistake—and guess what? It was the family that had to pay the money back, which is affecting their already strained resources.

Another current worry is that, when Kirsty goes back to school after summer, she will be in primary 4, so she will no longer get free school meals. She is lucky that her mum breastfed her for a couple of years, which gave her the best nutritional start, and that she has had a good hot meal for the first three years of school, but now that meal will be a sandwich.

Perhaps that particular wee Kirsty will get to university—she is certainly clever enough, and not having tuition fees in Scotland helps. However, without grant funding, it is just as likely that she will have to try to get a job instead. In fact, research that is reported in today’s Herald tells us that teenagers from poorer families are less likely to apply for university as a result of concerns about debt.

Too many children in this country are living like Kirsty: children whose parents work hard just to make ends meet and to feed and clothe their family. Their immediate aspirations are to have secure housing, an annual holiday and the odd luxury such as a visit to the cinema or a meal out, as my colleague Alex Neil mentioned. Others do not even have a home, and they rely on food banks and charity shops to feed and clothe their family. Shelter Scotland says that it is

“appalled at the level of child poverty across Scotland and alarmed by the recent increase”,

and that

“more must be done by all partners to urgently address the causes, consequences and responses to poverty”.

To go back to the example of Kirsty, I will mention a few actions that would make a big difference. Providing all families with decent, secure and affordable housing with outside space for children to play in is vital. Last year, there were nearly 6,000 Scottish children living in homeless households in temporary accommodation, which represented an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year.

To address that, a Labour Government would, if elected next week, implement the most radical house-building programme since the war, and Scotland would gain the consequentials from that. Labour would extend free school meals to all primary school children—a policy for which I have long campaigned, as colleagues who have been in Parliament as long as I have will know. That used to be SNP policy, but the policy of free school meals in primary 1 to 3 was implemented as a result of the Tory-Liberal coalition introducing it and passing on the Barnett consequentials. Unfortunately, the Tories now want to take that food out of the mouths of children.

Childcare is another vital issue in tackling child poverty and allowing families to earn. The Scottish Government pledged to double the provision of free childcare in Scotland, which is very welcome, but private nurseries say that the scheme will fail if the rate that is offered to nurseries does not cover costs. Labour will give families what they need, with flexible, all-age, year-round, wraparound affordable childcare.

As the rich grow richer and wonder where their next yacht is coming from, the poor grow poorer and wonder where their next meal is coming from. The gap is widening, with the wealthiest 1 per cent owning more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent, according to the “Wealth and Assets in Scotland 2006-2014” report that the Scottish Government published in February.

We have the powers in this Parliament to tackle child poverty and the bill provides the tools to measure it. Now we just need the political will to eradicate the appalling reality of child poverty from our rich country.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. I am allowing fairly wide-ranging speeches that are deviating a little bit from the fact that it is a stage 1 debate, but I understand why.

16:15  



George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

As a member of the Social Security Committee, I welcome this stage 1 debate. I am passionate about the bill. Like, I am sure, most members in the chamber, there is nothing that I want more than for the children of Scotland to flourish and thrive. I want our children to achieve their dreams and I am committed to knocking down any barriers that they may face as a result of their circumstances, family income or postcode.

I want to pass on a prosperous and fair country to my children and grandchildren—like Alex Neil, I am a grandparent, but I am obviously a wee bit younger than him—and I want to know that future generations will not be negatively affected by the harsh and frankly unforgivable UK Tory cuts. To achieve that, we must ensure that every child in Scotland is protected and given every opportunity to succeed, and we must break the often crippling cycles of poverty in which hard-working families all too frequently find themselves trapped.

I agree with Alex Neil that it is not enough just to measure poverty, and I believe that the bill is a step in the right direction. We need to see where the areas of poverty are and get the data, which many of the individuals who came to the committee said that we need to get.

In such debates, areas such as Paisley, and Ferguslie Park in particular, come to mind, as they are always regarded as areas of deprivation. Richard Leonard was correct to say that there have been issues with poverty in those areas for generations. I know that that is true because my family come from Ferguslie Park. My father got a trade and was able to work his way out of that, but many of his colleagues, friends and schoolmates are still there and have lived that life. I know them because they come and tell me that they kent ma faither. They tell me about their problems and about things that have happened in their lives.

If we are talking, as Elaine Smith did, about real-life stories, that is very real for me. We need to get the proposals right, because those are people who my father grew up with, and we are now dealing with people who I grew up with. That is where my family come from. I want to get away from talking about such places as areas of deprivation and to talk about how much they can give our communities, because Ferguslie Park is also a vibrant place to live.

Since the SNP Government came to power, we have seen a host of policies and approaches that have contributed to tackling child poverty. Unfortunately, our hands remain tied behind our backs in the face of further UK austerity and cuts, which are pushing more people into poverty every day. That is simply unacceptable. Like my colleagues, I am appalled that in today’s society one in four children live in relative poverty and more than 1 million people live in relative poverty after they have paid their housing costs. Action must be taken and the bill is a crucial step forward, although it is not the only thing that will make the difference.

The Scottish Government is committed to taking great steps forward in tackling the issue and, after the bill is passed, Scotland will be the only part of the UK to have statutory targets on addressing child poverty. Not only does the bill set out four headline targets with the goal of eradicating child poverty by 2030, which is extremely ambitious, but, most important, it holds every Government department responsible, and it places a duty on our ministers to publish delivery plans at regular intervals and to report on progress annually. Tackling poverty is everyone’s responsibility and the bill recognises the importance of successful reporting mechanisms and clear co-operation across the country.

The delivery plans will contain a baseline against which progress can be measured and will call on local authorities, partner health boards, community planning partners and wider organisations such as employers and housing providers to work in partnership on shared priorities in order to deliver leadership and support for the goal of eliminating child poverty once and for all. The four targets that were proposed in the consultation, including the goal of halving the number of children who live in relative poverty, have received strong support from poverty experts across the UK, such as the Child Poverty Action Group and the Poverty Alliance, and they are regarded as more challenging than those that the UK Government repealed, because they take housing costs into account.

The child poverty measurement framework, which is already in place, addresses the wider range of drivers of poverty alongside the impact that poverty has on the lives of children and families. The three Ps—pockets, prospects and places—are part of an approach that focuses on maximising household resource and improving children’s health and wellbeing through the provision of well-designed, sustainable and, ultimately, accessible places. The Government’s new approach will build on and develop that already-supported network, with the emphasis continuing to be placed on regular reporting.

That reporting and information will provide us with valuable data about where we need to focus future Government policies and will inform our discussions and decision making. That is one of the fundamental parts of the bill—the fact that we will be able to provide ourselves with the crucial data that we need. Of course, what the Scottish Government does with that data is key to helping people. As Tavish Scott said, that is the point at which we will get things done on child poverty.

We are already dealing with the issue. The UK Government’s welfare reforms have had a significant effect on people in my constituency, as Ferguslie Park is one of the areas that are most affected by Tory austerity. A child who is born in Bishopton will live 16.4 years longer than a child who is born in Ferguslie. It is essential that children in Scotland do not continue to be victims of the UK Conservative Party and are not penalised because of their postcode, household or circumstances from the minute that they enter this world and open their eyes. The Scottish Government will continue to protect our most vulnerable citizens and those on low incomes by mitigating some of the worst impacts of the Tory cuts.

As I said earlier, the bill and its intentions mean a lot to me. I have explained my background, of which I am extremely proud, and I have said how the bill can make a difference. It can be one step on the journey towards ensuring that every child in Scotland gets the same start and opportunities in life, regardless of where they come from or where they are born.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Neil, I am not offended that you had your back to the chair throughout Mr Adam’s speech, as I realise that you were merely being attentive to the speech. However, I remind members not to sit with their backs to the chair throughout the debate.

16:22  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I had prepared a speech for the debate but, over the afternoon, I have scribbled over it and pretty much rewritten the whole thing. That might make more sense in a moment, when members hear what I have to say.

Like some other members, I will start by sharing a story to set the scene and explain why the debate is so important. It is a tale of someone growing up in a tenement flat in a fairly typical council estate in Scotland. The family includes an unemployed, alcoholic father, who more often than not drinks the benefits payment the day that it arrives, and a mother who cobbles together as many part-time jobs as she can to ensure that food is on the table—she is sometimes paid cash in hand. Dinner that night might be a Pot Noodle, or it might be a handout from a local church. There are problems in the household with addiction, domestic violence and depression. Are those problems the by-products of the living conditions, or is it the other way around? I will be honest: I do not know. I wish that I knew the answer.

Many families on that estate—or scheme, as we call it—are unemployed. There are households where a whole generation has never worked, apart from in black-market or cash-in-hand jobs. People live in each other’s houses and each other’s pockets. Whoever gets paid that day provides a home to the rest of the close. It could be called a community, but it is also grimy, chaotic and sometimes dangerous.

The child in the house is often the only child who cannot afford school trips; whose uniform is never quite as new as anyone else’s; who turns up to school hungry; who has to walk to school rather than get the bus, because they have no money; who never goes on holiday when their classmates do; and whose teachers know that they are having a difficult time at home but are helpless when it comes to doing anything and can offer only sympathy. However, no matter how bad school is, it is at least not home.

I am sure that we can all imagine such a scene. It is normality to some people. If someone does not know any different or better, they accept what they have, because that is how it has always been.

That story is the story of my childhood. I do not share it with members as a sob story; this is not an “X Factor” audition. I was taken with George Adam’s speech and his sharing of his experiences of Paisley, which is just a few miles up the road from where I grew up in Greenock. I want the chamber to hear my story because I want to approach the subject with the gravest attitude and a heartfelt intention that we, as legislators, must get this right. The Gibshill estate in Greenock might have changed a lot since the 1980s, but it is still just as sad that we are having this debate today.

Pauline McNeill

I commend the member for his courage in bringing us his personal story. I found listening to it quite emotional, and I do not detract from it at all. However, the picture that has been painted of child poverty in today’s Britain is one in which the child who cannot afford the school trip is the child whose family are in work. Will the member acknowledge that that is the picture that we must work out the answers to?

Jamie Greene

I accept that, which is why, in sharing my experience, I said that my mother worked as much as she could. We had income—we did not rely entirely on state welfare benefits—so I accept that there are families who still struggle even though the parents are working. I do not detract from that whatever.

I mentioned my story because for me to stand up today and be partisan in any way would not be the right thing to do, given the subject matter. I have heard some contributions in which I have been quite disappointed, as I know the members who made them. The theme that the Tories are bad and the SNP is good—or that this party or policy is good and that one is bad—does the subject no justice whatever.

In the little time that I have left, I will talk briefly about the bill. There are lots of words in it—lots of definitions, calculations, measurements, reports and targets. They are all well and good, and they are the foundations of the bill. However, only one section talks about the delivery plan. It is not the job of legislation to define policy; that is a political decision for the Government of the day. However, it is interesting to note that the Social Security Committee acknowledges that the setting of targets alone will not reduce poverty. I am new to the legislative process, so I do not pretend to know the answer to how a bill addresses the root causes of poverty. Surely, though, it must be about more than just how to measure income levels.

I do not have a problem with the concept of the bill, but the documentation says that the Scottish Government does not control all the levers that it needs to control in order to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland. Powers over education and health are devolved so, in the later stages of the bill, I would like to see what has been done to include matters such as closing the attainment gap. Good results at school make a difference; I guarantee members that I would not be standing here today if they did not. My family might not have had money when I was a child, but we did have books.

How will the bill address the problem of long-term worklessness in a home? How will it ensure that funding for third sector or local authority services that tackle alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence is protected or is in place? How will we look after grass-roots activity to address poverty? Will those points be just in the delivery plan? If they are, what recourse will be available to us, as a Parliament, if impacts are not adequate and are not independently measured? It is not just health and education services that will fix the problem, just as it is not only income that defines poverty.

I had much more to say but, in the spirit of the debate, I want to be clear that I have no interest in opposition for the sake of it as we go through the stages of the bill, and neither do I think that one party or another holds a magic wand that will eradicate child poverty. Good will and good ideas are coming from every side. I genuinely hope, and I believe, that the Parliament—even with our disagreements and our political posturing—can bring out the best of the ideas at stage 2, so that the end product is not just words on paper and so that, in 30 years’ time, an MSP does not have to stand up in the chamber and share his story, because there will be no need to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Greene. I call Clare Adamson, who is the last speaker in the open debate. We will move to closing speeches after that—members have been warned.

16:29  



Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I am not a member of the Social Security Committee, but I thank its convener and members for putting together the stage 1 report and all those who contributed to the consultation and to the committee’s work and its evidence sessions. I am sure that those sessions were not easy at any point. I also commend some of the organisations that have provided briefings for the debate. I will pick out a few to quote.

Children 1st emphasises that one in five children experiences poverty and that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that child poverty will increase by 50 per cent by 2020. Those are absolutely startling statistics. Children 1st also notes that local government, community planning partnerships and community-based third sector organisations play a vital role in tackling child poverty, and it welcomes the inclusion of local authorities and health boards in the legislative framework.

The briefing from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland highlights the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the articles that are pertinent to the committee’s work at this stage.

CPAG, which supports the aims of the bill, highlights that poverty costs the country £29 billion a year. It quantified the cost of policy interventions and long-term losses to the economy through lower educational attainment and poor mental and physical health. I think that it was Tavish Scott who talked about Harry Burns’s work on health inequalities, which also highlighted those areas.

In North Lanarkshire, where I live and grew up, 25 per cent of the children live in poverty.

Inclusion Scotland highlights the disproportionate effect of poverty on families who are affected by disability—that includes families where there is a disabled child and families where there is a disabled parent. I look forward to getting an insight from the cabinet secretary about how she will tackle the particular issues around disabilities.

Sandra White talked about the consensus that the committee was able to reach. I am delighted that that was achieved, but I am a bit surprised that it happened, given some of the debate this afternoon. There is a gulf between those on the Tory benches and members of every other party about the symptoms and the causes of poverty. What many of my colleagues and I see as the symptoms of poverty the Tories seem to think are the causes of poverty. It is more complex than that, and I hope that, if nothing else, we can move forward in agreement that poverty is incredibly difficult to tackle.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on educational underattainment. How can Mr Tomkins ignore the actions of his colleagues on North Lanarkshire Council, who have supported Labour in slashing the number of classroom assistants? It is possible that up 198 posts will go. How can that help with educational attainment?

We have heard about workless families, but 70 per cent of children in poverty are from families in working poverty. I cannot understand how the Tories can argue that the two-child tax credit limit, along with its horrible rape clause, will do anything other than exacerbate the problem. The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated that 3,600 households in Scotland will be detrimentally impacted by that benefit cap.

Scotland has opportunities. It is a modern, successful country, with a wealth of talent and natural resources. It is completely unacceptable that one in four of our children—our bairns—grows up in poverty.

I fully welcome the bill’s ambitions and aims, and wish the committee well in the stage 2 proceedings. I am particularly grateful that the bill includes a child poverty measurement framework, which is a huge step towards helping us understand the drivers of poverty.

Alex Rowley

Clare Adamson highlighted one council where classroom assistants are being taken away. Does she agree that we need to look at having poverty impact assessments of every policy and budget decision taken by the Scottish Government and by every arm of government, including local government and the health boards? Should we have a poverty impact assessment for every financial decision?

Clare Adamson

That would certainly help to inform people’s decision making. However, I have heard Mr Rowley argue many times about the council tax freeze and its effect on the ability of local government to provide services. I mentioned that local councils will be included in the legislative framework, which is fantastic. North Lanarkshire Council could have raised £3.8 million in additional funding had it chosen to increase the council tax to protect services, but on this occasion it failed to do that.

Presiding Officer, I think that I have run out of time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No—I have not waved my pen yet.

Clare Adamson

Okay.

I congratulate the Scottish Government on the work that it is already doing to tackle poverty, including the £750 million attainment programme, which will help close the attainment gap; the £29 million programme to tackle poverty across Scotland, which includes £12.5 million from the European social fund; the healthy and nutritious free school meals that are benefiting our primary 1 to primary 3 children; the introduction of the baby box; and the educational maintenance allowance, which we have kept and which supports children and students from poorer backgrounds to maintain their position in the education system.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the closing speeches. Members have made my weekend—you are all in the chamber for the closing speeches, so I am a happy bunny now. I call Alex Rowley to close for Labour. Six minutes, please, Mr Rowley.

16:36  



Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Thank you, Presiding Officer—I am happy if you are happy.

This has been a welcome debate. I commend the Social Security Committee for its work on the bill and the report that it has produced. It is important that we have such debates in the chamber, because we need them. We need debates about poverty across the country. The levels of poverty and inequality in Scotland are surely not acceptable to anyone in the chamber. How we tackle inequality and poverty is a big question with big challenges, and the debate about it is wider than the debate that we have had today. I believe that it is a debate that the whole country needs to have, and I hope that, as the bill progresses from stage 1 to stages 2 and 3, we will be able to widen the debate to include communities across Scotland.

The cabinet secretary talked about the UK Government’s announcement in 2015 of its intention to repeal significant parts of the Child Poverty Act 2010, and Jamie Greene referred to taking the politics out of the debate—the SNP being good and the Tories being bad is how I think that he put it. We must acknowledge that the Government can and should address poverty and inequality, and how much is done in that regard is down to the Government. As I said to Liz Smith, the previous Labour Government cut child poverty numbers in the UK by more than 1 million. That did not happen by accident; it happened because the Labour Government introduced a policy that targeted poverty and lifted children out of poverty.

I find it shocking that we have 40,000 more children in poverty in Scotland today than we did this time last year. The projected figures are fairly bleak, and how we address the issue is down to the Government and all politicians. Richard Leonard spoke about the need to redistribute not just wealth in this country but power. On the offerings that come from political parties, I urge those who are interested in tackling the bigger questions to look at the Labour Party manifesto that we are fighting the current election on. The manifesto has big ideas on how to redistribute power and wealth within the United Kingdom, which is fundamentally what needs to happen.

When the UK Government made its decision on the repeal of the child poverty targets, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted its “serious concern”. It recommended that the UK

“Set up clear accountability mechanisms for the eradication of child poverty, including by re-establishing concrete targets with a set timeframe and measurable indicators”.

That is why there is unity across the chamber on the bill.

A number of members, including Alex Neil, Richard Leonard and Pauline McNeill, said that we must move beyond simply having targets. Having targets is one thing; being able to address poverty is another. Action speaks louder than words; action will speak louder than targets.

There are 40,000 more children in poverty in Scotland since last year. In 2017, 260,000 children in Scotland are living in poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts a 50 per cent increase in child poverty across the United Kingdom by 2020.

Under the Tories, the average household income in Scotland has fallen by more than £600 in the past year, and 467,000 Scottish people are earning less than the living wage. We must move beyond targets. That is why Labour is saying that a £10 living wage should be introduced across the UK. If we are serious about tackling poverty, we need to take the measures to be able to do that.

In Scotland, 70 per cent of children living in poverty are in a family where at least one person is in work. What are we going to do about that? As Ben Macpherson pointed out, when we reach 2030, we should not just say that another target has not been met. Governments of all colours are good at setting targets, but then not meeting them.

We need some coherent proposals, not just from the Government but from all of us who are involved in this debate. Part of that will involve a coherent anti-poverty strategy. All the existing strategy documents have not been pulled together, and I repeat my request to the cabinet secretary that she consider having a coherent anti-poverty strategy for Scotland and what that should look like.

As Pauline McNeill noted, a number of organisations have proposed the idea of increasing child benefit by £5 a week. If we achieved that over this session of Parliament, we would lift 30,000 children out of poverty. That is a target—it would be a direct result of a policy that we can actually introduce.

Former Government ministers sometimes talk about what they should have done when they were ministers. In his speech, Alex Neil said that, when he was a minister, he asked about the cost of addressing the position of those on lower incomes, which was said to be £2 billion. I hope that the Social Security Committee will ask Mr Neil to give evidence on the proposal, which I think would be worth considering.

Let us consider what we need to do. Oxfam has been absolutely clear that the proposed commission should be “fully independent” of the Scottish Government in terms of both practice and perception. The cabinet secretary needs to take that on board. There is unity in the chamber, and we need an independent commission to scrutinise and ensure not just that there are targets but that there will be actions that will address poverty in Scotland.

16:44  



Adam Tomkins

This has been a good-quality debate from all sides of the chamber, and it has included two sparkling and memorable speeches—one from Alex Neil and one from my friend and colleague Jamie Greene. Alex Neil’s speech was brilliant: it was brilliantly wrong, but it was brilliant, nonetheless. I will go straight to the issues that Alex Neil and Jamie Greene spoke about, which are not just philosophically and intellectually interesting but very important for getting our anti-poverty strategies right.

What is the relationship between not having enough money and all the other issues that we have talked about, including educational underattainment, the attainment gap, addiction and family breakdown? What is the cause of what, and what is the effect of what? Which is the by-product, as Jamie Greene put it? Jamie Greene said that he does not know what is the cause and what is the effect. That puts the finger on the issue with which Conservative members are trying to grapple. It is not our view that we can think only about addiction, family breakdown, educational underattainment and the rest, however the Government’s view seems to be—at least as far as the bill is concerned—that we must think only about income. We are saying that thinking about either end of the question on its own will not work; we must join it up and think about it all together.

The truth of that is encapsulated in the Government’s child poverty strategy measurement framework, which includes a significant array of 37 indicators of child poverty that do not focus only on income. The indicators mention the living wage, employment, good health, mental health, eating enough fruit and vegetables, talking to mum, housing, crime and drug misuse. An effective child poverty strategy or an effective anti-poverty strategy, whether it is about children, families or anybody else, will not work if it focuses only on income. That is our point: it is not that we should do away with the income targets or that we should pass the bill only after having taken the income targets out of it, but that, on their own, the income targets will never be successful in achieving and delivering on the Government’s aspiration to eradicate child poverty from Scotland by 2030.

Alex Neil

The Health Scotland report showed that in respect of tackling health inequalities, for example, a basic decent income is a prerequisite to solving the problem, but it is not the total solution. It is clear that policies on childcare, housing, health and education, for example, are also needed. However, if people who live in poverty do not get a decent basic income, the impact of all those other policies will be substantially diluted, and we will not achieve our objective.

Adam Tomkins

In that case, the disagreement between us is quite tiny. However, my point is that unless we add broader concerns to the bill, it will not work—it will not achieve what it sets out to achieve. We are not doing it at the moment.

The Government’s own statistics show that the percentage of primary 7 pupils from the most deprived areas who are performing well in numeracy is going down, not up. That percentage went down between 2014 and 2016, from 60 per cent to 54 per cent. We see a similar fall in the percentage of P7 pupils from deprived areas who are performing well in writing. That percentage went down from 61 per cent to 56 per cent. We therefore need to do more legislatively than we are currently doing to put obligations in the Scottish statute book to require ministers to take steps to address those problems, as well as to address the income issues that Alex Neil and others rightly talked about. It is not either/or; it is both.

Ruth Maguire

Will Adam Tomkins take an intervention?

Adam Tomkins

No, I will not, at the moment.

That is why we will, as I have said, seek to amend the bill—not to take anything out of it, but to add to it legal requirements on ministers to take steps to close the attainment gap and to reduce the number of children in Scotland who grow up in workless households, so that we can address not just poverty of income—the lack of income that poor families suffer from—but its underlying drivers and causes.

Tavish Scott, who is not in the chamber, asked whether we will add education targets. Why not add a host of other targets as well? We want to focus on education, because we are talking about a child poverty bill, and it is clear that there is a relationship between children and young people and education.

Members do not have to take my word—or the word of any Conservative member—for any of that. Let me quote two pieces of evidence that the Social Security Committee received. Peter Allan, from Dundee City Council, talked about “contributory factors” behind child poverty. He said that

“Attainment issues will be one of those factors.”

Attainment issues contribute to child poverty. He went on to say:

“Strong targets associated with those would be more meaningful than waiting for five or 10 years to see whether the income measures have changed.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 20 April 2017; c 7.]

Bill Scott, from Inclusion Scotland, said:

“Disabled children are twice as likely as non-disabled children to leave school with no qualifications, regardless of the type of impairment that they have. There are disabled children with sensory impairments and physical impairments but no intellectual impairment whatsoever who are leaving school with no qualifications. That makes their chances nil in the current job market. Unless we change that, we will not change their future, and when they become parents they will be parents living in poverty, and their children will be living in poverty, so we have to change the cycle.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 20 April 2017; c 25.]

That is the force of the argument that we Conservatives are trying to make, which is that a focus on income alone will fail to meet the laudable aspirations of the bill, the principles of which we support. If we are serious about tackling poverty in Scotland—and child poverty in particular, in the context of the bill—we need to think about educational underattainment, addictions, family breakdown and worklessness, as well as about income targets.

Sandra White

Adam Tomkins quoted Bill Scott on disabled children’s attainment. Does he think that taking disability living allowance away from people and putting them on personal independence payments has got something to do with poverty, as well as the attainment gap?

Adam Tomkins

The fact is that under the UK Parliament that has just been dissolved for the general election, more was to be spent—more than £50 billion—on disability benefits than had been spent in any Parliament in British history.

I say gently to the cabinet secretary that putting the detail of interim targets in secondary legislation will not address the concerns of the Social Security Committee. We can have that argument at stage 2. Nonetheless, I welcome the cabinet secretary’s willingness to move on interim targets.

A point that a few members made, which I did not have time to mention in my opening speech, is the importance of amending section 10 so that local authorities will be required not merely to look back on what they have done with regard to child poverty, but to look forward to what they propose to do.

Sandra White said that setting targets sends a message. That is a point that we took from evidence to the Social Security Committee. I agree that setting targets sends a message and is an important step. However, I want to do so much more than that. It is important not just to measure child poverty, but to take concrete steps to tackle and reduce it. The amendments that we will seek to make to the bill will be designed to help the Government to realise its aspirations, not to get in the way of its doing so.

16:52  



Angela Constance

This has been a good debate, across all the parties. I agree with Adam Tomkins on one thing, which is that the speeches from Alex Neil and Jamie Greene were outstanding.

Much of the debate was about the philosophy behind statutory income targets, the technical underpinning of the targets, processes for interim targets, delivery plans and parliamentary process. I will seek to answer as many of the points that were made as I can in eight minutes.

However, the point that I want to make is that addressing poverty is ultimately about people and about children. Jamie Greene made me reflect on a favourite quotation of mine. J K Rowling, a woman who has had personal experience of poverty and who knows a lot about children, said:

“Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.”

That encapsulates something on which we probably all agree, which is that poverty crushes the spirits of individuals and families and can crush communities. The consequences of child poverty can last a lifetime. It stunts a young person’s physical and mental wellbeing and affects their life chances.

Alex Neil rightly said that we cannot afford not to address child poverty. I agree whole-heartedly. With the exception of those on the Tory benches, we are mostly agreed on the centrality of income—or the lack of income. That is not to say that it is the only aspect of poverty; there is also poverty of opportunity and poverty of aspiration.

Tavish Scott, in his own way, made the link between having a focus on internationally renowned legislative targets and having a measurement framework. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has described the Government’s measurement framework as a “quantum leap” forward. It covers all the issues that are both a cause and a consequence of poverty, including disability, attainment, fuel poverty, rural poverty and drugs—that is not an exhaustive list. We are currently reviewing those measurements, because they can be better, but we would not necessarily want to put that framework or those measurements in statute. A lot will happen between now and 2030, and our measurement framework needs to be flexible to respond to the issues of the time and the evidence.

We will come back to the issue of interim targets and I will welcome that discourse with the committee. Interim targets will be statutory and will be anchored in the bill. My plea and my preference for regulations is for us to set the interim targets together and for them to be based on the very best evidence that is available.

The delivery plan is the overarching plan for action. It is not a measurement plan; the delivery plan is about what we will do and how we go beyond misery and poverty. It needs to be responsive to what has happened today, next week and next year, between now and 2030. Tavish Scott and others, including the convener of the committee, I think, made the point that no target is perfect, but our statutory targets are internationally renowned. They have been developed over decades and have overwhelming support from stakeholders, although that does not mean that they will not change at some point in the future.

The important point, which I think all members agree on and have encapsulated, is that this is about action. Members have questioned whether targets and legislation are enough, and they are right to raise the question. My point is that requiring me and the Government to measure and to report annually on progress invites a degree of scrutiny that ultimately leads to better action. We do not demur from our responsibilities. The Government is fighting child poverty with one arm tied behind its back but, irrespective of the constitutional settlement or the future of Scotland’s constitution, as I do the day job, I want to make sure that my arm is as strong as possible.

Alex Rowley

Does the cabinet secretary agree that when the public bodies that will need to meet and deliver those targets set budgets, they should do impact assessments that describe the impact of their decisions on poverty?

Angela Constance

Yes, I agree. I keep trying to tell Mr Rowley that we already do that, and we could do it better once we implement the socioeconomic duty, which is a dormant part of legislation that the Conservative Government chose not to introduce. The equality budget statement already has measurements of inclusive growth, because that gets to the heart of the matter. I want to stress what we can do, as opposed to pointing out the problems with the issues that we cannot address. Jamie Greene was right to say that health and education are devolved but, sad to say, many of the economic levers, as well as equality legislation and other matters, are not devolved. However, I want to focus on what we can do in this place.

Make no doubt about it, child poverty north and south of the border is at scandalous levels—it is too high in Scotland, as it is too high in England. In the 1990s, child poverty in Scotland and in the UK used to be at similar levels. On every measurement today, child poverty is lower here than it is in any of the other UK nations and in the UK as a whole. I contend that that is the difference that the Scottish Parliament has made through too many actions to mention. Of course, we can and will have to do much more, but there is no silver bullet.

I heard what Alex Neil said about the big ideas. There are touchstone issues, such as affordable housing. Our record on affordable housing is second to none. During our two terms of office, we delivered 65,000-plus affordable homes, thanks to the good offices and leadership of Alex Neil. We want to step that up to deliver 50,000 affordable homes during the current parliamentary session. I am therefore content to look at how the touchstone issues can be anchored in the bill.

I listened carefully to what the committee and our stakeholders said about a statutory commission. Of course, the Oxfam report is an exemplar. However, I come to the issue first and foremost as a parliamentarian rather than a minister. What members are describing sounds to me more like a parliamentary commission, and that is not the business of the Government. The Government’s business is to deliver on our manifesto. We will come back to the issue in the committee, and our plans are for a poverty and inequality commission to anchor the wider anti-poverty approach. Such a commission will indeed be full of experts, big brains and independent folk such as Naomi Eisenstadt—no one can say that Naomi Eisenstadt is not independent. I am not currently persuaded about a statutory commission. I have to confess that that is partly because of the financial costs of such a commission when every penny is a prisoner.

Similarly, topping up child benefit is not a bad idea, but I am not convinced that it is the best one. We are talking about £256 million per annum, and I would want all that to go to poor kids whereas, under the proposals that I have seen from some stakeholders, and the Labour Party, only £3 out of every £10 would go to a child who would be considered to be in a poor household.

I know that I am running out of time. This has been a good debate across the chamber and we will come back to the many issues that have been raised today. I thank all members for their contributions.

Vote at Stage 1

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Vote at Stage 1 transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The question is, that motion S5M-05879, in the name of Angela Constance, on stage 1 of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill.

Meeting closed at 17:02.  



MSPs agreed that this Bill could continue

Stage 2 - Changes to detail 

MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered and then voted on by the committee.

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to a Bill  these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.

The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.

The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.

How is it decided whether the changes go into the Bill?

When MSPs want to make a change to a Bill, they propose an 'amendment'. This sets out the changes they want to make to a specific part of the Bill.

The group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.

Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.

First meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting held on 22 June 2017:

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First meeting on amendments transcript

The Convener (Sandra White)

Good morning and welcome to the 13th meeting in 2017 of the Social Security Committee. I remind everyone to turn off their mobile phones, because they interfere with the recording equipment. Apologies have been received from Mark Griffin; Richard Leonard is attending the meeting as a substitute for him.

The only item on the agenda is stage 2 consideration of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. If we finish stage 2 proceedings today, we will not need to meet next Monday to receive a briefing on and consider our approach to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. Instead, we could use our usual Thursday morning slot. I hope that that will act as an incentive with regard to today’s business.

I welcome the cabinet secretary and accompanying officials to the meeting.

Section 1—Child poverty targets

The Convener

Amendment 9, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 10, 12, 12A, 13, 23 to 25, 28 and 29.

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

Good morning, convener. I will speak to my own amendments, as requested, and respond to amendment 12A, in the name of Pauline McNeill, and amendment 13, in the name of Adam Tomkins.

There is a growing body of support for the introduction of interim targets. Indeed, during the committee’s evidence-taking sessions, many stakeholders spoke to the importance of interim targets as a means of instilling a sense of urgency and driving action to meet the 2030 targets, and I agree with many of the arguments that have been put forward.

As a result, amendment 12 seeks to place a duty on Scottish ministers to meet a set of interim targets in the financial year 2023-24, which is the midway point between now and the 2030 target year. The interim targets will be based on the same four measures as the 2030 targets: relative poverty, absolute poverty, combined low income and material deprivation, and persistent poverty.

Amendment 12 proposes that the interim target levels be set in regulations. There are two justifications for that. First, the interim targets should be based on all available evidence, and we will be producing baseline projections for the first delivery plan, which will give us a robust basis on which to set interim targets that are realistic but sufficiently stretching. As I made clear during the stage 1 debate, my firm view is that we must be led by the evidence in our work on tackling child poverty. We know that child poverty is projected to rise across the United Kingdom, largely as a result of welfare reform, and we need to consider carefully the impact of that and how it will affect the work we take forward. I therefore believe that it would be unwise to set arbitrary interim target levels in the bill before that detailed and important work has been done. Secondly, we intend to seek advice from our independent poverty and inequality commission, which we will discuss later on this morning, on the interim targets that it would be appropriate to put in place.

Amendment 23 arises as a result of amendment 12. Section 9 requires that the final annual progress report set out whether the 2030 targets have been met, and if not, why not. Similar provisions will be required in relation to the annual report covering the interim target year. The progress report for financial year 2024-25 will refer to the 2023-24 interim target year statistics, and amendment 23 requires that the report include details of whether each of the interim targets has been met and, in the event that they have not, explain why.

Amendments 9, 10, 24, 25, 28 and 29 are minor technical amendments that arise because there are now two sets of targets and it is necessary to be clear about which set is being referred to throughout the bill. In particular, amendments 28 and 29 seek to establish the difference between interim targets, 2030 targets and child poverty targets, which is the term to be applied to both sets of targets where both are relevant for reporting purposes.

My thorough and robust proposals on interim targets and interim reporting will allow us to develop evidence-based interim target levels and increase the opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny of Scottish ministers’ progress by requiring us to produce a detailed interim report. They take into account evidence that we heard during the committee evidence sessions. Indeed, as Jim McCormick of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“there is a strong case to have a thorough root-and-branch look at whether we are making substantial progress at pace towards achieving the targets by 2030.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 27 March 2017; c 3.]

On amendment 12A, in the name of Pauline McNeill, although I very much understand the rationale behind Ms McNeill’s proposed targets, which appear to be the halfway point between the latest published statistics and the 2030 target level, I would argue that my proposal for interim targets that are based on evidence and that will be considered by Parliament when I bring forward the regulations is a more robust approach.

The same arguments apply to amendment 13, in the name of Adam Tomkins. I am interested to hear how Mr Tomkins has arrived at the levels that he has proposed, because they seem to me to be arbitrary and to take no account of the likely impacts of external factors such as the on-going austerity programme. It is also not clear to me why amendment 13 requests the Scottish Government to estimate the number of children living in persistent poverty in 2014-15 in order to establish an appropriate interim target level. The Scottish Government has already published persistent poverty rates for Scotland for 2011 to 2015—the current level is 12 per cent. As a result, much of amendment 13 appears, in my opinion, to be unnecessary.

I want to be clear on one point, however: although I have proposed that the interim targets be set in regulations, I absolutely accept that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise their level. That is why I have proposed that the regulations that I bring forward be subject to the affirmative procedure. I also confirm today that I intend to bring those regulations forward in sufficient time to ensure that the interim target levels are set in statute in time for the publication of the first delivery plan in April 2018. For the reasons I have set out, therefore, I unfortunately cannot support amendments 12A and 13.

I move amendment 9 and ask members to support my other amendments in the group.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Good morning. First, I very much welcome what the cabinet secretary has said about the need for interim targets.

Amendment 12A was drafted by the Law Society of Scotland and, when I saw it, I thought that it made perfect sense. I was in favour of putting interim targets in the bill itself; these targets were set halfway between the current level and the 2030 target level and related to relative poverty, absolute poverty and persistent poverty. I am pleased with what the cabinet secretary has said about the use of the affirmative procedure, but I feel strongly that the targets should be set out in the bill in order to give the Parliament a full say.

As we know, we are talking about a very short period of time to meet what are ambitious targets. That has to be commended, but it is important that we are clear about the interim targets that we have to meet before 2030.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Good morning, cabinet secretary. Like Pauline McNeill, I support the Government’s recognition of the need for interim targets and—again, like Ms McNeill—I strongly think that they should be in the bill. I do not think it is fair to describe the interim targets as arbitrary unless we also think that the 2030 targets themselves are arbitrary. The 2024 targets are no more arbitrary than the 2030 targets, and I do not think that saying that they are is a helpful way to proceed.

All witnesses who gave evidence to the committee at stage 1 about the matter said that the bill should include interim targets and that they should be on the face of the bill, not agreed subsequently by delegated legislation. That is what the committee said unanimously in its recommendation at paragraph 65 of the stage 1 report, which says:

“The Committee is of the view that interim targets should be on the face of the Bill.”

Unfortunately the cabinet secretary’s amendment does not deliver on that but Pauline McNeill’s amendment 12A does, so we will support it. If that is agreed to, I will not move amendment 13.

Amendment 13 seeks to create a series of interim targets that are not arbitrary but which are calculated at halfway by half-time. We are talking about 12 years between the enactment of the bill and 2030, so the halfway point is 2024. The interim targets are calculated by looking at where we sit now with the targets as recorded in the Government’s most recent annual report on the child poverty strategy in Scotland, then looking at the 2030 targets as set out in section 1 and saying that we should be halfway to achieving those by half-time.

The reason why no figure is given for the fourth statutory target on persistent poverty is that no figure is given for that in the annual report on child poverty for 2016, which is the most recent one. I propose to give the Government some discretion in calculating that, but if the cabinet secretary already knows the figure, it could be adjusted at stage 3. As I said, if amendment 12A, in the name of Pauline McNeill, which we will support, is passed, I will not move amendment 13. However, I strongly believe—and a few weeks ago, the committee strongly believed—that interim targets should be in the bill, and amendment 12A delivers that while amendment 12 does not.

Angela Constance

It is important to emphasise that, under my proposals, Parliament will have a full say in setting interim targets because they will be set out in regulations and Parliament, of course, has to approve those regulations.

Given the tenor and tone of my opening remarks, I hope that I have demonstrated that the Government has listened to the committee and to others. However, to summarise my position, I believe that interim targets should be informed by the evidence. I have outlined the work that we need to do to baseline projections and I also intend to get support and advice from the poverty and inequality commission.

The Government has also demonstrated enhanced opportunities for scrutiny, given that we will have an enhanced progress report that will say clearly whether targets have been met and if not, why not. We are all familiar with affirmative procedure, and I repeat my commitment to have the work done and to take the regulations through Parliamentiament, if it is Parliament’s will, in time for the first delivery plan.

Amendment 9 agreed to.

Amendment 10 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 3, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is grouped with amendment 4.

09:15  



Adam Tomkins

We all know that section 1 of the bill contains four income-related targets, or measurements of child poverty that are focused on income. We also all know that poverty is much more complex than that. That is underscored by the Scottish Government’s own comprehensive and holistic approach to child poverty in its child poverty measurement framework, which lists 37 indicators of poverty, most of which do not relate to income. The approach that we want to take to the bill is not to reduce or dilute the income targets at all but to supplement them with two further sets of targets: targets concerned with children growing up in workless families and households, and targets concerned with the education underattainment gap.

Our approach is not that we should take an either/or view of poverty; we are saying not that we should look only at income or only at education and worklessness but that we should look at all those issues in the round.

My amendments in this group seek to add to the bill a target concerning the number of children growing up in Scotland in workless households. The way in which we have tried to identify and define what we mean by that is drawn directly from the Scottish Government’s own child poverty measurement framework. The child poverty strategy for Scotland already recognises the importance of the employment rate of parents, as does United Kingdom law in the Life Chances Act 2010, and our view is that the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill should also recognise the importance of this in statute. The target is calculated with reference to the parental employment rate in Scotland between 2007 and 2014, as recorded in the Government’s most recent annual report on the child poverty strategy in Scotland, which indicates that the parental employment rate has moved up from 80.4 per cent in 2007 to 81.8 per cent in 2014. Our proposed target is that the figure should rise to 86 per cent by 2030, which is a 4 per cent increase on the 2014 figure. We think that that is ambitious and stretching but realistic, and it is therefore commensurate with the ambitious and stretching but—I hope—realistic targets that the cabinet secretary has already set in section 1 of the bill.

I move amendment 3.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

I thank Adam Tomkins for explaining his proposed amendments. I have some misgivings about the logic behind the amendments and the principle of bringing them forward within this legislation, in particular as a result of the notions behind the amendments and the language used. I think that, across this Parliament, we all share an ambition to increase employment and to help those who can and need to go into employment to access labour markets. However, in my view, the way that the amendments are articulated and the notions behind them seem to shift the cause of poverty on to people. The utilisation in the amendments of the concept of being “workless” is language that I do not think helps with the principles of addressing poverty. It is language that does not belong in the 21st century as we try to address these issues. Logically, I am not clear what the definition of workless households in the amendments encapsulates. For those reasons, I will not support the amendments.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I share my colleague’s concern about the amendments. I think that the term “workless” is part of a rhetoric that shifts the blame for poverty on to individuals rather than recognising the structural aspects of it.

The amendments propose measuring employment rather than income, which is what the bill is about. Income is what needs to be measured, because people can be in work and still be in poverty as a result of low pay and poor hours.

The term “workless” does not take into account that some people who are not employed have caring responsibilities or are studying. I really object to the amendments and to the term.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

Worklessness is not a reliable indicator of poverty. Although workless households are more likely to be in poverty than working households, 70 per cent of poor children are in households with at least one working parent and some families are in poverty with two working adults. The bill defines poverty in terms of income, and I am not convinced that worklessness should be included.

George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

I agree with my colleagues. “Workless” is not the kind of term that we want to use. Ben Macpherson is 100 per cent right that, in the 21st century, we should not be using that term, because it almost makes out that it is the individual’s problem and they have created it. As has been said, people are in such situations for various reasons. Perhaps a carer is looking after a disabled member of their family, or someone has given up work to support other members of their family. The term “workless” is just not what we are looking at. I believe that we have the targets and the data that we need. Amendments 3 and 4 are probably not where we should be going with the bill.

Pauline McNeill

I agree with other members, and I will not support amendments 3 and 4. One reason for that is that, in the past few months, the committee has heard that two thirds of people who live in poverty are in work. Being in work is not necessarily a pathway out of poverty. It could give the wrong signal if we were to put the proposed target in the bill.

The Convener

I thank Adam Tomkins for the statistics that he gave us, but the term “workless” can include people who are disabled, full-time students at university and early retirees, and those people are not workless.

I am certainly not minded to support amendments 3 and 4, because the term “workless households” is demeaning. We are going to consider the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, which is based on dignity and respect, and anything that talks about worklessness and workless people is demeaning.

Angela Constance

With the bill, the Scottish Government is making a clear statement that income or lack of income is central to poverty, which is a view that our stakeholders strongly share. That is why the four targets at the heart of the bill focus on a range of aspects that are to do with low income. It will not be a surprise to Mr Tomkins to hear that I am opposed to amendments 3 and 4, as they will do nothing to increase the income of families of children living in poverty.

The new target that amendments 3 and 4 seek to introduce does not relate to income; in fact, it relates only to persons in employment. As we know, employment in itself is not necessarily a route out of poverty. As Ms Johnstone and others have outlined, in 2015-16, 70 per cent of children in poverty lived in households with at least one adult in employment, which was a 15 per cent increase from 2010-11. Although rates of employment in Scotland are relatively high, changes to the quality and nature of work, alongside the welfare reforms from Westminster, have driven up in-work poverty.

The four measures that are outlined in the bill are well known and understood among the stakeholders, and retaining them would provide a degree of continuity. The measures were chosen following extensive consultation and are designed to complement each other, with each capturing a different aspect of poverty. They are also strongly supported in Scotland and across the United Kingdom. An analysis of responses to a Department for Work and Pensions consultation on the targets in 2012 concluded:

“There is very strong support for the existing measures and near universal support for keeping income poverty and material deprivation at the heart of poverty measurement.”

During the committee’s first evidence session on the bill, Jim McCormick of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“It is important that we have a small core set of the right targets that are informed by a richer measurement or monitoring framework that gets more into the detail of the connections that drive the outcomes around those targets.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 27 March 2017; c 6.]

I have no doubt that we will go on to talk in more detail about how we can improve the existing measurement framework to ensure that it captures the correct causes and consequences of poverty.

Those are the reasons why we have selected those four key measurements. For the reasons that I have set out, I do not support amendments 3 and 4.

Adam Tomkins

I thank committee members and the cabinet secretary for their remarks about the amendments. They are based on the insights in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s September 2016 report, “We Can Solve Poverty in the UK”, which said:

“For those who can, work represents the best route out of poverty”.

Our very strong sense is that no anti-poverty strategy will be effective unless it includes a focus on employment, employment rates and employability—I am not saying that it has to be uniquely focused on those issues, but it must include a focus on them.

The word “workless” is used simply to capture both employment and self-employment. It is not meant to carry any negative or 19th-century connotations; it is a widely used word that covers employment and self-employment.

The amendments do not seek to blame anybody for being in poverty—quite the opposite. There is nothing in the amendments, and there was nothing in my earlier remarks about them, to suggest that I think that poverty is caused by worklessness. However, there is clearly a correlation between poverty and worklessness—or unemployment, if you prefer. If that were not the case, the Scottish Government’s own child poverty measurement framework would not include indicators of child poverty that are to do with parental employment.

We take the view that there is a correlation between unemployment and poverty, and that no effective child poverty strategy will work unless it includes a focus on employment. For those reasons, I will press my amendment.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 3 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 3 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 11, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is in a group on its own.

Adam Tomkins

Amendment 11 is a companion to the amendment that we have just debated and voted on. Again, it underscores our approach to child poverty, which is that too narrow a focus on income will not work, and that a number of what might be called life chances indicators need to be added to the bill not in order to dilute or distort the focus on income but to add to it. That is perfectly consistent with the approach that the Scottish Government takes in its child poverty measurement framework, which quite rightly includes a number of indicators pertaining to educational attainment. The child poverty strategy for Scotland recognises educational underattainment as an indicator of child poverty. It states that

“education plays a key role in contributing to the future prospects of Scotland’s children.”

The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 already provides that ministers must have regard to the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and educational underattainment in the exercise of their powers relating to school education. That is important and welcome, but it does not go far enough. The statistics that have been produced by the Scottish Government itself show that educational underattainment is an increasing problem in Scottish school education, not a decreasing problem. Amendment 11 is designed to add to, and give even more backbone to, the must-have-regard duty that we already have in the Education (Scotland) Act 2016.

09:30  



My proposed target in amendment 11 is derived directly from the child poverty strategy in Scotland, which measures the performance of primary 7 pupils from the 30 per cent most deprived Scottish index of multiple deprivation data zones, including performance in numeracy and writing. That is the measure that I have, as it were, copied and pasted in amendment 11, with the target set at 80 per cent. Current performance is 54.3 per cent in numeracy and 56 per cent in writing. Those are shocking statistics that we should all be concerned about, and it seems to me that no child poverty bill that this Parliament passes is likely to be successful in its aspirations—aspirations that all of us across the chamber and across the committee share—unless it is prepared to confront and tackle the problem of educational underattainment in the way that amendment 11 seeks to do.

I move amendment 11.

Angela Constance

As we have heard, amendment 11 attempts to establish a new target for educational attainment, based on two of the indicators from our child poverty measurement framework. For the reasons that I set out in the debate on the previous group of amendments, I am opposed to there being an additional target on educational attainment. I reiterate my firm belief that the focus on income is crucial and correct. It is an approach that has been welcomed by stakeholders, and I think that we would be unwise to depart from what is generally considered by those who are experts in the matter as an appropriate and robust set of poverty measures.

Of course, as Mr Tomkins is aware, our renowned child poverty measurement framework considers a wide range of factors that impact on the lives of children and their families, including educational attainment and underemployment, and those matters and a range of other matters are the causes and consequences of child poverty and must be confronted, measured in the measurement framework and addressed in the delivery plan. I accept that it is important to look at the broader picture, and that is why I have committed to reviewing the measurement framework in time for inclusion in the very first delivery plan. I would welcome views from Mr Tomkins, and indeed any other committee members, on the review of the measurement framework, but my strong view remains that the central focus of the bill and the targets must be on income.

The Convener

I invite Adam Tomkins to wind up and to indicate whether he wishes to press or withdraw his amendment.

Adam Tomkins

There is not very much that I can usefully add. I do not agree with the cabinet secretary, I am afraid. I agree with her about much of the bill, but I do not agree that an effective child poverty strategy that focuses only on income will work. What I am trying to do is to add further teeth to the strategy and to the bill, so that we can all stand a better chance of realising our collective ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland. I just do not understand the argument that we can do that by focusing on income alone without also having tough statutory targets to close the attainment gap.

The First Minister of Scotland has said that education is her Government’s number 1 priority, and amendment 11 provides the opportunity to give some legislative teeth to that political aspiration. Education should be the top priority of everybody in the Scottish Parliament, not just everybody in the Scottish Government, and here is an opportunity actually to do something about it, so I will press my amendment.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 11 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 11 disagreed to.

Section 1, as amended, agreed to.

After section 1

Amendment 12 moved—[Angela Constance].

Amendment 12A moved—[Pauline McNeill].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 12A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 12A agreed to.

The Convener

Cabinet secretary, do you wish to press or withdraw amendment 12?

Angela Constance

Withdraw. Sorry—I meant press.

The Convener

It has already been moved, so if you did not want to press it you would have to withdraw it.

Angela Constance

I will press amendment 12.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 12 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Adam Tomkins

I am bit confused about what we are voting on now. We have just agreed to amendment 12A, which is an amendment to amendment 12.

The Convener

We are voting on amendment 12 as amended.

Adam Tomkins

As amended?

The Convener

Yes.

Adam Tomkins

Okay. I agree with amendment 12 as amended.

The Convener

I have been advised to put the question again for the avoidance of any doubt.

The question is, that amendment 12, which has been amended by amendment 12A, be agreed to.

Amendment 12, as amended, agreed to.

Amendment 13 not moved.

Section 2 agreed to.

Section 3—Absolute poverty

The Convener

Amendment 14, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is in a group on its own.

Angela Constance

Amendment 14 changes from negative to affirmative the procedure that is attached to the regulations that Scottish ministers may bring forward under section 3. It will ensure that any regulations specifying a change to the base year for calculation of the absolute poverty target should be subject to the enhanced parliamentary scrutiny afforded by the affirmative procedure. The amendment responds directly to the recommendations of this committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee.

I move amendment 14.

Amendment 14 agreed to.

Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 4 and 5 agreed to.

Section 6—Calculation of net household income

The Convener

Amendment 35, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is grouped with amendment 36.

Pauline McNeill

These amendments are probing amendments. I was struck by the evidence that the committee heard about people with disabilities or long-term illness and the additional costs of being disabled. That should be addressed in the bill and in the Government’s work in the long run. When we are looking at who is living in poverty, there is a certain logic to debating whether, when calculating net household income, we should consider whether someone in the household has a disability.

I lodged amendment 35 because I wanted to hear what the cabinet secretary has to say about that issue, and I lodged amendment 36 for similar reasons. I was struck by the evidence that was given to the committee about lone parents—not just the question of living on a low income but the difficulties arising for families with only one parent. One of the reasons why I am going to move a later amendment in relation to the automation of benefits is that I heard from Glasgow City Council that that had helped a lot of single parents. That is because one of the issues about their lives is that they do not have the time to fill in forms and so on. However, in relation to the present amendments, I simply want to hear what the cabinet secretary has to say on those points.

I move amendment 35.

Angela Constance

Stakeholders who work consistently on poverty issues have made it clear in their consultation responses and their evidence at stage 1 that the targets that we have proposed are “robust?, “widely understood”, and “comprehensive and complementary”. The targets allow for comparison at UK level and allow us to track progress over time. The targets are based on definitions of net household income that have been developed over decades, with substantial input from independent and internationally renowned experts, including senior academics from Scotland.

I understand why Pauline McNeill wishes to amend the bill to refer to the additional costs that disabled people and lone parents have to bear. I agree with Ms McNeill that those are important issues and I hope to reassure her and the committee that the existing measures in the bill already go some way towards addressing them. The material deprivation measure, for example, provides some indirect evidence, because paying additional costs will leave individuals with less money to buy the basic essentials that are included in that measure. What is more, the calculation of household income is already equivalised—that is, it is adjusted to take account of household composition. In short, the fact that a lone-parent household costs more per adult than a two-person household is already taken account of in the measures in the bill.

Making a material change in how net household incomes are calculated as implied by these amendments would be a substantial and, frankly, risky task. My statisticians have advised me that there is no accepted methodology for assessing such costs. They have assured me that developing any new methodology would need substantial time and resources. Data on household income is collected on a UK basis and data collection on a differential basis for Scotland is likely to be costly and difficult. I am concerned that problems may arise in agreeing such a methodology that would be difficult to resolve. In short, the amendments have the potential to cause serious difficulties for the implementation of the bill.

Even if the methodology was agreed and the data collection issues were resolved, in several years’ time we would end up with a methodology for calculating net household income that was untested in practice and different from UK definitions. That would mean that comparisons across the UK were no longer viable and comparisons with the recent past would also no longer be possible. I know that Pauline McNeill and other committee members want us to move quickly to take strong action on child poverty and I could not agree more with that sentiment. I am sure that no one wants civil servants to spend the next year focused on redefining net household incomes when we already have an internationally renowned methodology in place, which already considers issues of costs and household composition.

Statistics on lone-parent and disability poverty are already published annually, but I have asked my statisticians to consider how we can make sure that the stats that we produce are as useful as they can be to inform our understanding of that poverty and the debate about additional costs, and I am happy to write to the committee setting that out in more detail. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I cannot support amendments 35 and 36.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I ask Pauline McNeill to wind up and press or withdraw the amendments.

09:45  



Pauline McNeill

I welcome your comprehensive answer, cabinet secretary. It would be useful to have a better breakdown of the statistics, to show the impact of poverty on lone parents and people with disabilities. That would be helpful. However, I will seek the committee’s agreement to withdraw amendment 35, and I will not move amendment 36.

Amendment 35, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendment 36 not moved.

Section 6 agreed to.

After section 6

Amendment 4 not moved.

The Convener

Amendment 15, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is grouped with amendments 15A, 30, 20 and 47.

Adam Tomkins

Amendment 15 would establish a poverty and inequality commission in statute. Independent scrutiny of the Government’s delivery plans and progress reports with regard to child poverty will be essential if we are to succeed in our collective ambition to realise aspirations and achieve the targets that the bill sets. That scrutiny needs to be robust and will of course come from multiple sources—the Parliament itself, the third sector, and, I hope, an effective statutory commission.

It is not just me who hopes for such a commission; the whole committee does. At stage 1, we agreed unanimously that, as we said in paragraph 122 of our report, we are

“concerned that, as the Bill currently stands, there is potential for the scrutiny arrangements around tackling child poverty to be weaker than those previously in place at UK level. Therefore, the Committee believes that the establishment of a commission, on a statutory footing, with a duty to scrutinise the Scottish Ministers' delivery and progress plans is required.”

Amendments 15, 30 and 20 would give effect to the unanimous recommendation that this committee made in its stage 1 report a few weeks ago. They seek to do so as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Amendment 15 provides for the creation of the commission. Amendment 30 provides for a lengthy schedule, which makes detailed provision for a small commission and includes provisions on the commission’s size, on appointments, on the period of appointment and on remuneration.

I have tried to construct the commission in a way that does not violate the fact that there is no financial resolution for the bill. As I understand it, the Presiding Officer has ruled that the amendments do not require the passing of a financial resolution for the bill. That is why the commission is relatively small—it is capped at five members—and there is no provision for the automatic remuneration of members. Remuneration is a matter for the cabinet secretary’s discretion. I have tried to create a commission that does absolutely nothing to get in the way of the cabinet secretary’s ambitions for a poverty and inequality commission, and the approach is designed with the limits of an absence of a financial resolution in mind.

Amendment 20 provides for the commission to have a number of statutory functions, all of which fall within the scope of the bill. I fully understand that the cabinet secretary’s ambition is, in the short term, for a poverty and inequality commission that looks not only at child poverty. However, I cannot lodge an amendment to this bill that would confer on a statutory commission functions that are outwith the scope of the bill, which is about child poverty.

The functions that the commission will start with are functions relating to child poverty and the delivery plans and progress reports that the bill provides for. I would expect and hope that in future, the cabinet secretary and others will seek to amend and enlarge the commission’s scope so that it focuses not only on child poverty but on poverty and inequality in the round. Nothing in my amendments will in the medium term limit the commission’s functions to child poverty, but of course we have to start there because we are dealing with a child poverty bill and it is essential that the amendments fall within the scope of the bill. That is why the functions that amendment 20 will confer on the commission relate to the delivery plan, the progress reports and the like.

Two amendments in the group are not in my name but in Pauline McNeill’s: amendments 15A and 47. We would support both of them.

I move amendment 15.

The Convener

I call Pauline McNeill to speak to and move amendment 15A and speak to the other amendments in the group.

Pauline McNeill

My amendments were lodged following the committee’s conclusion on a poverty and inequality commission, which I fully supported. I felt strongly that there should be an independent check on the Government’s work by something like a commission.

There is a debate to be had about the size of the commission. I have still to be wholly convinced that Adam Tomkins’s amendments on the commission’s structure are right. It looked to be the right size. There were those who lobbied for a greater number of people, but I believe that the number is right.

I note that since I lodged my amendments the Government has come forward with a comprehensive and good proposal on the poverty and inequality commission that would go wider than the current proposals. It gives the committee a bit of a dilemma, because the committee, by consensus, thought that the proposals were weak without an independent check that would make Parliament paramount. I would like to hear what the cabinet secretary has to say about that.

I am very conscious that this is stage 2. No bill has to be perfect at stage 2—that is what the process is for—but it would be a mistake not to put in the bill a provision for a statutory body of some kind to be a check and balance for the child poverty targets. I will think about it over the summer, before stage 3, but the Government has to think about what might be missing from its proposals, because of course the appointments to the commission would be made by ministers, not the Parliament.

The cabinet secretary should not misconstrue what I am saying and think that I am suggesting in any fashion that the appointments the Government has made already are not good ones. The appointment of Naomi Eisenstadt was superb and she has made a massive contribution to the debate on poverty. I have quoted her on many occasions. My concern is whether the committee should leave everything to the Government, when the Government’s proposal has come quite late. I am not saying that I do not welcome what has happened, but that element is missing.

At the end of the day, the committee is asked to scrutinise proposals in the bill to deal with child poverty. That is our job. I would therefore like the Government to reassure the committee that there will be an independent appraisal of the child poverty targets.

I move amendment 15A.

Ben Macpherson

I agree with the sentiment that we want to provide as robust a framework of scrutiny as we can. I appreciate that Adam Tomkins’s specific proposal is an ambition to develop that criterion and that set of aspirations.

Adam Tomkins referred to paragraph 122 of the committee’s stage 1 report. That recommendation refers to the committee’s aspiration, at that point in time, for some statutory oversight. However, times have moved on since then. Specifically, we have been informed more about what the Scottish Government’s proposal for a poverty and inequality commission would encompass. The difference that has emerged is that, whereas the recommendation at stage 1 was potentially for a statutory body to be created, we can now have a more encompassing and wide-ranging commission, and we can provide proper scrutiny at a parliamentary level. The proposals before us are quite different, now that we have more knowledge of what the Government is proposing.

My view—I will speak about this more fully in relation to my own amendments—is that Parliament should be the main scrutinising place for the eventual act, if the bill is passed by the will of Parliament. I have sought to strengthen it through the amendments that I have lodged. Unfortunately, parliamentary scrutiny cannot be put on a statutory footing, because an obligation cannot be placed on a cabinet secretary to appear before a committee. I will speak about other measures in relation to my amendments later.

We should be mindful that organisations such as Oxfam, which take a more holistic view of tackling poverty per se, rather than specifically child poverty, are in favour of keeping the remit of the poverty and inequality commission broad and wide ranging.

We now have a different proposition before us than we had at stage 1. We can now thoroughly analyse and provide robust scrutiny of the process of the proposed legislation and its implementation, and everything it encompasses. That is our role and our job as a Parliament.

As the Government has proposed, we can have a wide-ranging commission that will tackle poverty in the main, which I think is a more appealing proposition. For that reason, I am not minded to support Adam Tomkins’s amendment 15 or Pauline McNeill’s amendment 15A.

George Adam

I agree with much of what Ben Macpherson has said. Part of the problem I have is that the way we are doing things gets in the way. Furthermore, we could end up limiting what we do with the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, and not deal with that cross-section. Mr Tomkins said that we could bring something back at a later date and address it then, but that would overcomplicate things. We could have a poverty and inequality commission that actually does something, makes a difference cross portfolio and pushes things forward.

I believe that parliamentary scrutiny would be the way to go. You already have the reports, which will be coming in year after year.

One of the other issues I have is the very idea of a poverty and inequality commission being designed by a member of the Conservative Party. In my area and areas like it, it is Conservative Party issues and decades of Conservative rule that have caused some of the poverty and inequalities in our constituencies. I find that quite difficult, and it would be difficult for me to be on that side.

We are talking about the architects of austerity. Even if you believe that the Conservative Party is like some kind of washing powder and is a new, improved brand—and if you do not even think about the decades-long devastation the Tories have caused—you would still have to consider the here and now and the effect that their Government’s actions down in Westminster have been having. There has literally been an attack on the disabled; they have been attacking all the groups we have been talking about, and inequalities have become greater under the Tories. I have great difficulty with the idea of a Conservative trying to define a poverty and inequality commission.

For those two reasons alone, and given that we would be limiting the possibilities of the proposed poverty and inequality commission, I could not support any of that.

10:00  



Alison Johnstone

I note that, in his response to our stage 1 report, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland said:

“The Social Security Committee called for the establishment of an independent commission, on a statutory footing”.

That is indeed what that report said, and there was not a dissenting voice on this committee. Nothing has happened to change that position.

When we consider legislation relating to child poverty, we have a duty to ensure that there is in place a statutory, independent body to make sure that the changes we want to see with regard to child poverty actually happen.

We are reinstating the targets that Westminster removed. That is the right thing to do and I whole-heartedly support it. However, I think there is an admission that we have not taken steps to put in place a statutory commission, and the committee has agreed that that should happen.

In its response to the stage 1 report, the Scottish Government said that Westminster simply got rid of the statutory commission. That was a mistake, but how much easier would it be to get rid of a non-statutory commission? I do not think that not establishing a statutory commission sends a great message.

Children’s organisations are supportive of statutory scrutiny. Although I applaud the Government’s intentions and have no doubt that it is sincere, we might not always have this Government, and some other Government might have different views. We have to consider seriously having a statutory commission.

I understand George Adam’s concerns. The reason why I do not support putting attainment in the bill is that I think that attainment suffers as a result of poverty. I have no doubt that in great measure, it is tied in to Conservative welfare reform, but I am not going to conflate the two issues. The committee has a duty to ensure that the legislation is scrutinised independently by a statutory body.

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Anyone listening to George Adam might be confused, because there was unanimous support on the part of members of this committee for the establishment of a statutory body.

The suggested alternatives to amendments 15 and 15A are non-statutory. The idea of a poverty and inequality commission involves having a non-statutory body. That body will have what is described as an independent chair, but that independent chair will be appointed according to governmental patronage. My issues with that are not a reflection on the present Government; they concern the principle of whether an appointment is independent, is an appointment of Government or is an appointment of Parliament.

The role that is envisaged is largely a ministerial advisory one. There will be some sort of scrutiny role as well but, on the whole, the body sounds like it will be reactive rather than proactive, as well as being non-statutory. For that reason, I am not certain that it represents a step forward compared with the committee’s recommendation in its stage 1 report.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

I have to agree that I do not see what has changed since the committee unanimously formed the view that having a statutory independent body was the way forward. I agree with what has just been said about the proposal. The issue is not about matters that have happened elsewhere in other fields; it is about ensuring that this bill is seen through to its proper conclusion, and the proposed form of statutory commission will do that, in my view.

Angela Constance

I appreciate the comments that have been made and the consideration that has been given to the matter by individual committee members and the committee as a whole. I am glad that members have found the five-page position paper that we published at the beginning of the week to be helpful. In response to Pauline McNeill, I am not going to read out all five pages, but the paper clearly states on page 1 that

“The Commission will be:

• Independent. It will have an independent Chair, who will determine the work programme of the Commission”.

The chair will

“appoint the Commissioners”

and the commission’s role will be to

“provide free and frank advice to Ministers on how best to reduce poverty and inequality.”

As Richard Leonard has highlighted, the Government would appoint the chair, but the committee and others in the Parliament would scrutinise that in the normal fashion. After all, someone has to appoint the chair to begin with; I do not know how we would get out of that circle, but it is important to recognise that the independent chair would then go on to make the other appointments.

As a very general remark, I point out that the bill is not just replacing legislation and targets that were removed by the UK Government; the legislation that we are instating is actually more ambitious. As we said at stage 1, the targets are more ambitious and more stretching with regard to persistent poverty, and they have been set on an after-housing-costs basis. Moreover, the Government will, as a result of the bill, be subject to far more scrutiny. Under the previous UK legislation, we would simply make a contribution to a UK-wide report, while under this bill, we will rightly be scrutinised and challenged at every step and turn of the processes that we will have to go through.

I stress, though, that I can understand why the amendments in this group have been lodged, and I will lay out the reasons why I cannot support them. I hope that my reasoning will be clear. Given the tone and tenor of the debate, I think that we might be reaching a more shared younderstanding and that ground is opening up that we all seem to be occupying.

I outlined at stage 1 some of my reasons for not supporting the proposed amendments. As members will know, we need to set up a commission quickly to provide advice for the first crucial delivery plan. Moreover, previous experience at UK level shows that just because a commission is statutory, that does not necessarily mean that it has a secure future.

However, for me, the key point is remit. Let me be clear about this: I want the commission to have a wide remit on poverty and inequality. I listened very carefully to the arguments in the stage 1 debate, particularly those made by Labour members, who suggested—very passionately in some cases—that a focus on all-ages poverty was needed. Reflecting on those contributions, I have some sympathy with the points made by Labour members, particularly Pauline McNeill.

I have also been listening very closely to Oxfam, which set out a compelling case for a body with a wide remit that focused on income and wealth inequality. As members will know, Oxfam published a report in April, and I have been very much persuaded by much of it. That is why a wider remit that covers all-age poverty and economic inequality is reflected in the proposals that I circulated to the committee on Monday, and I am delighted that Oxfam has offered broad support for our commission model.

I suspect—indeed, I am certainly picking this up—that members here are supportive of the idea that a poverty and inequality commission should have that wider remit. However, my real concern is that if the committee were to choose to go down the road of a statutory commission as set out in Adam Tomkins’s amendments, it would be a poverty and inequality commission in name only. As I think Mr Tomkins acknowledged in his remarks, the sole functions of a statutory commission, if delivered via this bill, would be those conferred by statute; it would not be possible to amend the bill further to give the commission functions that did not relate to child poverty.

That means that the commission would not be able to carry out functions relating to poverty or inequality matters more generally—new legislation would be needed for that. Currently, there is no bill suitable for that purpose, nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future.

If, on the other hand, the commission is set up in the way that I propose, once it has done the work on the first delivery plan, it could turn its attention to economic inequality. Obviously, the commission will set its own work plan. It could look at the automation of benefits, the extra costs faced by disabled people and lone parents or educational inequalities. I am of course happy to discuss the future work programme with committee members, and I am confident that the independent chair will want to engage with the committee on its future work programme, but that will depend on the committee’s decision about which model of commission to support.

In short, if we set up the commission in the way that Adam Tomkins specifies, it would be a missed opportunity to do work that I am sure that members would find extremely valuable.

I turn to value for money. Adam Tomkins verbalised his good intention of not racking up costs for the commission. Under his amendment 20, the commission would have a role in delivery plans; under amendment 47, it would have a role in progress reports; and under amendment 30, it would have an unlimited ability to draw on Scottish Government staff and resources, with up to five permanent members. Also under amendment 30, the commission could set up an unspecified number of committees as it saw fit, which means that there would be salary costs for unspecified numbers of committee members.

It struck me that Mr Tomkins’s amendments propose something similar to the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s legislative structure, which was set out in the Scottish Fiscal Commission Act 2016, with the same membership rules. It is estimated that the recurring costs of the Scottish Fiscal Commission will be around £850,000 per year from 2017 onwards.

The Scottish Land Commission, which was established under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, has six members, rather than the five proposed by Mr Tomkins. That act’s financial memorandum set out annual costs of £1.3 million for the Scottish Land Commission.

My real concern is that, despite members’ best intentions, we would end up with an expensive commission. We would also end up with a commission with a focus that was strictly limited to the bill. Under the model that I propose, the Scottish Government would be able to cover a range of core costs and the remit would be much wider, which, in my view, makes our proposition better value for money.

I am concerned that what has been proposed is an expensive statutory commission that would have a lot of down time. It would have just two delivery plans to advise on over the period to 2030, because it would not be set up in time to advise on the first one. That also makes me think that it would not be that attractive an offer for high-quality candidates who might otherwise want to be commissioners.

Although I absolutely appreciate why some people are arguing for a statutory body, I am concerned that Mr Tomkins’s amendments would not deliver the wider, better-value commission that Oxfam, other partners and, I think, most of us here want and are trying to achieve.

I strongly believe in the model of commission that is reflected in my proposals. I appreciate the views and positions of committee members, but we made a manifesto commitment to set up a poverty and inequality commission and we will do so, to make sure that we get the very best advice on the first delivery plan. Whether, after that plan is published, the commission is able to look at the wider issues that I have outlined—economic inequality, automation of benefits and disability costs—will depend entirely on the decisions that the committee now makes.

For the reasons that I have set out, I say with respect that I cannot support amendments 15, 15A, 30, 20 and 47, and I ask memberbers instead to engage with me on the commission proposals that I have made to see how we can take them forward.

10:15  



Adam Tomkins

This has been a good and useful debate on the whole. I am afraid that I have not heard anything from any member that affects or changes the core recommendation that the committee made only a few weeks ago—which it made unanimously—that

“the Committee believes that the establishment of a commission, on a statutory footing ... is required.”

I believed that a statutory commission was required when I agreed to that paragraph of our stage 1 report a few weeks ago. I have listened very carefully to all the remarks that have been made, and nothing has been said to dilute or even to cast any doubt on the validity and importance of that conclusion.

Whether the commission is statutory or not is not simply a question of form; it is a question of who gets to decide what the remit of the commission is, who might serve on the commission and what the commission’s functions are. Should those be questions that Parliament decides, or should they be matters that the Government privately decides, perhaps in consultation with Parliament but perhaps not?

My very strong view is that these matters should be for Parliament, not Government. It is not a case of Parliament working against Government, but Parliament working with Government. That is why it is important that the commission is on a statutory footing, not a non-statutory one.

This morning, I received a completely unsolicited email from Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland—the office to which Alison Johnstone referred a few moments ago—in which he articulated his support for the amendments. I asked him whether that was a matter that I could share with the committee or whether it was a private communication, and he obviously told me that it was something that I could share with the committee, so I do so.

The amendments do nothing more than give effect to the committee’s unanimous recommendation in paragraph 122 of its stage 1 report, and they are supported by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.

Pauline McNeill

I am still concerned that there is nothing that the cabinet secretary has said that the commission will do that reassures me on the issue of the independent scrutiny of the child poverty targets.

I totally support what the cabinet secretary says about the wider work that is needed. The difficulty that I have, however, is that my job today as a member of the committee is to consider the bill before us and the report that we compiled. If I am to depart from the position that I took towards the Government position, I would need to be satisfied in relation to what the committee agreed—that there should be independent statutory scrutiny. There would need to be something in what the cabinet secretary is offering the committee—a body that is Government-appointed, albeit that the commissioners will appoint other commissioners.

I reserve the right to think about the issue over the summer. I am not saying that this is my final view on the matter. The cabinet secretary will appreciate that we have only seen the vision that has been set out in the past few days. I am sure that the cabinet secretary has been in this position—we try to get our amendments in, after discussing them with colleagues and with organisations that have an interest. That work was done, and the organisations that lobbied us, including Oxfam, asked for a statutory independent commission.

I would like longer to think about the matter. On that basis, and for the purposes of stage 2, I will press my amendment 15A.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 15A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 15A agreed to.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 15, as amended, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 15, as amended, agreed to.

Amendment 30 moved—[Adam Tomkins].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 30 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 30 agreed to.

Section 7—Delivery plan

The Convener

Amendment 16, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendment 17.

Angela Constance

Amendments 16 and 17 are a direct response to the committee’s stage 1 recommendation that delivery plans should coincide with the start of parliamentary sessions. Amendments 16 and 17 will move the end date of the first delivery plan and the start date of the second delivery plan to after the date of the next Scottish elections, which will allow a newly formed Administration to publish a delivery plan that reflects its priorities for the parliamentary session and will ensure that it is not bound by the plans of a previous Government. The end date of the second plan, which is 31 March 2026, already falls after a Scottish election year.

That approach will also allow time to reflect on and learn from the actions taken in the previous session, and it will allow the newly formed Administration to draft a delivery plan in line with the manifesto on which it is elected and its priorities for that parliamentary session.

The changes that are outlined in amendments 16 and 17 will mean that the periods that are covered by delivery plans will be spread more evenly, with two four-year plans followed by a five-year plan. As Barnardo’s Scotland said in response to our consultation on the bill,

“Extending the period covered by the proposed ‘delivery plans’ will also provide a more realistic timeframe in which new policies can be developed, implemented and their impact assessed.”

Amending the periods covered by the delivery plans is a sensible and practical step that responds to the clear recommendations of stakeholders and the committee.

I move amendment 16.

Amendment 16 agreed to.

Amendment 17 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 31, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is grouped with amendments 18, 18A to 18E, 5, 6, 8, 19, 32, 37 to 39 and 22.

Pauline McNeill

This group of amendments is about the delivery plans. The plans are at the heart of the bill; they will set out how the Government will go about reducing child poverty and what poverty measures it will take. Presumably ministers will take the necessary advice and make their own judgment before they present Parliament with a plan for what they intend to do.

Amendment 31 is intended to allow consideration of whether there should be some kind of assessment of ministerial proposals to reduce child poverty so that we can see how the Government arrived at particular proposals and decisions. It is also designed to give a bit of transparency to matters. Perhaps the Government thinks that that is already provided for in the bill, but I wanted to debate whether further transparency was possible. I wanted to see whether, when the Parliament sees the delivery plan and policy suggestions, it would be clear how the Government arrived at them. That is not to negate the fact that parties will include delivery plans in their manifesto commitments, if they believe in the idea of reducing child poverty. That is perfectly fair, but I think that there should be some transparency around how Government arrives at the decisions in relation to its delivery plan, and amendment 31 tries to address that issue.

I move amendment 31.

Angela Constance

My amendments in this group are aimed at setting out a list of touchstone issues that we will consider when developing our delivery plans. That approach has been taken in response to evidence that was received from stakeholders during stage 1 and in response to the committee’s recommendation.

The bill as introduced did not include a list of areas that delivery plans would be expected to cover, which was a departure from the approach that was taken in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2010. The rationale for that departure was that the Scottish Government has committed to taking advice from a wide range of partners in developing delivery plans, which could inform their content better than a list. In particular, we are keen that our poverty and inequality commission will play a key role in advising us on the plans.

However, as we set out in our response to the committee’s stage 1 report, the Scottish Government recognises that the balance of opinion that was heard from key partners during stage 1 proceedings is in favour of more detail being set out in the bill. In light of that, I have lodged amendment 18, which sets out a number of key areas where ministers must consider the scope to take action when preparing delivery plans, including the provision of financial support to parents and the provision of information, advice and assistance on social security matters and on income maximisation and other key issues that we know are related to poverty, such as education, housing, health, childcare and employment.

Of course, I would not want to suggest that that list is exhaustive, but I believe that it sets out clearly the key issues that the committee would expect me to consider, as a minimum, when preparing a delivery plan.

My amendment 22 provides that, in the context of section 7, “parent” has an extended meaning to also refer to anyone who lives with and has care of a child.

I will now turn to the amendments that were lodged by committee members in this group, some of which I am minded to support.

Ruth Maguire looks to add the issue of financial support as an area that should be included when we are considering the availability of information, advice and assistance. I can see merit in that suggestion, and I am also happy to include the word “affordability” in relation to housing and childcare. I appreciate that affordability is key in this context. Therefore, I support amendments 18B to 18D in the name of Ruth Maguire.

Similarly, I am supportive of Pauline McNeill’s amendment 31, which seeks to strengthen the requirements on Scottish ministers in relation to the delivery plan by requiring ministers to explain how the measures that they propose in each plan are expected to contribute to the targets. As I made clear in our earlier discussion about interim targets, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that policies are grounded in evidence, and I would be content to make that more explicit in the bill, in the way that is proposed in amendment 31.

I will now turn to the remaining amendments in the group, which I am afraid that I cannot support. I will briefly outline my reasoning for that.

Amendment 5, in the name of Adam Tomkins, requires ministers to set out their plans to reduce the poverty-related educational attainment gap. Once again, I remind Mr Tomkins of the existing legislative duties on Scottish ministers in relation to attainment in terms of the socioeconomic duty to reduce the attainment gap, the requirement on ministers around the national improvement framework and the requirement to submit annual reports. I also point out that my amendment 18 includes education as a touchstone of the delivery plans. Furthermore, as Mr Tomkins is aware, our child poverty measurement framework, which I have committed to including in the delivery plan, contains measures relating to educational attainment.

10:30  



We have already discussed this morning Adam Tomkins’s views on the need for a target that is related to what he calls “workless households”. As you know, I disagree with his views on that, and I do not think that a focus on workless households is helpful or appropriate. It completely ignores the fact that in-work poverty is a growing issue. His amendment 6 requires delivery plans to set out measures related to worklessness. As I said in the earlier discussion on targets, I do not agree with his workless households measure, and I therefore do not support including it in the delivery plans.

Pauline McNeill has brought forward an interesting proposal in amendments 8 and 18A, related to the automatic payment of benefits. I have spoken in detail with Ms McNeill about that, and my understanding is that her proposal is based on a pilot that is running in Glasgow, where school uniform grants can be sent out automatically to families without them having to apply for them, on the basis of other data that is held by the local authority about their entitlement. I am absolutely supportive of that idea, and I would be happy to discuss with Ms McNeill how we can take that forward to see whether the good practice from Glasgow can be rolled out elsewhere. I would also be willing to take the proposal to our local reference group, and report back to the committee on the outcome of that discussion. However, I am unfortunately not able to support Ms McNeill’s amendment 8, as I do not believe that its wording matches the intention. I would be willing to support, in principle, amendment 18A, on the basis that Ms McNeill and I can discuss matters further in advance of stage 3 to ensure that it achieves what she intends.

Amendment 38, which is also in the name of Pauline McNeill, requires Scottish ministers to set out measures that they will take in relation to single-parent households. I am reluctant to accept an amendment of this type. The measures that I will set out in delivery plans will be aimed at supporting all low-income families, and I do not think that it is appropriate to single out particular groups in that way.

Richard Leonard’s amendment 39 requires a plan to set out steps to be taken in relation to setting the amount of revenue support grant that is paid to local authorities for directing resources at targets. We have heard time and time again from stakeholders that the bill needs to remain focused and that we must not overcomplicate it. With that in mind, I am sure that Mr Leonard will agree that a provision on local government funding arrangements is not an appropriate addition.

Much of Alison Johnstone’s amendment 37 is similar to my amendment 18. It includes issues around income maximisation, housing, childcare and employment. I welcome those common areas of focus. Along with Pauline McNeill’s amendment 32 and Ruth Maguire’s amendment 18E, it attempts to require the Scottish Government to set out in a delivery plan how we plan to use social security powers.

In my view, the planning and reporting processes that are set out in the bill will be a tool to galvanise action across Government, and we will certainly be looking at how our social security plans can contribute to meeting the targets. However, I do not think that it is appropriate to require consideration of specific social security measures as part of the delivery plans. The purpose of including a list of touchstone issues is to set out a broad framework for the delivery plans; it is not to force Scottish ministers into taking particular measures such as the topping up of child benefit. I have already expressed my view that that particular measure is not sufficiently targeted.

However, in the spirit of co-operation, I would be willing on this occasion to support Ruth Maguire’s amendment 18E, subject to further refinement at stage 3 to ensure that it works as intended. I hope that committee members will agree that that, along with our agreement to amendments 18A to 18D, in the names of Ms Maguire and Pauline McNeill, represents a reasonable compromise that we can all agree on.

As the cabinet secretary with responsibility for equalities in a Government that is absolutely committed to equalities, I strongly empathise with the intention behind Jackie Baillie’s equalities amendments—amendment 19 in this group and others in subsequent groups.

However, as the committee will know, the Scottish Government and the wider public sector are bound by the public sector equality duty, which is set out in the Equality Act 2010. That act makes sure that consultation and consideration of protected characteristics are built into public sector ways of working. The public sector in Scotland is also bound by the Scottish-specific equality duties that were introduced in May 2012.

Every new policy or programme requires an equality impact assessment—an EqIA—and there are strict rules about how EqIAs must be drawn up and put into the public domain. Furthermore, ministers and the public sector can be held to account by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is the regulator of the Equality Act 2010.

With all that in mind, I reassure Jackie Baillie that our delivery plans will be developed alongside an EqIA, which we will of course publish. We would expect local plans to be similarly supported by EqIAs. Our progress reports will have specific sections on each of the protected characteristics.

Witnesses at stage 1 stressed that the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is a simple framework bill that should not be overcomplicated. It is hard not to see some of the amendments as unnecessary complications when the public sector is bound by the framework of equality duties that I have described. Specifically, it is not clear what Jackie Baillie’s amendments would require ministers and local organisations to do, as their reference to persons having protected characteristics lacks focus in the circumstances where every person has more than one protected characteristic—those being age and gender at the least.

However, I acknowledge that the landscape of duties is changing. We recently introduced the child rights and wellbeing impact assessment to meet our duties under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. In addition, shortly we will consult on commencing the socioeconomic duty, which will have its own impact assessment strand. Both those offer the opportunity to strengthen our equality practice still further, and I am willing to meet Jackie Baillie to discuss those developments if that would help to reassure her on those points.

I reiterate my earlier points about our measurement framework: we will revise that in time for the delivery plan. I also repeat my offer to take suggestions from any committee member about how that could be strengthened to best reflect some of the important issues raised in the amendments.

I urge members to support my amendments 18 and 22 and amendments 31 and 18A to 18E. I urge members to resist amendments 5, 6, 8, 19, 32 and 37 to 39.

The Convener

Thank you for those comprehensive comments. I call Ruth Maguire to speak to amendment 18B and the other amendments in the group.

Ruth Maguire

I am seeking to amend the cabinet secretary’s amendment 18 to strengthen—while keeping a broad-brush approach—what should be included in the delivery plan. I am pleased that the cabinet secretary wants the plan to take account of “advice and assistance” in “social security matters” and “income maximisation”. I want to go further and include “financial support”.

The cabinet secretary’s amendment 18 mentions that

“the provision of financial support”

will be considered in the delivery plan—as it should be. However, I want people to have advice and assistance on how to get that financial support, whether that be a social security benefit, a passported benefit, such as a school uniform grant or free school meals, or any other support that is available to help low-income families, whether that is provided by the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the local authority or even a local charity.

Like Alison Johnstone, I consider that it is not just the availability of childcare and housing that is important, but the affordability of childcare and housing. We can make childcare widely available, but if it is unaffordable it would effectively be inaccessible and that unaffordability would be a barrier to those on low incomes. Therefore, I welcome the increase in free childcare hours being made available by the Scottish Government. My arguments on including affordability with regard to housing are the same. We could consider the availability of housing and find that there are plenty of available mansions. That would do little to help a low-income family. It is affordability that matters.

Again, like Alison Johnstone, I want to know that, in preparing the delivery plan, new social security powers—those that we know are coming to us and any new powers that might be devolved in the future that could be considered as tools in tackling child poverty—have been considered. However, it is not necessary to be prescriptive about what particular powers they should be, as Alison Johnstone seeks to do in her amendment 37.

My amendments are a good compromise between the cabinet secretary’s amendments and Alison Johnstone’s amendments. I hope that the committee and, indeed, the cabinet secretary, will support them.

Adam Tomkins

Section 7, which deals with delivery plans, is one of the most important sections in the bill. At stage 1, the committee was strongly of the view that the bill would stand or fall on the success of the delivery plans, and that section 7’s provision for the plans was weak and rather skeletal.

I warmly welcome the cabinet secretary’s amendment 18, which specifies a broad range of issues that delivery plans must take into account, including education and employment. The Conservatives will support that amendment. I will not move amendments 5 and 6, given the inclusion of education and employment in amendment 18, but I reserve the right to revisit the question at stage 3 to determine whether there is any form of words that could strengthen section 7 if it is amended today by amendment 18.

The Convener

I welcome Jackie Baillie MSP. I thank her for lodging an amendment and coming along.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Thank you, convener, for allowing me to attend the committee.

The purpose of amendment 19 is to include in the delivery plan measures that take account of poverty in relation to other relevant protected characteristics.

We all know that when equality is not embedded in policy from the start, it becomes an add-on and an afterthought. Therefore, it is critical that it be in the bill. It is important for us all to remember that poverty affects different equality groups in slightly different ways, so if the cabinet secretary wants to tackle child poverty—as I know she does—we have to take that into account when developing policies and actions.

I will give an example of that. The Government’s child poverty measurement framework tells us that the employment rate for parents is something like 81 per cent, but we know that the rate is significantly lower for parents from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, actions to improve the employment rate will need a targeted approach; if our policies do not reflect the barriers that BME people or families in which there is a disabled person face, we will not succeed and inequality will continue. I suspect that there is agreement on that point; the point of difference is the mechanism by which we will achieve it.

I understand the cabinet secretary’s view that amendment 19 is flawed and not correctly worded. I am, of course, happy to adjust it and will bring it back at stage 3, tightly focused so that there is no excuse for not supporting it.

I will take on the more serious argument. The notion that amendment 19 and others to which I will speak later are not necessary because we have equality impact assessments needs to be challenged. I will set out why. Under equality impact assessments, there is no duty to involve or consult people. I can find no evidence that if an equality impact assessment was poor any further action was taken in the courts or by the Equality and Human Rights Commission; no public body has been taken to court and no equality impact assessment has been challenged. Indeed, some public bodies have not submitted them but have not been taken to task for it.

I will give two examples from the Government. There is an equality impact assessment on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, but it is thin; there is little specific detail about the protected characteristics. Also, the equality impact assessment on the mental health strategy has no mention of race or ethnicity, although we know that there is a differential mental health impact on BME communities. That has a consequence for policy development: the Scottish Government’s publication on child poverty in Scotland does not mention ethnicity alongside characteristics that might make child poverty more likely, although we all agree that ethnicity has an impact on the level of child poverty.

Race tends to get missed off the agenda. In her report, “Shifting the Curve—A Report to the First Minister”, the First Minister’s independent adviser on poverty and inequality said that BME groups

“are often the most disadvantaged and … have additional barriers to face in escaping poverty.”

I recognise the cabinet secretary’s commitment and I welcome her empathy, but she should take action. Amendment 19 is not an unnecessary complication; if she understands the interaction between race, disability and child poverty, she needs to have that in the bill in order to achieve the ambitious targets that she has set for herself. I am always happy to meet the cabinet secretary, but I say that I have not been persuaded by what she has told me. The proposal is sufficiently important, for all of us, to be on the face of the bill.

10:45  



Alison Johnstone

Adam Tomkins has said that he will not move amendments 5 and 6; I will support all the other amendments in the group.

Jim McCormick and others have emphasised the importance of the content of the delivery plans. At stage 1, the committee unanimously agreed that the plans should cover at least the five areas that were recommended by the end child poverty coalition. My amendment 37 would give effect to that.

The reason why amendment 37 lays out in detail the social security recommendations is that the bill defines poverty in terms of income, and we know that social security can do so much to boost the incomes of the poorest families. The dramatic falls in child poverty in the 2000s owed more to the way in which the benefits system was improved—for example, with child tax credits—than to any other factors. Setting targets in legislation is welcome and important, but urgent action to back up those targets is essential. There is good evidence to suggest, for example, that a £5 top-up to child benefit would make immediate inroads into child poverty; as we have heard, research by the University of York suggests that it could help 30,000 children to escape relative child poverty.

All members of the committee will have received a briefing yesterday from a group of organisations including the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, Children in Scotland, Children 1st, the Scottish Women’s Convention, the Conforti Institute and justice and peace Scotland. They all call for amendment 37 and Pauline McNeill’s amendment 32 to be passed. All cite the huge inroads that the £5 top-up and other uses of social security could make. That is not to say that other things that will be covered by delivery plans could not also help to reduce child poverty. My point is simply that we know that use of some social security powers would have a large and relatively speedy impact on child poverty. That justifies including more detail on how the delivery plans should address social security than on some of the other areas that were recommended by the end child poverty coalition, and the amendment’s having more detail than the cabinet secretary’s amendment.

I accept that the cabinet secretary has lodged a similar amendment and I support it—in particular, the extra provisions for the delivery plans to include measures relating to the improvement of physical and mental health. However, it needs to go further than the measures that ministers are taking to provide financial support, which are quite broad. It should specifically address the social security powers that have been devolved by the Scotland Act 2016; as we saw from the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced the day before yesterday, the current Scottish Government is starting to set up what looks like quite a radical new system, so I do not see why the cabinet secretary would not want to shout loudly and proudly about that in the delivery plans.

I make it clear that in no way would amendment 37 require—Ms Constance used the word “force”—the Scottish Government to exercise child benefit top-up powers or any other social security powers. That is very important. It requires the Scottish Government only to indicate in each delivery plan whether it intends to use those powers. If it were to decide not to use them, it would be free not to do so. The amendment is not at all prescriptive.

I whole-heartedly support Ruth Maguire’s amendments, because if childcare, for example, is not affordable, it is simply not available to those who need it. I also highlight that amendment 37 specifically addresses the issue of helping parents and carers to access work that pays the Scottish living wage, which I hope the Scottish Government, with its fair work agenda, can support.

Richard Leonard

Amendment 39 is designed to make sure that greater resources go to the areas of greatest need. It is clear from the bill that local authorities, in particular, will have a critical role to play in achievement of the targets that are set in the bill.

My firm view is that more account needs to be taken of deprivation and child poverty in the revenue support grant process. Amendment 39 is very modest and gently asks ministers to consider supporting, through the local government settlement, areas that have higher levels of child poverty. The amendment is designed to help us to meet the targets by modifying the funding arrangement.

It is clear that people in poverty are more reliant on local authority services, whether that is social work services or education, through entitlement to free school meals or the school clothing grant. I do not wish to prejudice the cabinet secretary’s earlier agreement to accept Pauline McNeill’s amendment 18A, which is on automation of benefits payments, but if that is taken forward there will be greater pressure on the local authorities that have the highest rates of child poverty. It is clear that some local authorities, such as North Lanarkshire Council, have some way to go to achieve the target, whereas neighbouring East Dunbartonshire Council has less far to go.

Finally, the Scottish Government already takes some account of deprivation in allocation of some funding—I am thinking of attainment challenge funding. However, if we are to have a much wider-ranging approach to tackling poverty, we need more funding to be targeted at deprived areas and communities.

George Adam

I agree with other members that the delivery plans are the heart and soul of the bill and are what will make it work—it is in the name. Amendment 18 covers many of the issues that came up during the stage 1 evidence. That brings us forward.

I support Pauline McNeill’s amendments 31 and 18A, because they will add detail. The amendments are also supported by other members. I also support all the amendments that have been lodged by my colleague Ruth Maguire—amendments 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E. We need to get section 7 right. I cannot support the remaining amendments, at this stage, but we can discuss the issues at stage 3 and look at where we can go from there.

I cannot emphasise enough that getting the delivery plans right will make all the difference to whether we achieve the bill’s aim.

Pauline McNeill

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s agreement to accept amendment 31, which will require the Government to explain why it is taking particular measures in the delivery plan. That is very helpful.

On amendment 18A, I am particularly pleased that the Government is behind the idea that automation of benefits payments should be encouraged. I know that a lot of work needs to be done on that and that the cabinet secretary and Jeane Freeman are very keen on the idea. I will be delighted to press amendment 18A and will not move amendment 8, which would not do what I want it to do.

I will support Alison Johnstone’s amendment 37 because the Labour Party believes that there is evidence to suggest that top-up of child benefit can make a dramatic difference and take children out of poverty. As Alison Johnstone pointed out, that is not to force the Government’s hand, but will allow it to set out its reasons why it will support or reject that proposal.

Given the powers on top-up benefits that are coming to the Scottish Government, I wanted to ensure that the scope of consideration could be widened to all benefits. Members will know that the previous Labour Government, through the child tax benefits and the working tax credits, made a considerable difference to child poverty. I think that that should be a consideration for future governments. Amendment 32 will widen that further.

On amendment 38, I take on board the cabinet secretary’s points about not setting out specific categories of groups. I have listened carefully to that, but I am still strongly of the view that, because it uses the wording,

“a person who is not a member of a couple, and ... one or more children for whom that person is responsible”,

amendment 38 is tackling the issue of single parents, which is a gender issue because, as we know, the vast majority of single parents are women. My reason for pressing amendment 38 is that, although 2030 seems to be a long way off, in policy terms it is only a short time away. I am keen for the delivery plan to set out—as, I am sure, it will—measures for what the Government will do in all sorts of areas that the committee has discussed. Single parenting is an area of policy that should be addressed in the delivery plan, so I will press the amendment for that reason.

Amendment 31 agreed to.

Amendment 18 moved—[Angela Constance].

Amendment 18A moved—[Pauline McNeill]—and agreed to.

Amendments 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E moved—[Ruth Maguire]—and agreed to.

Amendment 18, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments 5, 6 and 8 not moved.

The Convener

Amendment 19, in the name of Jackie Baillie, has been debated. Do you wish to move or not move amendment 19?

Jackie Baillie

I will not move it, but I signal my intention to bring it back at stage 3.

Amendment 19 not moved.

Amendment 32 moved—[Pauline McNeill].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 32 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 32 agreed to.

Amendment 37 moved—[Alison Johnstone].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 37 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 37 agreed to.

11:00  



Amendment 38 moved—[Pauline McNeill].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 38 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 38 agreed to.

Amendment 39 moved—[Richard Leonard].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 39 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 39 agreed to.

Amendment 20 moved—[Adam Tomkins].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 20 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 20 agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 40, in the name of Ben Macpherson, is grouped with amendments 41, 21, 33 and 42.

Ben Macpherson

As I stated when we debated the proposed commission, my hope for the amendment process is to establish as much parliamentary scrutiny of the eventual act as possible, if the bill is passed by the will of the Parliament. That is what my amendments 40 and 41 are intended to do.

Principally, it should be for members of the Scottish Parliament, rather than a statutory commission, to scrutinise the eventual act and hold the Government to account. We have already had the debate on the amendments on the principle of a statutory commission, but I still wish to press my amendments in order to give Parliament a greater say than it would have under the bill as drafted in the scrutiny of the eventual act, subject to the will of Parliament.

I looked to create an obligation for the cabinet secretary to appear before the committee, but that was not do-able, because statute cannot dictate the work programme of a committee. However, amendment 40, if agreed to, would create an obligation for the relevant Scottish minister to make a statement. Section 7(4)(a) already creates an obligation for the Scottish minister to

“lay the plan before the Scottish Parliament”,

but the inclusion of the obligation to make a statement would create an extra opportunity for scrutiny and, as far as I am aware from the Parliament’s drafting team, that statement could be either in the chamber or in committee, which would enhance the scrutinising function of the committee.

Through amendment 41, I want to create an obligation on the Scottish ministers to consult the Scottish Parliament during the preparation of the delivery plan, and, in statute, the Scottish Parliament encompasses the chamber and committees.

The intention behind amendments 40 and 41 is to create greater scrutiny. I hope that the committee and the cabinet secretary will support them.

I move amendment 40.

Jackie Baillie

Amendment 21 would require the Scottish ministers to consult groups with relevant protected characteristics. The arguments are very similar to the ones that I made earlier. We know that BME people and disabled people are more likely to experience poverty. Any consultation on delivery plans would therefore be inadequate without their full inclusion. The basic principle is that, if we want to get it right, we should include them in the process.

The bill requires the Scottish ministers to consult local authorities and persons and organisations that represent or work with children and parents, but there is not a requirement to engage with equality groups that are more likely to face poverty, which includes BME families. The cabinet secretary will, of course, be very familiar with the race equality framework for Scotland, which commits the Scottish Government to

“Increase participation and representation of minority ethnic individuals in governance and influence in decision making at local and national level”.

The Scottish Government believes in that, so let us put the proposal in the bill.

Alison Johnstone

Amendment 33 requires the Scottish Government to consult people with direct experience of poverty. The bill requires consultation with groups that represent poor families, which clearly have considerable experience of the challenges that we face and of how we can make inroads into poverty, but there are insights that only people with direct experience of poverty can give. The amendment is entirely consistent with the Scottish Government’s approach in establishing the new social security system—for example, 2,000 people with direct experience of the current benefits system are being consulted on that. That is the right thing to do, and the bill would benefit from a similar approach.

Pauline McNeill

Amendment 42 would require ministers to

“lay before the Scottish Parliament a draft of the delivery plan they propose to prepare.”

It says:

“The Scottish Ministers must, in the plan they prepare and lay before the Scottish Parliament in accordance with subsection (4), take account of any comments on the proposed plan expressed by the Parliament within that period”,

which would be 40 days.

The amendment’s purpose is to probe whether there should be a process for commentary by the Parliament within a certain period on what the Government proposes in the plan. The amendment is designed to allow not for approval or disapproval but for the Parliament to comment on the Government’s plans so that the Government can take account of that in its final deliberations.

Adam Tomkins

In winding up the debate on this group of amendments, would Ben Macpherson address the question whether there are any precedents in the Scottish statute book of statutory requirements on ministers to make statements to Parliament or, indeed, to consult the Scottish Parliament in drafting a report? I am all in favour of effective and robust parliamentary scrutiny of this issue and others, but I wonder whether the proposal is a novelty or whether the approach already exists in other domains in the statute book.

Angela Constance

Alison Johnstone’s amendment 33 would add people with lived experience of poverty to the list of those whom we would be required to consult on delivery plans. I whole-heartedly accept and support that amendment and echo the Poverty Alliance’s view that those with lived experience of poverty

“are experts and they should be treated as such.”

The Government has a strong record on meaningfully engaging with those with lived experience of poverty. Members may recall the fairer Scotland conversations. Some 7,000 people took part in more than 200 public events and local discussions across the country, and individuals passionately talked about what mattered most to them. Those conversations were extremely valuable and directly informed our “Fairer Scotland Action Plan”, which was published last October. In that action plan, we committed to establishing three further organisations based on the exemplary work of the Poverty Truth Commission. That commitment will ensure that people with experience of living in poverty can speak out, tackle stigma and push for change to public services. We have already made progress on that, and I will make an announcement shortly on the first of the new organisations.

I set out my concerns about Jackie Baillie’s amendments relating to equality considerations earlier, so I will not repeat those concerns in full. I note that she has acknowledged my concerns about the drafting of her amendments. To be more specific about those concerns, the phrase

“one or more protected characteristic”

will not have the effect that specific groups will receive special attention or be targeted. We all have a gender and we all have an age so, in effect,

“one or more protected characteristic”

would apply to everyone. My concern is that her amendments will not have the impact that she desires.

I turn to amendments 40 and 41 in the name of Ben Macpherson and amendment 42 in the name of Pauline McNeill, which seek to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of the delivery plans. I am absolutely committed to being open and transparent, and I fully expect that, when I lay before Parliament delivery plans and annual progress reports, Parliament, led by this committee, will perform its usual robust and detailed scrutiny. Nevertheless, the very nature of the delivery plans means that a number of difficult and sensitive decisions will require to be made about Government priorities and spending. Once those decisions have been made, I am more than happy to debate them fully with Parliament—indeed, I fully expect Parliament to challenge and scrutinise the proposals—but I do not think that a full parliamentary consultation, as suggested in Pauline McNeill’s amendment 42, is appropriate.

I am also concerned about the issue of timing. Amendment 42 proposes that a full 40 days—excluding any parliamentary recesses—be set aside for consultation. I have intentionally set the Scottish Government an extremely tight deadline for the first delivery plan. I hope that we would all agree that, with such a crucial issue, it is important to move as quickly as possible to make progress with the first delivery plan.

That said, I appreciate that members want the bill to include further detail on parliamentary involvement. That is why I am willing to support Ben Macpherson’s amendments 40 and 41, which require ministers to consult Parliament on the development of the delivery plan, and to make a statement upon publication of the plan. I reserve the right to consider whether the drafting needs to be refined further at stage 3 to ensure that the intentions behind the amendment are clear. In principle, though, I would be very happy to be invited to future meetings of the committee to discuss the delivery plans and I would be pleased to reflect on any written report that comes out of the committee’s considerations. It is a shame that Ben Macpherson, through his amendments, cannot confer a duty on the committee, but I want the committee to be involved in the development of the delivery plans.

For the reasons that I have set out, I support amendment 33 in the name of Alison Johnstone and amendments 40 and 41 in the name of Ben Macpherson, but I oppose amendments 21 and 42.

The Convener

I invite Ben Macpherson to press or withdraw amendment 40.

Ben Macpherson

I will be as succinct as possible. I reiterate that the overriding intention behind amendments 40 and 41 is to promote as much consultation and opportunity to scrutinise as possible.

The proposal in amendment 41 to create an obligation to consult the Scottish Parliament during the preparation of the delivery plan reflects section 7(4), which requires the plan to be laid before Parliament. To answer Adam Tomkins’s question, there is consistency in that measure.

As I set out, my ambition was for there to be an obligation on ministers to appear before the committee. However, the legislation team advised that that was not possible. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 includes duties on ministers to make statements to Parliament after lodging reports et cetera, so there is a precedent there, which is why I intend to press amendment 40.

Amendment 40 agreed to.

Amendment 41 moved—[Ben Macpherson]—and agreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 21, in the name of Jackie Baillie, has already been debated with amendment 40.

Jackie Baillie

I will not move amendment 21, but I will bring back a similar amendment at stage 3.

Amendment 21 not moved.

Amendment 33 moved—[Alison Johnstone]—and agreed to.

11:15  



Amendment 22 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 42 not moved.

Section 7, as amended, agreed to.

Section 8—Progress Report

The Convener

Amendment 43, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is grouped with amendment 48.

Pauline McNeill

This group of amendments deals with the reporting year for the delivery plan. Amendment 43 is designed to replace the current wording—which says that the Government can present the report when “reasonably practicable”—with a deadline of no more than three months for the Government to present the report. I am interested to hear what the cabinet secretary has to say about that. I want to ensure that the Government cannot repeatedly put off publishing the report. I am not sure what the term “reasonably practicable” means.

Amendment 34 aims to complete Jackie Baillie’s amendment to ensure—

The Convener

We have not got there yet. It is very confusing.

Pauline McNeill

Okay.

I move amendment 43.

The Convener

Time has run away with us, so we will not deal with any more groups of amendments today. We will have to come back to those. I ask members to make succinct points.

Ben Macpherson

I will be very succinct, convener.

As with amendment 40, which was to section 7, amendment 48 seeks to create an obligation for the relevant minister to make a statement. As I suggested earlier, the statement could be to the full Parliament or to a committee. The aim is to increase scrutiny and give the committee as strong a role as possible in the scrutinising of progress reports.

Angela Constance

I appreciate the rationale behind both amendments. Pauline McNeill’s amendment 43 clarifies that annual progress reports must be published within three months of the end of the reporting year. It is my intention to publish them as soon as possible and I am therefore content for that additional detail to be set out in the bill.

However, the final progress report—the report for the year 2030-31—setting out whether the targets for that year have been met will not be able to be published until the statistics relevant to that year are available. I will therefore support the amendment today, with a view to refining a draft amendment in time for stage 3 to make clear that the final report will be prepared as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the reporting year.

Ben Macpherson’s suggestion that we make a statement on laying the annual progress report is also welcome. As I set out in our discussions of the amendments relating to delivery plans, I fully expect Parliament to carry out robust and detailed scrutiny of all our work under the bill. Therefore, I see no difficulty in giving a statement to Parliament if the committee considers such a requirement to be appropriate.

I agree with the policy behind amendment 48 but, if it is agreed to today, I propose to lodge an adjusted amendment at stage 3 to make it clear that the statement is to be made to the Parliament and that it should relate to the progress reports.

I support amendments 43 and 48.

Pauline McNeill

I am happy to hear that. I will press the amendment.

Amendment 43 agreed to.

The Convener

We will not finish stage 2 today, and I do not want to start another group and have to stop halfway through. We will not come to a vote on Ben Macpherson’s amendment 48 until later.

Jackie Baillie

I accept what you say about moving business, convener. I have an amendment in the very last group and I understand that the committee is meeting on Monday and Thursday next week. I am on other committee business on Monday and I convene a committee that meets on Thursday. Could I formally withdraw amendment 27, given that the minister will object to it on the same basis as she has objected to my other similar amendments, which is that it is too widely drafted? I will lodge a redrafted amendment at stage 3.

The Convener

We are going to go through the rest of the amendments next Thursday, rather than Monday. However, as you have said that you cannot attend the committee on Thursday, I will check with the clerks whether you can formally withdraw the amendment or whether another committee member can withdraw it on your behalf on the day. Thank you for your understanding.

Meeting closed at 11:21.  



Second meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting held on 29 June 2017:

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

Second meeting on amendments transcript

The Convener (Sandra White)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the 14th meeting in 2017 of the Social Security Committee. I remind everyone to turn off their mobile phones, as they interfere with the recording system. Some people might be feeling a wee bit delicate this morning—I am not looking at anyone in particular.

Apologies have been received from Mark Griffin. Richard Leonard is attending as a substitute.

Item 1 is continued stage 2 consideration of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. We concluded last week’s meeting by agreeing to amendment 43 and we will continue from that point.

I welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities and accompanying officials to the meeting.

Section 8—Progress report

The Convener

Amendment 34, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is grouped with amendments 44 to 46.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Amendment 34 provides that a progress report must describe the effects of the measures mentioned in section 8 on persons who have one protected characteristic or more under the Equality Act 2010. That relates to a previous amendment that was moved by Jackie Baillie. I heard what the cabinet secretary said on that and I presume that she will ask me the same as she asked of Jackie Baillie, in which case I would be happy to withdraw amendment 34 if the committee agrees but, for the purposes of procedure, I have to move it.

Amendment 44 would include in the annual report

“progress towards meeting the child poverty targets in respect of children living in households that include a person who has a long-term illness or disability.”

That, too, relates to issues that I have raised previously about ensuring that there is special mention of progress on addressing child poverty for people with disabilities.

Amendment 45 would include in section 8 a requirement on ministers to describe progress towards meeting the child poverty targets for single-parent households. That relates to an amendment already debated.

On amendment 46, it occurred to me that, when preparing the progress report on reducing child poverty, ministers might want to rectify the plan. If that situation arose, it would make sense for them to set out what measures they intended to take to rectify matters and get back on track with the targets for reducing child poverty.

I move amendment 34.

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

Good morning, convener. I hope that everyone is feeling bright and breezy.

Amendments 34, 44 and 45 set out that annual progress reports must describe the effects of the measures being taken for particular groups.

Ms McNeill is correct that, on amendment 34, which relates to the protected characteristics, I will refer the committee to the points I made during last week’s committee meeting concerning Ms Baillie’s amendments. The reference to

“a person who has one or more protected characteristic”

is worded problematically because every person has more than one protected characteristic—age and gender at least. As Ms McNeill highlighted, Ms Baillie did not move her amendments because, in effect, they referred to everyone rather than having a focus on people with protected characteristics as intended.

I have similar concerns on amendment 44, principally about drafting and definitions. Amendment 44 refers to

“children living in households that include a person who has a long-term illness or disability.”

As members of the committee will be aware from other pieces of work, it is important that we use the right language and are absolutely clear about the parameters of the groups that we are trying to reach. Therefore, although Ms McNeill is absolutely right to highlight the specific issues that people with a long-term illness or disability face, I ask her not to move amendment 44 with a view to discussing it further with me and officials over the summer, as the meaning of some of the terms in the amendment is not clear. For example, what would constitute

“a long-term illness or disability”?

Amendment 45 refers to measures taken in relation to single parents. Again, I agree that that is an important issue and I am supportive of the principle. I note that the drafting differs slightly from amendment 38, which also refers to single-parent households in reference to delivery plans and was agreed to last week. I reserve the right to consider further the drafting of amendment 45 in advance of stage 3, although I am content to support it.

Amendment 46 would require the Scottish ministers to set out in a progress report what they propose to do in the event that sufficient progress towards the targets has not been made. I am supportive of that idea. The progress reports will be a key tool that will allow us to assess how ministers are doing and to evaluate ministers’ policies and programmes on the basis of the evidence. Although I am content to support amendment 46 in principle, I stress that some of the interventions that ministers make to meet the targets are long-term ones and we will not see immediate results from them. In addition, I may reflect on the drafting of the amendment before stage 3, but that will not affect my acceptance of the policy intention behind it.

I support amendments 45 and 46 and oppose amendments 34 and 44 only because of the issues that I have outlined on drafting and definitions.

Pauline McNeill

In view of the cabinet secretary’s response, I seek to withdraw amendment 34 and will not move amendment 44 but I will move amendments 45 and 46. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s support for the latter two amendments.

Amendment 34, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendment 44 not moved.

Amendments 45 to 47 moved—[Pauline McNeill]—and agreed to.

Amendment 48 moved—[Ben Macpherson]—and agreed to.

Section 8, as amended, agreed to.

After section 8

Amendment 23 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Section 9—Final report

Amendments 24 and 25 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Section 9, as amended, agreed to.

After section 9

The Convener

Amendment 49, in the name of Alison Johnstone, is in a group on its own.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

The stage 1 report made a recommendation, which was unanimously supported by the committee, that, because the policy actions required by the bill will have resource importantlications, budget plans should make direct links with child poverty delivery plans and progress reports. Amendment 49 was drafted to give effect to the intention behind that recommendation. I am very pleased to see that the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland recommends that members support it.

We know from experience—and it is obvious—that budget decisions can have a big impact on child poverty. It is recognised that some of the tax and spending decisions of new Labour in the 2000s led to historically and internationally unprecedented falls in child poverty. The amendment asks the Scottish Government to explain how the annual Scottish budgets will impact on progress made towards the bill’s targets.

I draw the committee’s attention to the evidence that we have heard previously on how child poverty targets and the budget process are linked. Dr Jim McCormick told us that

“The more that we can drive resource allocation decisions that are based on evidence from what has and has not worked, the more”

the delivery plan

“becomes a living, breathing, practical and useful plan, rather than something that sits to the side of what Government is doing.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 27 March 2017; c 6.]

I support it being made explicit that the Government has to make the link—with its annual budget process, in particular. Several other witnesses, including Naomi Eisenstadt, also told us about the importance of the budget process for the child poverty targets and the need for a link between the two. I suggest that a way in which that can be achieved is to require the Scottish Government to produce projections of how its tax and spending plans will impact on child poverty. That is a way of entrenching the aim of reducing child poverty against any future Government’s intentions to reduce efforts to meet the targets. Any such Government that intends to reduce its budgetary commitments would certainly have to think twice about that if the projections showed a projected slowdown on progress towards meeting the targets or, indeed, a projected increase.

I move amendment 49.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

As well as sitting on this committee, I am the deputy convener of the Finance and Constitution Committee. I do not speak on behalf of that committee, but this committee should be aware that there has been a budget process review group that will report imminently. Its interim report was published three months ago. Obviously, I cannot say anything about what will be in the report of the budget process review group, but I wonder whether the wording of amendment 49 will be compatible with what the review group recommends on what are likely to be quite significant changes to the budget process. I have a completely open mind about that, but I wonder whether it would be better to revisit the issue at stage 3, once we have all had the opportunity to read and digest the recommendations of the budget process review group and, if we want to do so, to report back to the Finance and Constitution Committee about our views, as the Social Security Committee, on those recommendations.

I am sorry to throw a slight spanner in the works, but the issue might be better examined at stage 3 than at stage 2, given that recommendations on the budget process are about to be published.

The Convener

Thank you for that update.

08:45  



Angela Constance

I very much appreciate the rationale, purpose and intent behind amendment 49. Members want to understand the effect and impact of Government spending on making progress towards the targets, and rightly so. However, let me describe what is already in place to deliver the spirit of the amendment in relation to the Scottish budget process. In so doing, I will pick up some of the issues that Mr Tomkins raised.

The equality budget statement that is published alongside the draft budget every year contains an assessment of the impact of spending choices on low-income households with children. As members will be aware, we are considering how to expand the approach, given that the socioeconomic duty, on which I will consult shortly, will enable us to take important steps forward.

In addition, equality impact assessments are a statutory requirement for new policies and proposals, and include a focus on age. They should therefore bring out issues that affect children. I am sure that many members are aware that we are also required to conduct child rights and wellbeing impact assessments on relevant matters, which set out whether our policies, measures and legislation protect and promote the wellbeing of children and young people.

I wanted to highlight the existing frameworks and assessments that are in place around the draft budget, which reflect child poverty issues in a proportionate and sensible way.

I point members to the on-going work of the parliamentary budget process review group, to which Mr Tomkins and others referred. The group is conducting a fundamental review of the Scottish Parliament’s budget process, following the devolution of further powers in the Scotland Act 2012 and the Scotland Act 2016. I understand that the group will report its findings imminently, to ministers and—this is important—to the Finance and Constitution Committee.

I therefore respectfully suggest that it would be pre-emptive to make legislative requirements that relate to the budget process at this stage, before we have seen the outcome of the detailed work of the budget process review group, which was set up to come up with proposals for a revised budget process for consideration by the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Scottish ministers. The group published its interim report in March for consultation, as part of that process, which presented opportunities for people to suggest changes to the budget process as a whole.

I contend that such an approach is preferable to amending the bill. It would be unhelpful, at this time, if the committee agreed to amendments that would affect the budget process, when the review group has put significant time and effort into providing ministers and the Finance and Constitution Committee with a detailed and thorough review, which will be based on evidence. I hope that committee members support the recommendation that we do not agree to amendment 49 before we have given due consideration to the report. I ask members to oppose amendment 49.

The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. You and Mr Tomkins made important points. It is important that we budget-proof all legislation in the Parliament.

Alison Johnstone

I want to address some of the points that my colleagues have made. Amendment 49 would not require the Scottish Government to make projections about impacts on child poverty that would in any way be experimental or require significant additional resourcing or capacity.

It is important that the Parliament strives always to improve the quality of the data on poverty that is available to the Government to inform policy making. It is also important that we do all that we can to project the impact of tax and spending proposals on poverty. That is quite a common exercise. For example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies regularly produces such projections.

Adam Tomkins spoke about the budget review process and said that we cannot say anything about what will be in the review. Therefore, I am here today at stage 2 with none of that information available to me. However, I think that it is really important that we make the link between the bill and the budget process. Colleagues suggest that a similar aim could be achieved through a replacement for the equality budget statement that the budget process review group might propose tomorrow. That might be the case, but it might not—we do not know.

I am perfectly willing to consider whether the group’s proposals meet the intentions of amendment 49, but until I see detailed proposals I wish to press ahead with the amendment. If we are going to put back into law income targets for child poverty reduction and legally require the Scottish Government to report on how it is striving to meet them, it is really no stretch to say that there should be a requirement on the Government to explain how its budget, which will inevitably have an effect on incomes, will impact on progress towards the targets. Of course, we have stage 3 to make any adjustments that may or may not be required.

I press amendment 49.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 49 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Abstentions

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 4, Abstentions 2.

Amendment 49 disagreed to.

Section 10—Local child poverty action report

The Convener

Amendment 50, in the name of Richard Leonard, is grouped with amendments 51, 52 and 54.

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The intention of amendments 50 to 52 and 54 is to ensure that the widest possible engagement with community planning partners is included when local child poverty action reports are developed. The intent of the bill is to secure as much national but also local input into the attainment of the targets that are set in the bill. Therefore, local child poverty action reports are an essential part of the process. The bodies that are involved in community planning partnerships are wider than simply local government and health boards but, actually, that is all the more reason why they should be included as bodies that have to make a contribution to the reports.

Two press articles that have been published just this morning highlight the need for that wider rather than narrower approach. One says:

“The number of children in Scotland without a permanent home has reached a six-year high, with more than 6,000 youngsters recorded as living in temporary accommodation”,

which is a 13 per cent rise. Another article mentions a report from the University of Edinburgh that says that Scottish school leavers from poorer families

“are significantly more likely to be unemployed”.

That is why it is absolutely essential that we include bodies such as Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, further education colleges and transport partnerships in the process of developing the local action plans.

Paragraph 23 of the financial memorandum that accompanies the bill says:

“The Scottish Government will work with local authorities and health boards to produce guidance on how the reporting should operate, and would expect Community Planning Partnerships to be a useful vehicle by which to co-ordinate this work.”

I also note that the committee received evidence on the subject. The Aberdeenshire community planning partnership suggested that CPPs should be added to the bill and described the current provision as

“a missed opportunity to ensure reporting of the fullest possible range”

of actors at a local level.

I move amendment 50.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Although in general terms I share Richard Leonard’s overarching aim to encourage local engagement, I have concerns about the amendments for several reasons. First, I am not clear about what they would achieve, although I acknowledge the introductory remarks that were made a few moments ago. I am concerned that the amendments would place obligations on a wide variety of organisations that have no immediate role in child poverty and that those organisations have not been consulted on having a duty placed on them. For those reasons, I am not able to support the amendments in the group.

Angela Constance

I again state that I understand why Mr Leonard is proposing amendments 50 to 52 and 54 and what he is seeking to achieve. It was very apparent during the stage 1 discussions that there was some appetite for a local reporting duty to be placed on community planning partnerships. Indeed, at the start of the process that is instinctively what I—as a minister—would have wanted to do, but the advice that I received from officials was very clear that we could not place duties as such directly on community planning partnerships, because they are not legal entities in their own right and they do not employ people. Nevertheless, on the points that Mr Leonard makes about—how can I put it?—not letting organisations such as enterprise agencies and other organisations off the hook and ensuring that they have to contribute, particularly around employment, to endeavours in relation to child poverty, let me say that in my view that is crucial.

I reassure members that I have considered these matters very carefully. However, I do not agree that we should mandate additional partner organisations to prepare local reports as Mr Leonard proposes in his amendments. There are three reasons for that. First, I agree with the spirit of the amendments that local authorities and health boards will want to engage with local partners in the development of their annual reports, but the duty as it stands gives a clear leadership role locally to health boards and to local authorities. In my view, that is absolutely right, as they are the key strategic players and they should take on that leadership role on child poverty. That is why they are already central to the reference group that I have set out and they have a role to develop guidance.

Secondly, on a more pragmatic level, some of the bodies that are included in the list that Mr Leonard suggests have—at best—a tangential role in tackling child poverty. Of course, I accept entirely the very obvious role of Skills Development Scotland, further education colleges and enterprise agencies, but the list of organisations that Mr Leonard proposes is extensive and includes bodies such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage. I am not convinced that those bodies are sufficiently relevant to issues of child poverty to merit annual reporting. I should also say that, as far as I am aware, those additional bodies have not been consulted on a potential duty, and I have some concerns about that. Our approach to duties under the bill has to be both proportionate and relevant, which is why I think that it is appropriate that we limit annual reporting duties to those that have a very clear day-to-day role in dealing with children and families.

Thirdly, on a point of principle, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which set up community planning partnerships, did so precisely to put power in the hands of communities. Community planning partnerships are therefore required to set out their own priorities for improvement that are agreed locally in a collaborative way with the participation of their communities. They are required to agree the priorities based on an evidence-based understanding of local needs, circumstances and opportunities and they are required to be accountable to their communities and to report publicly to their communities on the improvements that they have made. Therefore, if the Parliament were to instruct CPPs what to do, that would seem to be contrary to the general principles of the 2015 act, which was designed specifically to put local people and communities at the heart of what we do.

09:00  



I mentioned the reference group, which is developing guidance on the local reporting duty. That group has met once already, and it has two further meetings scheduled over the summer. It has made good progress thus far. I reassure Mr Leonard and others that I will ask the group to consider what more can be done to make sure that the guidance delivers at local level the kind of partnership working that he has in mind. I appreciate that he was struck by the evidence that the committee received at stage 1 on the importance of CPPs, and I understand the argument that we need to ensure that certain bodies are involved in tackling child poverty at a local level.

A possible compromise would be to put a requirement on local authorities and health boards, in preparing their annual reports, to consult those community planning partners that they consider appropriate to determine what measures they have taken during the year to meet the child poverty targets. An amendment to that effect could be lodged at stage 3. A provision on the inclusion in annual reports of a description of the measures that those community planning partners had taken would encourage local authorities and health boards to bring in appropriate partners and would avoid imposing unnecessary requirements on bodies that have less relevance when it comes to the day-to-day issues of tackling child poverty.

For those reasons, I recommend that members oppose amendments 50 to 52 and 54.

Richard Leonard

I wish to press amendment 50. I appreciate the final part of the cabinet secretary’s response, which was helpful. By the time we get to stage 3, something robust might be in place. However, I am in a similar position to the one that Alison Johnstone was in on amendment 49. As we sit here this morning, I do not think that there is sufficient evidence that all the public agencies out there will be brought in with full force to meet the bill’s aims.

I hear what the cabinet secretary says about not wishing to tell local bodies what to do, but through the bill we are telling local government what to do, so why should it not be equally acceptable to tell central Government agencies such as Scottish Enterprise what they should be doing?

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency was mentioned. There is a big environmental justice movement that says that, by and large, facilities such as incinerators, landfills and chemical plants—and even areas that are licensed for future fracking—are in areas where poorer people live. Therefore, I do not think that SEPA should be exempt from considering poverty and child poverty in its deliberations. If there are particular bodies such as SNH that have no locus whatever on child poverty—I am not persuaded that that is the case—I suppose that it would be possible to consider exemptions for them.

However, if there are to be exemptions, I do not think that bodies such as further education colleges, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland should be exempt from playing a much more active part in the compilation of child poverty reports so that they are accountable. They already have a duty to act with a view to reducing socioeconomic inequalities and they are subject to the public sector equality duty, so I do not think that it is unreasonable to ask them to make a more formal contribution to the goal that we share of reducing substantially child poverty in Scotland. That would be achieved by amendment 50 and, for that reason, I wish to press it.

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 50 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Abstentions

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 4, Abstentions 2.

Amendment 50 disagreed to.

Amendment 51 moved—[Richard Leonard].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 51 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Abstentions

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 4, Abstentions 2.

Amendment 51 disagreed to.

The Convener

Amendment 2, in the name of Adam Tomkins, is grouped with amendments 26, 53 and 55.

Adam Tomkins

Amendment 2 is designed to ensure that local child poverty action reports are prospective as well as retrospective. Amendment 26, in the name of the cabinet secretary, seeks to do the same thing and in more elegant terms than amendment 2. If the cabinet secretary moves amendment 26—as I hope that she will—I will withdraw amendment 2. However, it is important that the section 10 requirement on local authorities is one that requires their reports to state not only what they have done to try to tackle child poverty but what they propose to do and continue to do in order to tackle child poverty. That is the basis of amendment 2 and, if I have understood it correctly, amendment 26.

I move amendment 2.

Angela Constance

The committee’s stage 1 report highlighted a range of evidence suggesting that a forward-looking strategic duty on local partners would help partners to plan how they go about reducing child poverty. In the view of several expert witnesses, that would strengthen the duty and make it more effective in meeting its aims. I have been persuaded on the issue and for that reason the Government has lodged an amendment to the bill to place an additional requirement on local authorities and NHS boards to set out actions that they plan to take in the future.

I appreciate Mr Tomkins’s comments and his support for Government amendment 26. However, it might be useful for me to put on record some of the concerns about amendment 2 so that the committee is fully informed about our thinking.

I was not convinced that the forward look that Mr Tomkins proposes in amendment 2 should focus specifically on the reporting year ahead. Amendment 2 would pose some practical challenges, because of the inevitable delay in reporting. For example, the report of activity covering the period April 2018 to March 2019 would not be published until after that period had ended and might not be published until June 2019, yet, according to amendment 2, the forward look should relate to the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020. However, by the time the report is published in June 2019, two months of the following year would already have passed, so it would not be accurate to say that it could describe measures “intended to be taken” in April and May 2019. Thank you for bearing with me, convener.

Amendment 26 will strengthen the duty on local reporting, but it does not restrict local partners to reporting on actions only within the next reporting year and does not create a reporting gap. For those reasons I intend to move amendment 26. I appreciate Mr Tomkins’s support for amendment 26 and his intention to withdraw amendment 2.

On amendment 53, I appreciate why Alison Johnstone wants to include a reference to measures relating to income maximisation for pregnant women and families in the bill. However, the member has already received a commitment in writing from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to roll out the healthier, wealthier children programme across Scotland.

As I said earlier, I do not think that it is sensible to overload the bill with references to taking measures relating to specific matters. That would restrict the flexibility that local areas have to develop proposals as they see fit. That is a key point. Local areas will know best what works for them in terms of support in their diverse communities. That is why the reference group that I set up includes representatives from across the country. We will work with them to look at how best to disseminate good practice and share examples of positive projects such as the healthier, wealthier children programme. Indeed, we are looking to build on that programme through our programme of financial health checks, which I expect to announce in the first delivery plan. I offer to meet Alison Johnstone to discuss that further.

For those reasons—and those reasons only—I do not support amendment 53.

Amendment 55 seeks to require local authorities and health boards to set out the measures that they are taking

“in relation to persons who are either seeking or who have been recognised as having refugee, humanitarian or other form of international protection status.”

I very much agree with Ms McNeill that we must consider carefully the link between poverty and refugees, asylum seekers and others who have or are seeking humanitarian protection.

I thank Ms McNeill for raising that important issue, as it has not been raised in the context of this bill, although members will undoubtedly be aware of the recent inquiry by the Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which placed a much-needed focus on the issue of destitution that is tied to asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland. That committee made 30 recommendations, which the Scottish Government is in the process of carefully considering. I am due to respond to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee in July. In my response to the committee debate in Parliament about a month ago, I stressed that, although we cannot ignore the cause of destitution, which is, in essence, the way in which the asylum system operates, and in particular how it interacts with the welfare benefit entitlement, those are issues that are currently reserved to the United Kingdom Government. Although I am clear about the challenges that are posed by reserved matters, nonetheless I gave a commitment in Parliament and to that committee that the Scottish Government will recognise the opportunities that we have with devolved powers that could make a real difference to people’s lives.

I think that we all agree that refugees should feel welcome, safe and able to participate in society. That is why, as a Government, we developed the first new Scots immigration strategy in 2013, which encouraged innovative approaches and new ways to offer support and do more to involve refugees. As I set out in my speech at the launch of the Scottish refugee festival last week, we want to build on that progress and continue to use the distinctive new Scots approach from day 1 of arrival.

The delivery plan that I will prepare under the bill will be a cross-Government plan. I will, of course, ensure that it is aligned with the principles of other work, such as the new Scots programme.

There is a duty in the bill for local authorities and health boards to set out any measures that are taken in their area for the purpose of meeting child poverty targets. I would therefore expect that, where a local authority or health board considers it appropriate, it will report on the measures that it has taken in relation to the families that Pauline McNeill is referring to. She and others will also be well aware of the great work that has been undertaken by Glasgow City Council to support refugees and asylum seekers.

Again, I would be happy to raise the issue with our local reference group and discuss with it whether the issue might feature in the guidance that we are developing in collaboration with it.

For the reasons that I have set out, and given that our commitments for the purposes of the bill are now on the record, I hope that Ms McNeill will not move amendment 55.

09:15  



Alison Johnstone

The bill is about defining poverty in law as it relates to income, and setting targets for boosting the incomes of poorer families. One important way of achieving that is by helping people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. We know that a lot of benefits go unclaimed because the benefits system is simply too complex for many people to navigate, so many families do not claim everything that they could.

In our evidence session in Glasgow we heard from John Dickie of the Child Poverty Action Group that many families find themselves relying on child benefit, which is easy to access and universally available—well, not entirely now. A survey by the charity Turn2us found that 48 per cent of low-income families are not claiming the welfare benefits and tax credits to which they could be entitled. That results in about £15 billion-worth across the United Kingdom going unclaimed, which has an impact on people’s ability to have any quality of life.

The cabinet secretary has recognised that when families get the advice and support that they need to make a claim they can gain significant amounts of additional income, which can have a huge impact in reducing poverty. I am delighted that the Government is going to roll out the healthier, wealthier children programme, because we know that some families have gained up to £3,000 a year from that project. That is simply about making people aware of their entitlements and enabling them to claim them.

We know that some fantastic work is already taking place across the country. There are projects here in Lothian that are making a difference, too, and great work is being done by local authorities and health boards. Amendment 53 seeks to facilitate the sharing of that work. The cabinet secretary spoke about disseminating information and sharing best practice.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I make clear that the amendment does not require local authorities or health boards to do anything that they are not doing already. It certainly does not reduce flexibility and it is absolutely not trying to set their local priorities for them. It is just trying to ensure that we all understand what great work is going on and that we can act on that. All that the amendment asks is that those bodies detail in their local child poverty action reports anything that they are doing on income maximisation.

Child poverty is an intractable problem; Governments have been trying to solve it for decades and for far longer than that, and we have not succeeded yet. Amendment 53 simply seeks to help this Government, or any future Government, to get closer to addressing child poverty.

Pauline McNeill

I thank the cabinet secretary for her comprehensive response on amendment 55. The amendment was suggested by the Scottish Refugee Council. I feel that there was no discussion at stage 1 about the needs of asylum seekers or anyone with international protection status. As has been noted, amendment 55 makes no specific requirement except for child poverty action reports to

“describe any measures taken ... for the purpose of contributing to the meeting of the child poverty targets”

in relation to those groups. I want to make sure that that is a consideration. It is a complex—and, I appreciate, a reserved—matter, but there are asylum seekers with children living in severe poverty. I am sure that no local authorities or others would ignore that fact, but I think that it would be remiss of the committee if it was not mentioned.

I also ask the committee to note that the amendment is not necessarily restricted to financial measures—it could relate to services for asylum seekers. In Glasgow, where excellent work has already been done, as the cabinet secretary mentioned—as, indeed, is the case in many local authorities—the provision of sheltered accommodation for homeless people includes a shelter for asylum seekers but not women, and I am not certain whether that includes children. There are issues that relate not to finances but to shelter and services that need to be addressed.

On that basis, for the time being I am content for amendment 55 to be a probing amendment that gets the issue on the record. Perhaps there can be some further discussion to ensure that the issue of asylum seekers is not forgotten when we are looking at what the Government and local authorities plan to do around the country to reduce child poverty.

I would also like to speak to amendment 53, in the name of Alison Johnstone. When discussing some of my amendments on automated benefits, which I wholly welcome, the cabinet secretary spoke about their importance, particularly to single parents and other groups. Income maximisation is a key concept that is related to automated benefits. It recognises that there may be a variety of reasons why people have not applied for all the benefits to which they are entitled. Alison Johnstone has outlined some quite worrying figures on unclaimed benefits. I do not know whether Alison will move amendment 53, but I will be happy to support it.

I would like to be reassured that the Scottish Government is alive to the concept of income maximisation. To be fair, I know that we will probably return to the matter when considering the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. It is not a matter that can be discussed only in relation to this bill.

The Convener

I call Adam Tomkins to wind up.

Adam Tomkins

I have nothing to add, other than to say again that we will support amendment 26, in the name of the cabinet secretary. If they are moved, we will also support amendments 53 and 55.

Amendment 2, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendment 52 moved—[Richard Leonard].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 52 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Abstentions

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 4, Abstentions 2.

Amendment 52 disagreed to.

Amendment 26 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 53 moved—[Alison Johnstone].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 53 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 5, Against 4, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 53 agreed to.

Amendment 55 not moved.

Amendment 54 moved—[Richard Leonard].

The Convener

The question is, that amendment 54 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Convener

There will be a division.

For

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)

Against

White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

Abstentions

Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)

The Convener

The result of the division is: For 3, Against 4, Abstentions 2.

Amendment 54 disagreed to.

Section 10, as amended, agreed to.

Section 11—Meaning of “child” and “child poverty targets”

Amendments 28 and 29 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Section 11, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

The Convener

That ends stage 2 consideration of the bill. I thank the cabinet secretary and her officials for coming.

09:24 Meeting continued in private until 11:19.  



Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill with Stage 2 amendments

Additional related information from the Scottish Government on the Bill

Stage 3 - Final amendments and vote

MSPs can propose further amendments to the Bill and then vote on each of these. Finally, they vote on whether the Bill should become law

Scottish Parliament research on the discussion of the Bill

Debate on the proposed amendments

MSPs get the chance to present their proposed amendments to the Chamber. They vote on whether each amendment should be added to the Bill.

Documents with the amendments considered at this meeting on 8 November 2017:

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

Debate on proposed amendments transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have to hand the bill as amended at stage 2, that is, Scottish Parliament bill 6A; the marshalled list; and the groupings. For the first division of the afternoon, the division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for five minutes. The period of voting for the first division will be 30 seconds; thereafter, I will allow a voting period of one minute for the first division after a debate. Members who wish to speak in the debate on any group of amendments should press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible after I call the group.

Section 6A—Poverty and Inequality Commission

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Group 1 is on the Poverty and Inequality Commission. Amendment 4, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 28 to 39.

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

I am delighted to bring this important bill to the chamber for its stage 3 debate. Throughout the process, the bill has had cross-party support for its principles, and the Parliament’s robust scrutiny has led to a number of amendments to strengthen it. Indeed, I committed at stage 2 to working with members and stakeholders on amendments that they wished to see, and we come to the first of those amendments now.

It was clear that people wanted to find a workable solution to ensure that the Poverty and Inequality Commission established by the Government not only was put on a statutory footing but, crucially, retained our vision of being wide in scope. I am therefore pleased to be able to confirm today to Parliament that, following a number of very helpful discussions with stakeholders, including Douglas Hamilton, the commission’s current chair, Oxfam Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group and, indeed, members of the Parliament, a pragmatic and workable solution has been identified. My amendments in this group give effect to that solution and, where necessary, strengthen and tidy up provisions related to the commission.

Amendment 38 lists the Poverty and Inequality Commission in schedule 5 to the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to allow the Scottish Government to introduce a public services reform order and ensure that the functions of the commission established in the bill are wider in scope and reflect the clear wishes of the committee and stakeholders. I am pleased to inform members that a draft public services reform order that sets out more detail for consultation has been laid in Parliament today.

Amendment 29 means that the provisions establishing the statutory commission will come into force on 1 July 2019. In effect, that means that the statutory commission will come into operation seamlessly from when the current non-statutory commission finishes. That will ensure that the current commission is able to proceed on the basis that is set out in the position paper that I published earlier this year and that ministers will receive the commission’s advice on the first delivery plan and the matters to be included in the first progress report. It will also ensure that there will be no break as the commission moves to a statutory footing.

Amendment 28 states that, before the provisions establishing the statutory commission come into force, the references in the bill that require ministers to consult the statutory commission in relation to the first delivery plan and the first progress report are to be read as references that require ministers to consult the non-statutory commission.

The remaining amendments in the group are changes of a more technical nature. Amendments 30, 32, 33 and 35 are drafting amendments that will replace incorrect references to subparagraphs with references to paragraphs.

Amendment 31 responds directly to a Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee recommendation. The committee’s report recommended that the delegated power conferred by paragraph 3(2)(c) of the schedule, which is a power that allows the Scottish ministers, by regulations, to add to the list of people in relation to which the commission has rights of access to information and assistance or explanation, is subject to the affirmative procedure rather than the negative procedure. I am happy to confirm that we propose to make that change from the negative procedure to the affirmative procedure.

Amendment 34 clarifies that reappointments to the commission are subject to the same parliamentary approval mechanisms as appointments.

Amendment 36 clarifies that the remuneration and expenses that are mentioned in the schedule are to be paid by the Scottish ministers.

Amendment 37, which is also a tidying amendment, confirms that, as well as regulating its own procedures, the commission may regulate the procedures of any committees that it establishes.

Amendment 39 is a technical amendment that will add to the long title of the bill to reflect the fact that the bill contains provisions that establish a Poverty and Inequality Commission.

I am pleased to propose those amendments to members, and I hope that they will support them to allow us to move forward together on the basis that I have set out.

I move amendment 4.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I am glad that the cabinet secretary recognises that all the amendments that we supported, pressed and made at stage 2 were designed to strengthen the bill.

It is important that there is a statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission. I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary has already appointed an ad hoc commission that is directly accountable to her, but it is important that the Parliament says that we want a statutory commission that is accountable to us as MSPs and not merely to the minister of the day. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s constructive approach to that issue at stage 3 and thank her for it.

The Scottish Conservatives will support all the amendments in the group.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

We will support all the Government amendments. It is a big achievement that the Parliament will—I hope—support an independent statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission. As Adam Tomkins said, those of us who felt at stage 2 that it was important that the commission was statutory felt that primarily because we need a commission that goes beyond the terms of the Parliament and ensures that there is scrutiny of child poverty targets, whichever Government is in power. Free and frank expert advice to ministers is important to meet those targets by 2030. A commission that has its own work programme and works with the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission is absolutely vital. I welcome the appointment of Douglas Hamilton, who is chair of the current commission, and all the other appointments.

I thank Alison Johnstone, Adam Tomkins and Richard Leonard, who stood firm at stage 2 to ensure that we got something at stage 3 that was statutory and independent. I also thank the Scottish Government for the constructive way in which it has worked throughout the process. To be honest, I wondered in the summer whether we would actually get here. However, a very clever mechanism in the legislation, using the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, has got us to the place where everybody wanted us to be. I note also the important work of the third sector in bringing us to this important point at stage 3.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I echo what my colleagues and the cabinet secretary have said. The way in which the Social Security Committee and the Government have conducted themselves over the issue has been exemplary and shows what committees can achieve if we all work together. It is important to realise that the new Poverty and Inequality Commission will have far-reaching powers and will not just look at child poverty, as it does at the moment, but will have a wider remit. I am very grateful for that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I invite the cabinet secretary to wind up.

Angela Constance

I very much appreciate the comments and support from members across the chamber. As a Government, we were always committed to an independent Poverty and Inequality Commission, which was a key manifesto commitment and action 3 in our fairer Scotland action plan. We delivered the Poverty and Inequality Commission on 3 July 2017, as announced by the First Minister. We had a very useful and detailed debate about the added value of having a statutory independent commission. We all agreed that, post stage 2, we needed to find a solution to ensure that the Poverty and Inequality Commission had a broad base and was not narrowly focused on the remit of the bill. I am pleased to say that we have found a pragmatic and workable solution.

Amendment 4 agreed to.

Section 7—Delivery plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to group 2, which is on the delivery plan. Amendment 40, in the name of Alison Johnstone, is grouped with amendments 5, 6, 2, 7, 1, 8 to 10, 3, 11, 42, 43, 12 and 13. I draw members’ attention to the pre-emption information that is noted on the groupings paper.

I call Alison Johnstone to speak to and move amendment 40, and to speak to all the other amendments in the group.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

The antipoverty measures that we will need to put in place in order for us to stand any chance of achieving the targets will need to be radical and far-reaching. They will also need to be adequately funded. We know from experience—in particular, of new Labour’s progress in reducing child poverty—that that does not come cheap. Although they could always have done more, previous Governments made significant investments in more generous social security benefits for families, as well as in education, children’s health and other areas. As we go forward to production of the delivery plans, we need to be very clear about what level of investment will be made by Scottish Governments for those plans. My amendment 40 seeks to do that and would require Scottish Governments to include in the plans an assessment of the financial resources that will be required to fund the delivery plan measures.

Amendment 42 is designed to ensure that the requirement that Scottish Governments regularly consider topping up child benefit, which was inserted at stage 2, will remain in the final version of the bill. It is the case that the amendment would in no way force the Scottish Government to exercise the power to top up child benefit; it would just require the Government to indicate in each delivery plan whether it intends to use the power. It would be free to decide not to do that. However, it is an idea that we should consider seriously if we are to make progress towards the targets that the bill sets.

There is good evidence to suggest that a £5 top-up to child benefit would make immediate inroads into child poverty: research by the University of York suggests that it could help 30,000 children to escape relative child poverty. I do not think that any other antipoverty measure that we have discussed in the course of the bill’s passage is likely to achieve such large reductions in poverty so quickly. Organisations including the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, Children in Scotland, Children 1st, the Scottish Women’s Convention, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Conforti Institute and Justice & Peace Scotland, to name just some, are all calling for that policy. A top-up of child benefit would not come a moment too soon. The Child Poverty Action Group projects that by 2020, that benefit will have lost 28 per cent of the value that it had in 2010, so we could start to address that by adding an extra £5.

15:00  



We know that child benefit goes to more of its intended recipients than almost any other benefit, apart from the state pension, with 95 per cent of those who are eligible for child benefit making successful claims. I accept that the near universality of child benefit means that some of the additional spending would go to relatively well-off families whose children are not in poverty, but there is a range of problems with taking a means-testing approach, not the least of which is that take-up for means-tested benefits is lower. Also, many food banks report that child benefit is often the only source of income for families that present to them—families who have been failed by means-tested benefits and the system that delivers them due to sanctions and administrative errors.

The Scottish Government describes social security as an investment; I agree whole-heartedly with that approach. At an annual cost of around £250 million, a £5 top-up would be a significant investment. However, Loughborough University conservatively estimates that child poverty costs us £750 million a year, so it is an investment that we cannot afford not to make. It is something that we should consider doing regularly. That is what my amendment would do.

I move amendment 40.

Angela Constance

I will speak to my amendments in group 2 and respond to the amendments from Alison Johnstone, Adam Tomkins and Pauline McNeill.

The amendments in group 2 relate to section 7 and the contents of the child poverty delivery plans that Scottish ministers will be required to develop and publish. Members will be aware that a number of amendments to section 7 were agreed at stage 2. Because there were multiple changes, the section as amended is repetitive and difficult to interpret.

I wrote to the Social Security Committee last week to explain my approach to section 7 and gave a detailed explanation of the amendments that I proposed to lodge. As I explained in that letter, my intention is to streamline the provisions by removing repetition and duplication and ensuring that the ordering is clear. My amendments will ensure that anyone reading the legislation can see clearly what they should expect from the Scottish Government in respect of its producing a delivery plan. My amendments keep to the spirit of what was wanted at stage 2 and will strengthen the bill further.

Amendment 5 will amend section 7(2A), which lists the subject areas that ministers must cover in a delivery plan. It requires ministers to “set out ... measures” that they propose

“to take in relation to”

all lists of matters. In the main, those are matters that are already listed in section 7(2A), but amendment 6 will consolidate and relocate the references to social security powers.

References to the use of social security powers were the subject of most duplication in the post-stage 2 version of the bill. I have sought to remove that and other duplication via amendments 10 and 11. In seeking to improve section 7(2A), I have paid attention to the clear desire from stakeholders and members for an explicit reference to the use of social security powers. The full range of Scotland Act 2016 powers are, therefore, explicitly highlighted by amendment 6. That broader reference covers the power to top up specific benefits, including child benefit, child tax credit and universal credit, and therefore makes sense in terms of future proofing by leaving open the range of options that ministers might consider in the future.

That leads me to respond to Alison Johnstone’s amendment 42 and Pauline McNeill’s amendment 43. For the reasons that I have just outlined, I believe that amendment 6 addresses Ms Johnstone’s and Ms McNeill’s points, therefore in my view their amendments are unnecessary. However, in the interests of continuing the co-operative cross-party dialogue that we have had during consideration of the bill, the Scottish Government will not oppose the amendments.

Amendment 7 will replace the reference to

“employment that pays at least the Scottish living wage”

with a wider reference to the nature and quality of employment. That is employment with

“remuneration that is sufficient to secure an adequate standard of living”.

Clearly, the nature and quality of employment are about more than hourly pay rates, important though they are. As this is living wage week, we are even more aware of the importance of the living wage. However, by itself it does not guarantee a decent income. For example, a person can be in receipt of the living wage, but on a zero-hours or part-time contract and, therefore, not in receipt of an adequate income.

I note that agreement to amendment 7 will pre-empt Pauline McNeill’s amendment 1, which seeks specifically to highlight single-parent households in the context of employment skills. My amendment 8 will do something similar by requiring Scottish ministers to set out in a delivery plan any measures that they intend to take in relation to single-parent households. I hope that that will satisfy Ms McNeill that she does not need to move amendment 1.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary said that the Government will not oppose amendments 42 and 43. Does that mean that it will support them?

Angela Constance

Yes, it does.

My amendment 9 will bring Richard Leonard’s text on revenue support grants into the overall list of delivery plan measures that ministers must set out, in line with the overall approach of consolidating all the requirements in one place.

I signalled my intention to lodge amendment 12 at stage 2. It will clarify an amendment from Ben Macpherson by providing that there should be a requirement for Scottish ministers to make a statement to Parliament in relation to each delivery plan.

Amendment 13 is a tidying-up amendment that confirms that the requirement to consult various groups on the development of the delivery plan can be complied with before the act comes into force. That reflects the facts that the Scottish Government is already undertaking a programme of consultation on the delivery plan, and that there will not be sufficient time to undertake detailed consultation if we wait until after the bill receives royal assent.

I hope that members will accept that my amendments need to be considered together in order for the legislation to be coherent and easy to understand and interpret. As a whole, my amendments are a practical way of achieving what members intended at stage 2, and will make section 7 stronger and clearer.

I turn to Adam Tomkins’s amendments 2 and 3, which are on educational attainment. The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to tackling the attainment gap and would, of course, expect to address educational attainment as part of the first delivery plan. For that reason I am content to support Mr Tomkins’s amendment 2.

However, I cannot support Adam Tomkins’s amendment 3. As members are aware, the Scottish Government is currently carrying out a public consultation on the approach to measuring progress on closing the attainment gap. We want to have a clear way of measuring progress and we want, just as we do now, to use several measures to do so. Our consultation proposes an approach that could be used to assess progress in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, and seeks views on key milestones for closing the gap between those from the most-disadvantaged backgrounds and those from the least-disadvantaged backgrounds. The consultation will close on 20 November, and the Scottish Government plans to use the findings in our approach to measuring the gap in the 2018 education improvement plan, which will be published in December. I respectfully urge Mr Tomkins not to move amendment 3, in order to allow for that consultation, which is the right and proper approach to measuring the attainment gap, rather than doing it through the bill.

I confirm that I will support Alison Johnstone’s amendment 40. I will, of course, consider carefully the allocation of resources for measures that are set out in the delivery plan, and I am happy to set out in the plan an assessment of the financial resources that will be required.

Adam Tomkins

Group 2 is all about delivery plans, which will, as the cabinet secretary said, be absolutely central to the success of the legislation.

It is fair to say that when the bill was introduced, section 7 was skeletal—it did not say much about what must be in a delivery plan. It is one of the elements of the bill that was significantly strengthened at stage 2 with cross-party support, to which Pauline McNeill referred. Section 7 is in a much stronger form now than it was when the bill was introduced. We will support all the Government amendments in group 2. They are, as the cabinet secretary explained, designed to tidy up stage 2 amendments that were, when read together, somewhat repetitive.

It is important to note the holistic approach to child poverty that the delivery plans will have to take. The targets in section 1 are narrowly and carefully focused on income alone, but I think that we all know that we cannot successfully tackle child poverty by thinking only about income: we must also think about education, the employment prospects of families, parents and guardians, and the range of other issues about which the cabinet secretary and Alison Johnstone talked. That is why we welcome the more broad-brush, holistic and universal approach to an antipoverty strategy that will be embraced in a much-improved section 7.

I very much welcome the Government’s support for my amendment 2. It is a modest amendment that will simply add to the requirement in section 7 that delivery plans must address themselves to education, in order to focus minds on reducing the attainment gap—a subject about which the cabinet secretary and the First Minister have spoken powerfully during this parliamentary session.

In the light of what the cabinet secretary said about my amendment 3, which tries to define “attainment gap”, so that the term does not appear on the statute book without a definition, I will be happy not to move it, although I am sure that Parliament will want to revisit what the Scottish ministers are doing, and are proposing to do, to reduce the attainment gap, which is an important matter.

Finally, I agree with what the cabinet secretary said about Alison Johnstone’s amendment 42, which is on top-ups. Amendment 42 is strictly unnecessary, given that the Government amendments will require delivery plans to take into account the full range of devolved social security powers that are provided for in the Scotland Act 2016. However, there is no harm in some repetition or in drawing ministers’ attention to the importance of top-up powers.

It was the Scottish Conservatives who brought top-up powers to the Smith commission table, so I am personally attached to the idea that we take them seriously as an important part of devolved social security. The Deputy Presiding Officer remembers the Smith commission well, as does the Deputy First Minister, who is chuckling. I am glad to see that he is enjoying himself.

Like the Government, we will support amendment 42. The Scottish National Party sometimes says that only 15 per cent of social security powers have been devolved, but that is not true; a third of working-age social security has been devolved in full, and in addition to that we have the top-up power and the power to create new benefits. A statutory recognition of the particular importance of the top-up power, which is what Alison Johnstone’s amendment 42 calls for, is something that we can support.

Pauline McNeill

I welcome the constructive spirit in which the Government has acknowledged that the bill was subject to a significant number of amendments at stage 2 that ideally it would not have planned for. It is fair to say that we should try at stage 3 to tidy up the bill in order to ensure that we have a good bill.

I lodged the amendments in my name before I had seen all the Government’s amendments. At stage 2, I thought that the delivery plan should mention the need for measures for lone parents, because there is evidence that families in that group are faring worse under welfare reform and in the context of child poverty. There is provision in that regard in the bill, but for completeness I wanted to ensure that where there are references to employability there would also be references to lone parents. However, I will not move amendment 1, because I think that the issue is adequately covered by amendment 7 and the other Government amendments in the group.

I will not move amendment 43. Amendment 6 refers to the use of welfare benefits under the Scotland Act 2016, so the issue is adequately covered.

However, I will support amendment 42, in the name of Alison Johnstone. The bill says, as Adam Tomkins said:

“A delivery plan must ... set out whether ... the Scottish Ministers intend to bring forward legislation to exercise the power provided for in section 24 of the Scotland Act 2016”.

Regardless of who is responsible for there being top-up powers in the 2016 act, the Scottish ministers should be expected to say whether they intend to use them.

15:15  



The delivery plan has to mean more than simply measuring child poverty. The government of the day and its ministers should be setting out clearly how they intend to use Parliament’s resources to reduce child poverty. Therefore, we will also support amendment 40, because it would be helpful to have an assessment of the financial resources that will be proposed by the Government to deal with child poverty.

On amendment 2, Adam Tomkins has been consistent in raising the issue of educational attainment. We do not see eye-to-eye on everything in that area, because Labour believes that income should be the primary focus. However, we will support amendment 2. Because “education” is mentioned in the list and the delivery plan, it is right that the provision should include the words

“and, in particular, closing the attainment gap”.

We will not support amendment 3. As members know, other work is on-going in trying to define the meaning of the educational attainment gap and how to close it.

Alison Johnstone

I think that we would agree that child benefit is a trusted and stigma-free source of income for the vast majority of families, but for so many households it is also an absolute lifeline.

As colleagues are, I am open to discussions about the design and delivery of new benefits. I am sure that we all agree that lifting family incomes should be an absolute priority.

I appreciate the Government’s desire to continue the cross-party work that has brought the bill to this point today, and I warmly welcome its support for my amendments. Amendment 42 in particular has been campaigned for and supported by the organisations that I mentioned, as well as by individuals and families across Scotland. Its being agreed to will be warmly welcomed.

I also welcome the support of Conservative members. Adam Tomkins suggested that there is no harm in specifically highlighting the benefit. However, specific mention of the benefit will strengthen the Government’s amendments and the bill.

Amendment 40 agreed to.

Amendments 5 and 6 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Group 3 is on equalities. Amendment 41, in the name of Jackie Baillie, is grouped with amendments 44 to 47.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I thank the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights for its work on this policy area. I hope to see this cross-party approach adopted by Government for future legislation. I also very much welcome the co-operation and partnership working from the cabinet secretary, her special adviser and her officials. The cabinet secretary asked me to withdraw my amendments at stage 2, which I was happy to do, to allow for discussion, and I am delighted that we have reached agreement on all the stage 3 amendments in this group.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that children who have protected characteristics, or who live in a household where someone has a protected characteristic, are recognised as being most at risk of poverty.

I will cite three United Nations committees in support of the amendments. First, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded in 2016 that the rate of child poverty in the United Kingdom remained high and disproportionately affected children with disabilities or children living in households where there is a disabled person, and children from ethnic minorities. In the same year, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted that poverty was prevalent among lone-parent families. This year, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities urged the UK Government to eliminate the higher level of poverty among families with children with disabilities. This is the right thing for us to do.

Amendment 41 and amendments 45 to 47 embed this approach in the delivery plan, the progress report and local child poverty reports. We all know that, if we do not embed equality in policy from the start, it becomes an add-on or an afterthought. Although I welcome equality impact assessments, they are not always the answer. Let me demonstrate that briefly. The equality impact assessment on the mental health strategy has no mention of race or ethnicity, yet we know that black and minority ethnic communities experience a differential mental health impact. Some equality impact assessments are of variable quality, and some public bodies have not even bothered to submit them.

It is important that we have something more robust in the bill. The amendments in this group will build in equality from the very start, ensure that we evaluate progress and insist that local child poverty plans reflect equality. It takes warm words and good intentions and gives them the clear, hard edge of requiring action.

Amendment 44 is about consultation. It will ensure that we talk to all those with an interest and a contribution to make, which is something that this Parliament has always sought to do.

I will finish with a quote from the First Minister’s independent adviser on poverty. In her “Shifting the curve” report, she says that those with protected characteristics

“are often the most disadvantaged and ... have additional barriers to face in escaping poverty.”

It is essential that we recognise that if we are to effectively tackle child poverty in Scotland, so I hope that the chamber does not need any more convincing. I urge the chamber to support these amendments.

I move amendment 41.

Angela Constance

I welcome Jackie Baillie’s commitment to issues of equalities and poverty and I am pleased that we have been able to work together to develop her amendments. As the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, I am keenly aware of my responsibilities in this area, and I agree with Jackie Baillie that, if we are to tackle poverty, we must consider the impact that having a protected characteristic can have. As Jackie Baillie rightly pointed out when we discussed equalities at stage 2, it is important for us all to remember that poverty can affect different equality groups in different ways, and that we need to take that into account when developing policies and actions.

I welcome the additional requirements for Scottish ministers to take into account the impact of protected characteristics on household income and expenditure when developing delivery plans and progress reports, and the requirements for local partners to do the same.

I thank Jackie Baillie once again for her constructive engagement on this issue and I urge members to support amendment 41 and amendments 44 to 47.

Amendment 41 agreed to.

Amendment 2 moved—[Adam Tomkins]—and agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Amendment 7, in the name of the cabinet secretary, has already been debated with amendment 40. If amendment 7 is agreed to, amendment 1 is pre-empted.

Amendments 7 to 10 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 3 not moved.

Amendment 11 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 42 moved—[Alison Johnstone]—and agreed to.

Amendment 43 not moved.

Amendment 12 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 44 moved—[Jackie Baillie]—and agreed to.

Amendment 13 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Group 4 is on progress reports. Amendment 14, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 15 to 23 and 27. I ask the cabinet secretary to move amendment 14 and to speak to all the amendments in the group.

Angela Constance

All the amendments in this group are in my name and are technical, consequential or drafting amendments. I will highlight a few of the more significant changes for the record.

Amendments 14 and 27 move the definition of “parent” into the interpretation section. Amendment 15 adjusts the existing provision in the bill requiring progress reports to set out progress in reducing the number of children in single parent households who live in poverty. That ensures that a wider category of persons is captured. For example, the text as amended at stage 2 would not include as a single parent a person who is married but separated, but such a person might not be in receipt of any support from their former partner.

Amendment 23 is a tidying amendment similar to the one that I made in relation to delivery plans. It clarifies that the requirement that was introduced by Ben Macpherson for Scottish ministers to make a statement is a requirement for a statement to this Parliament in relation to a progress report.

The remainder of the amendments in the group are minor drafting changes. I move amendment 14, and I ask members to support all of the amendments in this group.

Amendment 14 agreed to.

Section 8—Progress report

Amendment 15 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 45 moved—[Jackie Baillie]—and agreed to.

Amendments 16 to 23 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Section 10—Local child poverty action report

15:30  



 

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Group 5 is on minor and technical amendments. Amendment 24, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendments 25 and 26.

Angela Constance

All three of the amendments in this group are in my name and all are minor, technical or drafting changes to a subsection in the provision for local child poverty action reports. I ask members to support all amendments in the group.

I move amendment 24.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You have the opportunity to wind up, cabinet secretary.

Angela Constance

That is tempting, but I will decline.

Amendment 24 agreed to.

Amendments 25 and 26 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 46 moved—[Jackie Baillie]—and agreed to.

Section 11—Interpretation

Amendment 27 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Amendment 47 moved—[Jackie Baillie]—and agreed to.

After section 11

Amendment 28 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Section 12—Commencement

Amendment 29 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Schedule

Amendments 30 to 38 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

Long title

Amendment 39 moved—[Angela Constance]—and agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That ends consideration of the amendments.

Final debate on the Bill

Once they've debated the amendments, the MSPs discuss the final version of the Bill.

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

Final debate transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Before we begin the debate, I am required to say that, as members will be aware, at this point in the proceedings the Presiding Officer is required under standing orders to decide whether, in his view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter. Put briefly, that is whether it modifies the electoral system and franchise for Scottish Parliament elections. If it does, the motion to pass the bill will require support from a supermajority of members. That is a two-thirds majority of all members, which is 86. In the case of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, the Presiding Officer has decided that, in his view, no provision of the bill relates to a protected subject, so the bill does not require a supermajority to be passed.

The next item is the debate on motion S5M-08696, in the name of Angela Constance, on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill.

15:35  



The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

I am pleased to be opening this debate on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. The passing of the bill will mark a historic milestone on the road to eradicating child poverty.

This morning, I had a lovely visit to St Catherine’s primary school in the south side of Edinburgh. I went there to find out about how its popular breakfast club is setting children up for the day and enabling them to make the most of their learning. They asked me to wear the wrist band that I am wearing. These wrist bands are given to children when they perform well, so I hope that I can live up to the expectations of the children of St Catherine’s this afternoon.

As is customary, I will start by thanking everyone who has been involved in developing this important bill. My thanks go to the clerks of the Social Security Committee; and I am grateful to the committee convener, Sandra White, and the members, who have helped to shape the bill and who have been constructive throughout the process. The fact that such critical legislation has cross-party support and that we have worked collaboratively to strengthen the bill is an achievement that we all share. I am also grateful to the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their careful consideration of the bill.

I also thank the many stakeholders who have supported the bill, from responding to our initial consultation to giving evidence or engaging directly with me and officials. I am grateful for their views and contributions and, although I will not be able to mention them all, I pay particular tribute to the following groups.

The coalition to end child poverty helped to improve the bill in a number of ways. The Scottish Youth Parliament, among others, usefully and powerfully represented the views and interests of young people. Oxfam Scotland played a valuable role in helping to prepare for the introduction of the Poverty and Inequality Commission. The local reference group, which represents local authorities and health boards, has been developing practical guidance on the local duty.

In particular, I extend my sincere thanks to the ministerial advisory group on child poverty. The group’s expertise and guidance have been invaluable in getting us to this point, and its legacy is a strong foundation for the new Poverty and Inequality Commission.

The bill benefited greatly from the input of the Social Security Committee and that has led to a number of changes since introduction. First, the range of subjects to be included in delivery and local action plans was usefully extended. Secondly, parliamentary scrutiny has been strengthened, and ministers now need to make a statement to Parliament when publishing delivery plans and progress reports. Thirdly, a forward-looking aspect to local reports has been agreed, requiring local authorities and health boards to outline the action that they propose to take in future years.

Establishing an independent Poverty and Inequality Commission was a manifesto commitment. It appeared as action 3 in the “Fairer Scotland Action Plan”, and it was delivered in July this year when Douglas Hamilton was appointed as commission chair, and Naomi Eisenstadt and Kaliani Lyle were appointed as deputy chairs. The commission has a remit to advise ministers on child poverty and, crucially, on any issue it sees fit.

I have worked hard to find a solution to the problem that was identified at stage 2, which was that making the commission a statutory body under the bill would limit its remit so that it would be able to focus only on child poverty. Today, as I said, I have introduced a draft order under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to meet Parliament’s aspirations for a statutory commission with a wide remit. The order will mean that the existing commission can move on to a statutory footing from July 2019, ensuring that that independent body can advise ministers on the first delivery plan, which is due in April 2018, and on the progress report, which is due in June 2019.

For me, it has been vital to protect the commission’s wide remit. The commission was set up specifically to provide ministers with independent advice on a wide range of poverty and inequality issues facing our country. Child poverty is an obvious first focus, but the commission will also be able to look at how we should address economic inequality, intergenerational inequality and the high risk of poverty that is faced by minority ethnic groups, among other challenges. I have argued strongly to keep that wide focus, because making progress on those deep-rooted problems requires expert and independent advice.

The bill signals the importance that we as a Parliament and as a country place on tackling the unacceptable levels of child poverty across Scotland. In 2015-16, one in four children were living in relative poverty after housing costs, and the Scottish Government fundamentally disagreed with the United Kingdom Government’s decision to remove the targets and associated duties from the Child Poverty Act 2010. That led to the introduction of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which reintroduces income targets, but with even greater ambition.

The UK Government’s new approach, focusing on so-called workless households, ignores the fact of the growing number of families who are in work and at the same time in poverty. In 2015-16, 70 per cent of children in poverty lived in a household where at least one adult was in employment, and the continued cuts to welfare spending, which in Scotland will amount to an annual cut of £4 billion by the end of this decade, are making things much worse. Work used to be a way out of poverty, but for too many that is no longer the case and rates of pay and the number of hours available are just not enough to ensure that their children have a bright future.

Meeting our ambitious targets to eradicate child poverty by 2013 will be challenging and it will feel at times as if we are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs in the face of the cuts which, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, will see the biggest increase in child poverty since the 1960s and mean that more than 5 million kids across the UK are growing up in poverty.

The Scottish Government is already taking positive action. The programme for government announced the £50 million tackling child poverty fund, and we are taking advice from the commission on where funding can have the biggest impacts. We are introducing the best start grant by summer 2019, which will provide cash payments to lower-income families and offer increased financial support in those crucial early years. We will be providing free access to sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities and, following a pilot programme in Aberdeen, we will consider how to support women on low incomes. We will be providing a financial health check guarantee to ensure that families with children on low incomes claim all that they are entitled to, and we will support Scotland’s credit union sector so that more people have access to affordable and ethical alternatives to high street banking and pay-day loans.

All of that is on top of our existing programme to deliver 50,000 warm, affordable homes and our help to close the poverty-related attainment gap, and we are taking the next steps towards the near doubling of funded early learning and childcare. We are also introducing a new socioeconomic duty for the public sector.

We all know that the 2030 targets are highly ambitious and challenging, but poverty is not inevitable. As we have seen during the passage of the bill, there is a genuine cross-party desire to place those targets in statute and then take action to meet them. If everyone plays their part, the targets are achievable and we can transform the prospects of generations to come. The bill is the crucial next step.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill be passed.

15:44  



Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

We very much welcome the all-party agreement that there now is on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, and I agree with much of what the cabinet secretary has said. It is an important piece of legislation and the tone in which it has been debated today is a significant and welcome change from the tone at stage 2. The bill has had a good passage through Parliament. I still think that the stage 1 debate that we had in the chamber a few months ago was the single best debate that I have had the privilege of taking part in, with notable contributions from Alex Neil and my friend and colleague Jamie Greene, among many others.

The bill was not very powerful when it was introduced into Parliament. Everything that we and the other Opposition parties have done to the bill over the past few months has been done to make it stronger and more robust. The bill contains very ambitious targets, and it will be difficult to meet them. The amendments that we have made on interim targets and on delivery plans, which we discussed earlier, and the measures to put the Poverty and Inequality Commission on a statutory basis will all help the Government and public authorities throughout Scotland to meet those very ambitious targets as best they can.

In particular, I welcome the amendments that we have made to section 7, on delivery plans. We on the Conservative benches do not believe that an anti-poverty strategy can be effective if it focuses only on income. Of course we have to focus on income, among other things, but we do not believe that the focus should be solely on that. All of us on these benches welcome the fact that the delivery plans will now have to make express reference to education and the attainment gap, housing, the availability and affordability of childcare, employment and employment prospects, the skills training of parents and families and considerations pertaining to health. All those features are already in the Scottish Government’s child poverty measurement framework and child poverty action plan, and it is important that they are reflected in the bill, which is soon to be an act.

We wanted to go much further. We wanted the bill not merely to measure child poverty but to take direct steps to tackle and reduce it, particularly at source. In addition to the four income-related targets, we wanted a target on unemployment. Some of the briefings that we were sent for today’s debate from the third sector pointed out that 30 per cent of children living in poverty in Scotland live in families where no one works. The employment prospects of parents and carers are still a directly relevant and material consideration when we think about child poverty.

We also wanted a statutory target to take steps to reduce the attainment gap. Of course, there is already a statutory duty to have regard to the attainment gap, but that is plainly not enough. The attainment gap is getting worse, not better. Numeracy levels among children from our most deprived communities are getting worse and not better, and the attainment gap is growing and not narrowing. The PISA—programme for international student assessment—results show that Scottish education is going backwards and that England and Northern Ireland now outperform Scotland in every category, as do the Republic of Ireland, Estonia, Poland and many other countries. We wanted the bill to take direct action to require ministers to address that. At least the delivery plans will now have to do that, even if there is not the statutory target that we wanted.

The bill is stronger than it was when it was introduced into the Parliament and, as I said, I welcome that. However, on its own, the bill will do nothing to lift even a single child in Scotland out of poverty—we should be under no illusions about that. All the attention now turns to the delivery plans and the holistic approach that they will require ministers to take.

I wish Angela Constance and her ministerial team well in meeting those targets. They are ambitious, it is right that they are ambitious and the Scottish Parliament will today send our country the strong message that we are united in saying that the targets should be met. We can make child poverty history in Scotland, so let us get to it.

15:50  



Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank the clerks to the committee and especially Mark Brough and the legislation team. It is quite remarkable how they followed all the amendments that members wanted to make, so I particularly wanted to mention them.

It has to be recognised that there is some ingenuity in using the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to get us to where we are now and make something that started as a commission only for child poverty into a wider Poverty and Inequality Commission. In my book, whoever had that idea has to be commended.

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill sets out targets to reduce relative poverty, absolute poverty, low income and material deprivation, and persistent poverty. As we know, one in four children live in poverty. We have one of the worst records in Europe on that. I agree with Adam Tomkins that the bill is simply about measuring levels of poverty, but it is by using the powers of this Parliament and working with local authorities in taking the relevant measures that we can make a difference. The Scottish Government will have the full support of the Labour Party in its attempt to achieve that in this Parliament. The delivery plan is the main mechanism for setting out Government policy and allowing the Parliament to see how that policy will attempt to reduce child poverty.

The fact that there is child poverty in 2017 in a first-world economy such as ours is a national scandal. The life chances of hundreds of thousands of children are affected because they live in very low-income households. We all agree that no child should be robbed of their childhood years because they are poor.

All members have their own special interests with regard to how to make a difference, and I will mention two of mine. I supported Adam Tomkins’s amendment that aimed to broaden out the educational attainment issue. To me, it is really important that all children get the chance to learn a musical instrument. That is very good for children from low-income households, and a lot of work has been done on that. In order to close the attainment gap, it is also important that children have parity when it comes to tutoring support in their education. Some work needs to be done by this Parliament and local authorities to make sure that poorer children get the same access to tutors in school as children from wealthier families.

Seventy per cent of children who live in poverty are in working households, which is an awful lot of children. Bright but poor children can lag up to two years behind wealthier children. A toddler in a poor household is two and a half times more likely than a child living in more affluent circumstances to have poor health, and by the age of five there can be a gap of up to 13 months in vocabulary. Welfare reforms have deepened that crisis and, sadly, it will get worse. The report that we discussed yesterday, “The Austerity Generation”, could not have been published at a more poignant time.

I am pleased about our achievements at stage 2 of the bill, and together, across the parties, we have made a bill that is worth supporting tonight, at the end of the stage 3 process. I have been keen to highlight the issues of lone parents and those with a disability, and I am pleased that they are now in the bill and will have to be addressed by ministers.

This morning, I chaired with Alison Johnstone a round-table discussion on the automation of benefits, which is mentioned in the bill. That involves exploring whether local authorities can ensure that those who are already eligible for a benefit such as housing benefit can be cross-matched to establish their eligibility for certain other benefits. The idea behind that is that many people do not come forward to fill in complex forms and jump through hoops in what is a very complex process.

This morning, I was struck by the story of a mum with four children who had been claiming housing benefit and who was unaware that she was eligible for the clothing grant. By matching her entitlement data, Glasgow’s financial inclusion team was able to issue her directly with a voucher for £280 for her four children. She was astonished to receive it, and she phoned up the team to ask whether she was really due the money. She said that it was not possible to imagine the difference that that £280 would make.

I see that I must wind up. I thank Jeane Freeman for the interest that she has taken in the issue. I hope that, with the help and support of other members in the Parliament and of local authorities, we will consider how we can widen the scope of the bill to maximise the eligibility for benefits of the people who need them the most.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We have a little time in hand. Speakers in the open debate can have up to—the phrase “up to” is key—five minutes.

15:55  



Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. As a member of the Social Security Committee, I would like to thank everyone who took part in our scrutiny of the bill, including my MSP colleagues on the Social Security Committee and other committees.

The passing of the bill will make clear the commitment of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to eradicating child poverty. It will provide an overarching national aspiration and focus diverse minds, organisations and approaches on a clear shared goal. For those reasons, I fully support the bill and thank the Government for introducing it.

As we have heard, the bill sets out four ambitious headline statutory income targets, which are supplemented by robust interim targets. Those are accompanied by stringent reporting requirements at national and local level. All of that will be underpinned by the setting up of the statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission.

In conjunction with the many other measures that are being taken by the Government, the bill will play a central role in tackling child poverty by galvanising and focusing action on clear income-based targets that must be met by April 2030. If Parliament supports the bill this evening, as I hope it will, we can rightfully be proud of the huge step forward that it represents.

However, as we celebrate Scotland’s step forward, it is important that we reflect on the fact that the actions of the UK Tory Government are pulling us back at the same time. I appreciate that that does not make comfortable listening for my Scottish Conservative colleagues, but I am afraid that it is the reality of the context in which we are working to tackle child poverty in Scotland.

The Child Poverty Action Group report that was published earlier this week, which states that cuts to universal credit will push 1 million more children into poverty by 2020, is merely the latest addition to the damning dossier of evidence of the harm that is being done by Tory welfare reform. We should remember, too, that we are debating the bill because the UK Tory Government took the disgraceful decision to scrap its own child poverty targets. People will come to their own conclusions on how much of a priority tackling child poverty is for the UK Tories.

In contrast, the Scottish Parliament is doing what it can to mitigate the situation and to be proactive, but there are limitations on what we can achieve when so much resource is being invested in mitigation.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I agree with much of what the member has said about the conduct of the Conservative Party, but does she agree that we cannot address child poverty when we cut local government budgets year after year? Local government is on the front line in the fight against poverty and inequality.

Ruth Maguire

I thank Neil Findlay for that intervention and I agree that local authorities play a huge role in tackling child poverty. The Social Security Committee heard many examples of that. It is true that local authorities must receive appropriate funding.

Because of the resource that we are having to use to mitigate the Tory welfare reforms, it can feel as though we are being dragged back when we are trying to press forward; it is as if we are running to stand still. We must make it clear that, by pressing ahead with the roll-out of universal credit, the UK Tory Government is actively choosing to push more children into poverty. Our current starting point is that one child in four lives in poverty. That is challenging enough but, under the policies of the Tories, that figure will have increased before the bill even hits the statute book.

I whole-heartedly welcome the support of Tory MSPs for the bill, but they must know that it is not enough just to support policies to tackle child poverty; it is also necessary to oppose those that increase it. I urge them to stand up for Scotland’s children by joining the rest of this Parliament and using whatever influence they might have with their UK colleagues to call for an immediate halt to the roll-out of universal credit.

Our pressing duty as Scotland’s Parliament is to do all we can to protect and support children who are growing up in Scotland today. We also have a duty to future generations of children to ensure that the actions that we take will mean that they are born into a fairer and more prosperous society. Not only that, but we have a wider duty to send a clear message that child poverty, wherever it exists, is unacceptable, contravenes a child’s fundamental rights and cannot and must not be tolerated.

In passing the bill today, we as a Parliament will take a crucial step forward in meeting that duty to our children and giving all children in Scotland an equal chance to succeed and thrive.

16:00  



Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

Although I am at present a member of the Social Security Committee, I was not involved in the scrutiny of the bill, and I give credit to all those on the committee for taking the bill and making it, I think, a lot better than it was when it started off. It shows the strengths of the Parliament that, at stages 1 and 2 as well as today, we have seen colleagues from different parties coming together to get the best results for the whole of Scotland. It should reassure us and give us hope that, as we move forward with stages 1 and 2 of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill in due course, we can reach consensus on that bill, too.

Clearly all parties agree that it is wrong for a child to be in poverty today, and the bill helps the Scottish Government and us as a Parliament to refocus on the fact that, in order to tackle the issue and meet the ambitious 2030 targets, we need to work together. It cannot be done by one commission, one Government or, indeed, a number of individuals; we need the Scottish Government to work together with local authorities. In that sense, I agree with Neil Findlay with regard to the question that he asked a few moments ago. We need to see local authorities delivering on this and ensuring that they play an important role.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Does Jeremy Balfour agree that the UK Government has a role to play, too, for example in halting the disastrous roll-out of universal credit?

Jeremy Balfour

I totally agree that the UK Government has a role to play, but I do not accept the member’s final remark or that universal credit is the disaster that he has painted it as. As a party in Scotland, we have made our views very clear and we will continue to do so in taking the issue forward both here in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.

Local authorities must also work with the third sector, which has a growing role to play in this. After all, third sector organisations are often the ones on the ground, delivering local services, and they know the local people in a community. I hope that we will see everyone working together, collectively, on this matter.

I welcome the independence of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, which will be able to report to not just the Scottish Government but the Parliament. It can act as a helpful friend to us and the Government, helping us to see whether we are moving in the right direction and at the right speed.

My slight concern is that, so far, we have spent a lot of time focusing on targets. That is right, because if we aim at nothing, we will hit nothing, so we need targets. However, targets in themselves do not automatically produce positive outcomes, and we need to keep very focused on the outcomes that we are looking to achieve. In that respect, I agree with what my colleague Adam Tomkins said in his opening remarks. Finance, income and money form a key factor, but we must look at other reasons for people being held back in poverty, be they education, housing or other things that we as a Parliament are responsible for, and we must remain focused on tackling those inequalities as well as the income issue.

It is clear that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government have limited finances to spend on any area, so we need to focus our spending in the right direction. If we are genuinely going to look at things such as child poverty, we must realise that spending money on things such as baby boxes simply does not produce what we want. I attended some of the briefings that Alison Johnstone attended, and I cannot see spending £5 more on child benefit as a particularly appropriate—

Ruth Maguire

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The member is closing. He has 10 seconds left.

Jeremy Balfour

I do not see that as the right way. The 25 per cent of people who are in poverty would benefit from that, but the 75 per cent who are not in poverty would benefit as well.

16:05  



Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

I congratulate the cabinet secretary and all our Opposition spokespeople counterparts on the productive and amiable way in which the bill has been handled.

Setting targets is important, and the bill is an important platform on which to build an effective child poverty strategy. The key challenge for us now is in how we will make that happen to ensure that we achieve the targets by 2030 and the interim targets between now and then.

I agree with Adam Tomkins that this is not just about cash income for poor families. Assistance with educational attainment, employment, housing and a range of other things is part and parcel of a child poverty strategy. However, the reality is that, given the current situation, we will not solve the poverty problem if we do not start to inject substantial amounts of cash into the pockets of families with children that are living in poverty. I am not saying that putting cash into their pockets is the whole answer, but it is a prerequisite of achieving the targets. Despite the difficult financial situation that the Government faces, it should look to make a start in this year’s budget for next year, and I have two suggestions to make.

First, more or less across the chamber, we have rightly been annoyed and angered by the fact that the third child of people who live in poverty is no longer entitled to child tax credit. As a matter of urgency, the Government should see whether it can plug that gap. That would not cost a lot of money, as the policy applies only to third or later children who were born in or after April 2017 to families that qualify for child tax credit, but it would let us rectify a moral outrage, let alone something that is making child poverty worse.

Secondly, there is a big debate to be had about whether we should target more through child tax credit increases and topping them up in the Parliament or go for universal benefits. In the light of the immediate financial situation that we face, I hope that the dedication of sums such as £150 million and £300 million to child poverty is being talked about and planned for over the next couple of years. According to the Scottish Parliament information centre, just under 500,000 children in Scotland currently receive child tax credit and, if we topped up every child tax credit, it would cost £150 million a year to give them an extra fiver a week. If we had a spare £300 million, I would rather give those kids an extra £10 a week than apply the increase through child benefit for the simple reason that eradicating or reducing child poverty is the number 1 priority.

We do not have the powers that we would like to have to tax people who are much better off and do not need the universal benefit.

Adam Tomkins

What does Mr Neil say in response to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s finding that tackling poverty by increasing the value of benefits but not addressing the underlying drivers of poverty “has failed”? Those are not my words but the words of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which has said that that strategy for tackling poverty “has failed” to tackle poverty in the United Kingdom.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am afraid that you will have to be brief, Mr Neil.

Alex Neil

The point that Mr Tomkins raises is precisely the point that I made earlier, which is that we must tackle both aspects. We must tackle all the underlying issues, including the fact that 70 per cent of children who are in poverty live in households in which someone is in work. The reason why they are in poverty is probably that the person who is in work is not getting the living wage. We must tackle that situation in the same way as we tackle the 30 per cent figure that was alluded to by Mr Tomkins.

There must be an overall strategy. However, if that strategy does not include putting additional cash resources into the pockets of those families in which children are living in poverty, it will fail. Putting in additional cash resources must be part of the jigsaw—part of the plan or strategy—and on top of all the other things that are being done. If we do not attack poverty at its root and provide a cash injection, many of our other objectives, such as reducing health inequalities and closing the educational attainment gap, will not be met. I therefore hope that the next step will be taken very quickly and comprehensively.

16:11  



Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

I started this week by doing something that all members do: meeting children from one of the schools that visit the Parliament and answering their questions. They asked me a question that such children almost always ask: “Why did you want to be an MSP?” The answer that I give to that question is the same answer that is given by every MSP, from any party, whom I have known in my time in politics. I am an MSP because I believe that this country can be better and I think that I know what we have to do to achieve that. In all sincerity, that is what all of us seek to do. That being the case, surely we can seek no greater improvement than the eradication of what Pauline McNeill rightly called the scandal of 260,000 children’s lives blighted by poverty and their life chances constrained by that scourge.

I also say to the children who ask me that question that, although that is why all MSPs are here, we differ—sometimes very significantly—on what has to be done to make the improvements that we all want to see. The origins of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill lie in the fact that we differ on that issue. They go back to the income inequality targets to eradicate child poverty that were set by a Labour Government way back in 1999 and legislated for in 2010 and the changes that came about with the change of Administration in the UK Government in 2010 and the repeal of those income inequality targets. There was a difference in view over the approach that should be taken to eradicate child poverty.

I think that I am right in saying that it was the Scottish Government’s disagreement with the repeal of those targets that led to the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. In my view, the Scottish Government was absolutely right to disagree with that repeal, and the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament have taken a very creditable approach to the matter. The bill was, therefore, born from both our agreement about our purpose and our disagreement in the past about how we should act on it. That is very much what our Parliament is for. When we, in Scotland, wish to take a different view or approach from that which is taken in the rest of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament empowers us to do so, and that is what we are doing today in order to protect vulnerable children.

The Scottish Parliament was made for times such as this. We know that the number of children in Scotland who are living in poverty has increased by 40,000 in the past year. If there is a right time to act, this is it. Today, we commit to reversing that trend and moving instead towards the eradication of child poverty.

The legislative road to hell is, of course, paved with good intentions. We can all think of things for which we have legislated—a statutory right to a particular waiting time, for example—that we have then failed to deliver despite the promises that the legislation held. Alex Neil is absolutely right that the key is our willingness to do what is required in order to move towards and reach the targets.

The other day, I finished the most recent biography of Clement Attlee. There was much in that book about how the 1945 Labour Government implemented the Beveridge report and attempted to defeat the giants that Beveridge said stood in the way of progress: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Today’s work in this Parliament has a direct link to that approach. It is to our shame that, to a degree, those giants still roam our country.

The 1945 Government legislated for the means to change things, passing the Family Allowances Act 1945, the National Insurance Act 1949, the Pensions (Increase) Act 1947 and, of course, the National Health Service Act 1946. As we commit to the noble end of eradicating child poverty by 2030, we must do so in the sure and certain knowledge that we will have to take difficult and challenging decisions in areas such as tax, benefits and public services, because the measure of the sincerity of our commitment will be our willingness to create the means to achieve that end.

16:16  



Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I thank those whom I have not thanked previously—the legislation team, the clerks, my MSP colleagues and the small team in my office. I will also mention, as others have, One Parent Families Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Oxfam.

Today is a really important day for the Scottish Parliament. By putting targets for the reduction of child poverty back into law, we are saying that child poverty in a country that is as well-off as Scotland is not acceptable and that the Parliament will expend every effort to reduce it significantly as we work to eradicate it. As we have heard, the latest statistics show what a huge challenge that is. There has been a 4 per cent rise in relative child poverty in just one year, between 2014-15 and 2015-16. That is a rise of 40,000 children, to 260,000 children, which is more than a quarter of a million children in this country living in poverty.

Peter Townsend, who was one of Britain’s leading experts on poverty and one of the founders of the Child Poverty Action Group, defined relative poverty as someone having an income

“so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities.”

That means no swimming lessons, no trips to the cinema and no having friends round to play after school. Five pounds may not be a lot of money to Jeremy Balfour, but to many families the lack of that sum means that their children cannot join in.

Jeremy Balfour

Will the member take an intervention?

Alison Johnstone

I will not take an intervention at this point, and I will not take lessons from Mr Balfour, who supports the random discrimination of the two-child limit and the abominable rape clause.

In setting the challenge of significantly reducing child poverty, we must rise to it urgently. The Parliament and the Scottish Government need to develop the clearest and boldest strategy for combating the ill effects of so-called welfare reform and for boosting the incomes of our poorest families.

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies projected another rise in relative child poverty in Scotland by 2020-21. It projects that the rate could reach 29 per cent by then, which would be 300,000 children. The IFS says that a third of the rise in relative poverty will be a direct result of tax and benefit changes, which is surely shameful. It predicts that the two-child limit on child tax credits alone will lead to a 2 per cent rise in relative child poverty across the UK. In the face of those cuts, we will need to raise the incomes of our poorest families significantly.

The Scottish Government’s more generous best start grant is a good beginning, and I welcome that, but we need to go further. Investment in income maximisation services that help folk to access the benefits to which they are entitled can help families to increase their incomes by thousands of pounds. We have seen evidence of that, and I welcome the fact that the Government accepted my amendment on the subject at stage 2. It is important that the bill’s delivery plans and local child poverty action groups will refer to income maximisation.

As I said when I spoke to my amendment 42 on child benefit top-ups, we will have to consider using the powers to top up benefits and perhaps also to create new ones. I appreciate that there are different views across the chamber on how that might be achieved, but it is a good start to put a requirement to consider topping up in the bill in order to start the debate. I thank members for agreeing to my amendment on that.

I accept that the Scottish Government is already spending a significant amount of money in attempting to mitigate welfare cuts. As someone who supported devolution before joining the Green Party, I appreciate how frustrating it is that we cannot be more proactive and are constantly reacting, but we can do more and we must do it with the powers that the Parliament will have. Research by the Greens has shown that the new benefit cap is removing thousands of pounds a year from the homes of some 11,000 children in Scotland.

Members across the chamber have made improvements to the bill, and it is widely recognised to be significantly improved compared to how it began. Adam Tomkins put significant effort into placing the Poverty and Inequality Commission on a statutory footing, and, to its credit, the Scottish Government has accepted that. Indeed, the Government accepted a number of Opposition amendments, such as those lodged by the Greens and by Pauline McNeill and Jackie Baillie of the Labour Party, all of which have made the bill more robust. The parties have worked together well to improve the bill, and I hope that we will continue to take that approach with the Social Security (Scotland) Bill.

The targets in the bill represent a major challenge to which we must rise. We should be ashamed that, in this wealthy country, many of our children live well below the average accepted standard. We must break that cycle, and passing the bill is only the beginning. The delivery plans will need policies that are more radical, far reaching and better funded than anything that we have had before. I pledge that the Greens will play their role in that on-going process.

16:21  



Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I declare an interest, in that I served as convener of the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights. Having worked in and alongside charities and groups that campaign to end child poverty all my adult life, I am pleased that so many of them were afforded the opportunity to influence the bill.

Lobbyists do not always have a good name, but I recognise the continuing efforts of Peter Kelly and Carla McCormack of the Poverty Alliance, John Dickie and Jenny Duncan of the Child Poverty Action Group, and my good friend Chloe Riddell of Children 1st, all of whom are first-rate champions in this area. It was my privilege to serve alongside them for nearly 15 years and I am delighted that they were given the chance to impart their expertise throughout the passage of the bill, because they have added to it considerably.

I am proud to lead for my party on the bill. I thank the Scottish Government for its inclusive approach. Parliament works best when the Government opens its doors to people of all parties. I welcome the amendments on the statutory commission, on which I note that the Government has moved a considerable distance, for which I thank it.

Naturally, the bill commands the support of the Liberal Democrats. I am heartily glad that that support is shared across the Parliament. There is now a recognition in this chamber that our efforts to tackle the scourge of child poverty must go far beyond just the financial health of our nation’s families. I refer to the range of other forms of poverty that are in many ways as pressing as financial poverty and which might have as profound an impact on life outcomes. There is poverty of aspiration, whereby children grow up in families that have experienced generations of unemployment and economic inactivity and do not seek social mobility for themselves; poverty of attachment, particularly among the 15,000 children in our care system who will find it difficult to form lasting adult relationships due to childhood trauma and loss; and poverty of health, whereby poor housing, health inequalities and depression diminish life outcomes and life expectancy.

We as a Parliament need to take a whole-system approach to child poverty. By introducing the targets in the bill that we will pass this afternoon we are throwing our cap over the wall, but it is on the delivery of progress against those targets that we will be judged. Put simply, the bill sets the destination, but it is now up to us to determine the means of travel and to put passage upon it. The delivery plan’s inclusion of measures that relate to physical and mental health is a fantastic start.

I welcome the introduction of local child poverty action reports. Such reports will need to be book-ended by proactive efforts on the part of local authorities to plan ahead, through the community planning and children’s services planning processes.

I welcome the amendments that will boost equalities provision, especially in areas of child poverty that are particular to protected characteristics. We needed to include such provision in the bill, because experience shows us that existing impact assessments do not always cut it, despite the good intentions behind them.

I am grateful to Adam Tomkins for his efforts to flush out a statutory definition of “educational attainment”. I agree that a definition is necessary and suggest that when we are working with the Government to that end—I look forward to doing so—we will need to look beyond the Scottish index of multiple deprivation areas and include the young people in Scotland who are looked after and who have care experience, whose education outcomes are some of the worst in this country.

Poverty is an adverse childhood experience that can have lifelong effects. We must link poverty reduction with high-quality trauma recovery and family support, because if we do not do so we will not end cycles of intergenerational trauma, and our successors in this Parliament will still have to debate the issue, decades from now.

Today we have an example of this Parliament working at its best. The people who sent us here would rather that we had more days like this, when we chart a course to achieve a common purpose, without acrimony and with steely intent. I assure the Government of our support for the passing of the bill tonight.

16:26  



Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

As other members have done, I thank the Social Security Committee clerks for all their work. I also thank the stakeholders and groups who took the time to write to us and give evidence, who helped to shape the bill that is before us at stage 3.

For the benefit of members who are not members of the committee, I should say that when the committee first looked at the bill it was suggested that its title should be changed to “Child Poverty Targets (Scotland) Bill”, because it seemed to focus only on targets. However, the evidence that we heard in subsequent meetings showed that the bill could and should be about much more than targets, albeit that targets are important—indeed, when the bill is passed, Scotland will be the only part of the UK that has statutory income targets in relation to child poverty.

As members said, poverty comes in many guises—it is to do with housing, education and other issues. That is why we wanted to look at child poverty much more broadly. I thank committee members, the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government for the work that they did together in that regard, in recognition of the fact that addressing poverty is not just about targets.

Two areas stand out in committee members’ work with the Scottish Government. The Poverty and Inequality Commission came up in committee at stage 1 and stage 2, and we have considered the commission at stage 3, too. I commend members and the cabinet secretary for their work on the issue. It is important that we do not take a narrow view of child poverty—the issue is bigger than that. The cabinet secretary has sent the committee a letter—I think that we got it from the clerks about five minutes before today’s debate started—which says that the

“draft Public Services Reform (Poverty and Inequality Commission) (Scotland) Order 2018 ... is a practical, pragmatic way of delivering a statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission with a wide-ranging remit.”

That is important. The cabinet secretary went on to say of the draft order:

“It will improve the exercise of public functions, having regard to efficiency, effectiveness and economy, by allowing a single statutory body to provide the wide range of independent advice on poverty and inequality that Parliament and stakeholders clearly support.”

As members have said, it is because the Parliament and Government have worked together that we have reached this point. Things might not have been easy during stage 1 and stage 2, but we have got here and I congratulate everyone on their work.

Child poverty is such an important issue. It is absolutely fantastic that we have introduced and agreed on a bill on child poverty. That brings me to my next point. Members have mentioned the delivery plans, which are really important. We should recognise that the delivery plan will be prepared for different periods. The first delivery plan is due in 2018, which is not that far away. We will see how that goes—indeed, we will be able to hold the Government to account on that. The first delivery plan will provide a baseline, so we will be able to measure progress. The delivery plan is not pie-in-the-sky thinking; it is real and it will help the children who are living in poverty.

I am pleased that we are all working together on this issue. However, there is absolutely no doubt that, with the changes to universal credit and the benefits system, more and more children are living in abject poverty. We cannot forgive the UK Government for that. I would ask, as Ruth Maguire, Alison Johnstone and others did, that someone—anyone at all—speaks to the Westminster Government about this issue. I do not know how that would work—perhaps someone from the Conservatives could do that.

Universal credit has been proven to drive more people into poverty. I do not want to cite individual constituency cases, but I must say that people are dying because they have no money whatsoever. They do not have money to pay the rent, let alone to buy food or to heat their homes. That is a huge issue. I would be very grateful if we were all to realise that dealing with child poverty is not just about our doing something different here in the Scottish Parliament. It is a Westminster issue, too. We cannot get away from that.

We all remember the Billy Connolly sketch in which he talks about someone coming to the door and the mum asking the children to hide in their beds by pulling the duvet over them—but the duvet is actually old army coats. Some kids still have to live like that. They pretend to have blankets when in fact they are using old coats to heat them up in their beds. We cannot do that to our kids in Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter. At least, with this bill, we can make a start on tackling the issue of poverty.

16:32  



Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I am very pleased to participate in the debate. Members may recall that I spoke in the stage 1 debate on the bill in some detail. That was probably one of the more difficult speeches that I have delivered in Parliament, because the subject has a striking personal resonance. However, this debate is much bigger than me, it is much bigger than any MSP in the chamber today and it is much bigger than any of the words that have been spoken in the debate.

I approach today’s debate with the same tone as before and with the same earnest expectation that when we work together on legislation such as this, the Parliament produces meaningful output. There is nothing headline grabbing in what I have to say.

Child poverty, and poverty more generally, is a serious issue that needs to be tackled in Scotland and throughout the UK, and it cannot be disputed by anyone in the chamber that doing so will require all our commitment. Moreover, as the Scottish Parliament is now listed in the bill as a consultee in the creation of the delivery plan and will review the progress reports that are laid before us by the minister, there is an increased duty on us to engage in the plan and monitor its relative success, or otherwise.

Alison Todd, the chief executive of Children 1st, summed up nicely the importance of the bill when she said:

“By creating a framework to hold this and future governments to account for their efforts to eradicate child poverty, this Bill marks a crucial milestone in achieving that vision.”

I could not agree more.

The issues that I raised in the stage 1 debate centred on tackling poverty through education and closing the attainment gap, the lack of a delivery plan beyond measuring and setting targets and the lack of a more grass-roots research approach looking at generational poverty and the importance of household worklessness.

At previous stages of the bill’s progression, we have been encouraged by the Government’s willingness to make amendments. As a result, the bill that we are considering is far more robust than it was before. That is to be welcomed. On the plus side, we welcome the addition of interim targets set out on a statutory footing rather than in secondary legislation, and the establishment of an independent statutory commission, which will help us to hold to account the Government of the day.

However, as my colleague Adam Tomkins mentioned, the Conservatives would have gone further on employment targets. In my view, robust plans and targets to reduce the number of workless households in Scotland would go a long way to reduce poverty in said households. I do not need to go into great detail, but I have first-hand experience of the direct link between unemployment in the home and poverty. It has been and remains my view that employment can be the most impactful step out of poverty.

I add my voice to concerns around the atmosphere of the setting of targets. Although targets are meaningful, I hope that we do not fall into the mindset that the setting of targets is an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.

I see the success of the bill as being that we will take tangible steps to tackle, reduce and eventually eradicate child poverty. The focus is not on simply meeting targets. As we review interim or progress reports, we should be honest with ourselves if targets are not met, and ask why they were not met and what will change.

The point that I would like members to take away from today’s debate is that the focus cannot be solely on income, either. Although it is an important metric, it does not take into account things that members on the Conservative benches have highlighted such as quality of housing, parity of healthcare provision, educational attainment, skills, and access to the workplace.

The bill is a prime example of the impact that Holyrood can have when it actively seeks to find consensus and work in a co-operative manner to tackle some of the deep-rooted issues that transcend political cycles and partisan disagreements. In my speech in the stage 1 debate, I said that I do not think

“that one party or another holds a magic wand that will eradicate child poverty”—[Official Report, 1 June 2017; c 82.]

and that good ideas will come from all sides.

I believe that those ideas have led to where we are today, but let us not pat ourselves on the back too readily at decision time. What is said and passed in Holyrood today must be delivered on the streets of Scotland tomorrow.

16:36  



Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

I am grateful to speak in the stage 3 debate on this very important bill. I thank colleagues on the Social Security Committee and all the third sector organisations and other organisations that contributed to our making the important bill that is in front of us today. I thank the Government for the constructive manner in which it engaged with us all, and I thank all the clerks who assisted us. I share the opinion of members who think that the process on this bill showed the Parliament at its best and what can be achieved by working together on what the cabinet secretary rightly said is “the road to eradicating child poverty”, and poverty itself.

In my constituency of Edinburgh Northern and Leith, I see instances of child poverty that would be unacceptable to all—as such instances would be unacceptable in any other part of Scotland. This summer, the Spartans Community Football Academy raised money to tackle holiday hunger. National statistics have been quoted: almost one in four children in Scotland is officially recognised as living in poverty. According to the IFS, that figure is predicted to increase. Just this week, the Trussell Trust published figures that show that the use of food banks in Scotland has risen by 20 per cent in the past year.

As we pass the bill, a hugely pertinent and upsetting challenge is before us. That is frustrating, given that so much child poverty is unnecessary. Scotland is an incredibly advanced country with a strong economy—the UK has the ninth-biggest economy in the world. We must ask ourselves how it can be that we have so much child poverty.

In today’s debate, we have heard about the complexity of the causal factors of child poverty and poverty more widely, which transcend the powers of this Parliament and go into reserved matters. I am glad that the Conservatives acknowledged that we need good-quality policies across the spectrum in the other Parliament that governs Scotland. We heard this week—which is living wage week—that one in five Scots earns less than the real living wage. Figures from the Resolution Foundation this year on inequality of wealth, the damage from welfare reform and the problems with the roll-out of universal credit are clear for all to see. All of those create a huge challenge and, while some are more to blame, all are responsible.

The holistic approach taken in the bill to targets and interim targets, the cross-party effort on the delivery plan and the emphasis on a cross-Government approach, with a willingness from the Conservative benches to press the UK Government on matters, give us all an opportunity to let the start of something happen today. There is a clear statement not just in passing this law but in the commitment from all sides to galvanise and focus on addressing child poverty.

Iain Gray spoke powerfully about going out to school groups and people asking him about his number 1 aim when he went into politics, which was to help other people. Tackling child poverty could not be a clearer or more important aspect of that. When we politicians speak to young people in this era, who have been through a decade of austerity, we see that the idea of overcoming child poverty and tackling poverty per se has perhaps become abstract, if not unobtainable. I worry about the normalisation of poverty in our society, particularly given the welfare reform agenda of the Westminster Government and some of the other challenges.

If we have cross-party support as we do today, that gives us the ability not only to pass a meaningful law—with the delivery plans, robust targets and all the other aspects of the legislation—but to start a process of regalvanising ourselves as a nation, with hope, determination and optimism that we can tackle child poverty meaningfully and robustly. I hope that we will take that leadership from today, roll it out across the years ahead and deliver the targets that are in this piece of legislation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. The closing speeches follow. I call Mark Griffin.

16:42  



Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate the cabinet secretary and her officials, members of the Social Security Committee and its clerks and all the outside organisations that have put in so much to take the legislation from the bill that was introduced to the one that we have in front of us. Unlike Jeremy Balfour, I come to the child poverty bill late in the day, and I thank Richard Leonard for taking my place on the Social Security Committee, which allowed me time to spend with my wife and our daughter at a critical time for us.

We welcome the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill as an opportunity to create a cross-Government strategy that tackles the roots of child poverty. This is the first meaningful cross-portfolio action that the Government has taken to challenge poverty, and it is long overdue in this Parliament. The bill must be followed by bold and effective policy making in some of the ways that Alex Neil mentioned, including, crucially, use of the Scottish Parliament’s social security powers.

Targets will not, in themselves, reduce child poverty. The figures are stark; they have been quoted by a number of members, but are important to restate: there are 260,000 children living in poverty in Scotland, an increase of 40,000 in one year. As the cabinet secretary pointed out, 70 per cent of children in poverty are in working families. Pauline McNeill pointed out that children from more deprived backgrounds lag two years behind wealthier ones at school, and a toddler in a poor household is two and a half times more likely than a toddler in a more affluent household to suffer from a chronic illness. If we in this place are truly serious about tackling child poverty in Scotland, we need to think about those underlying issues as part of a complete and holistic approach to meeting the targets set out in the bill. In that respect, I fear that we may, at times, fall short of the mark. We showed in government, as Alison Johnstone mentioned during the debate on the amendments, that despite the challenges, things can be done differently: the last Labour Government lifted 120,000 kids out of poverty in Scotland.

Our approach to this legislation has been consistent through the whole process. As a result, there have been amendments to include the Poverty and Inequality Commission in the bill, and the Government has agreed that the commission should be put on a statutory footing. It was and is essential that the group that is tasked with advising and holding the Government to account is independent and that its future is assured.

We, along with others, have also put pressure on the Government to use the Parliament’s new social security powers, through amendments that force the Government to lay out why any delivery plan does not include using the powers at the Government’s disposal to top up benefits. For example, the Government should have to set out why it is not topping up child benefit, knowing that a £5 a week top-up could lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

We have asked the Government to consider the unique challenges, including financial challenges, that are faced by single parents, families that include a disabled person and families that include someone with a protected characteristic, and to reflect those in the delivery plan.

We have ensured that interim targets appear on the face of the bill and that delivery plans are linked directly to bringing down child poverty. Any plan must include an assessment of the contribution that the proposed measures will make to the targets and how that assessment has been arrived at.

We have ensured that when progress towards the targets is not made, the plans are scrutinised and altered, if appropriate.

Presiding Officer, as they say, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The passing of this legislation in itself will not lift a single child out of poverty. The proof of the pudding will be in the delivery plans that the Government puts in place and the funds that are allocated in the budget to tackling child poverty.

We welcome this legislation as the first step towards tackling the scourge of child poverty and look forward to the Government taking bold and radical policy decisions that are backed up by substantial resources to make a real difference. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Griffin.

I call on Michelle Ballantyne to close for the Conservatives.

16:47  



Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I first apologise for my late entry to the chamber due to the early start.

I am very pleased to close this debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. We on these benches have supported the laudable principles of this bill from stage 1. We have sought never to supplant its aspirations, but to support and strengthen the prospects of their achievement.

This bill is now far stronger than when it was introduced. I commend all parties, and the Scottish Government, on their efforts to build cross-chamber consensus to buttress the provisions of the bill.

As my colleague Adam Tomkins has highlighted, we particularly welcome the Scottish Government’s support for the Conservative amendments to section 7. In embedding on the statute book an obligation on ministers to take steps to address the educational attainment gap, we see a real and important improvement to the bill.

We know that educational underattainment is one of the key drivers of child poverty, and it was apparent to most in this chamber that the Scottish Government’s child poverty strategy, or indeed any child poverty strategy, would not work if it was centred around a myopic focus on income. A wider, joined-up approach is vital.

It is for that reason that I find myself hoping that we have not missed an opportunity: to confer legal requirements on ministers to reduce the number of children in Scotland who grow up in workless households; to imprint on the statute book a duty on ministers to take steps to mitigate family breakdown; and to legally compel the Scottish Government to address the manifest impact of alcohol and drug addiction on child poverty.

Pauline McNeill

I wonder why the member is so concerned about workless households when many members have talked about the higher percentage of people who are still in poverty while they are in work. Does she not agree that that issue must be a higher priority?

Michelle Ballantyne

Fundamentally, that is because 30 per cent of children in poverty are in workless households. It is about the continuation of a problem and about aspiration, as other members said.

Iain Gray highlighted the fact that the existence of the Scottish Parliament enables us to act in a way that is right for Scotland. That is the principle on which we have come together to talk about the bill.

Alex Neil said that the key to the bill will be how we take it forward. I was really pleased that he acknowledged that it is not income alone that will take us forward. He also made two more interesting suggestions, but I will leave those for the cabinet secretary to respond to.

Alison Johnstone made some nice statements about all the contributions that have been made, across the chamber, and highlighted that working together underpins the discussions that have taken place around the bill.

Alex Cole-Hamilton hit the right note when he talked about the other impacts of poverty. The poverty of attachment is something that I have seen through my professional life, and I certainly acknowledge that the poverty of aspiration needs to be addressed. He also highlighted the importance of community planning and the need to ensure that looked after and accommodated children have a voice in the process.

Ruth Maguire

Can the member understand how offensive the term “poverty of aspiration” is to people who simply do not have enough money?

Michelle Ballantyne

Yes I can, because I have worked with a lot of children who have been in that position. I have always tried to ensure that the children I have worked with know that money is part of the process but also that believing in oneself and having the confidence to move forward is really important, and that can be achieved in a number of ways.

The Scottish Conservatives will be supporting the bill tonight. Notwithstanding some disagreements about process and approach, the bill encapsulates the importance and impact of parliamentary scrutiny. Thanks to effective opposition from the Scottish Conservatives and from other members of Parliament, some significant improvements have been made throughout the process, on interim targets, a statutory commission and the strengthening of section 7.

The future trajectory of child poverty in Scotland now depends on the delivery plans: will they amount to a tinkering around the edges, or will they be tough, robust and proactive in their approach? I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government opts for the latter. In any case, we must be prepared to be fluid and flexible in our efforts as we go forward. It is a commitment to tackling the drivers of child poverty, and not the setting of targets, that will improve the lives of our most vulnerable and impoverished children.

16:53  



Angela Constance

I hope that in approximately 10 minutes we will all stand united, as a Parliament, to pass the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. I know that the UK Government does not have its troubles to seek—most of them are of its own making—at the moment, but I hope that it will take stock and note that our Parliament is united in saying that we will not lie down, we will not walk away, and we will not give up on the challenge of tackling the rising levels of child poverty in this country. We will take that challenge head-on.

Mr Tomkins graciously said to me that he wishes the Government good luck with the bill. Let me reciprocate: the UK Government will not be let off the hook while it still controls 85 per cent of welfare spend in Scotland.

To Michelle Ballantyne, I say that 30 per cent of poor households might indeed be “workless”, to use her word, but as we heard earlier, that means that the parents, carers or guardians of children in 70 per cent of households that are considered to be poor are actually working for their poverty. That has to be a damning indictment of our current society.

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is our collective statement of intent to tackle the causes and the consequences of child poverty, as well as being recognition of the central importance of income—or, indeed, of lack of income. It is our statement of intent, as a Parliament, not just to tackle but to end child poverty. However, as most members from across the chamber have rightly acknowledged, statements of intent are all very well, but it is what we do that counts.

On that note, I want to say that neither I nor the Government was under any obligation, or any manifesto commitment, to introduce the bill. We chose to do so. The reasons for choosing to introduce the bill have been echoed across the chamber.

We fundamentally opposed the UK Government’s scrapping of the statutory income targets. I refute the suggestion that the bill was weak when it was introduced: it was certainly stronger than anything that had existed before at UK level and, as Alex Neil rightly pointed out, we now have a stronger platform from which to move forward. The scale of the challenge that we face—the biggest increase in child poverty since the 1960s—is profound. I do not know about anybody else in the chamber, but that keeps me awake at night.

The other aspect that I will mention in relation to supporting the bill is that it is, at its heart, absolutely the right thing to do. We could have said that we would not reintroduce the targets that successive UK Governments failed to meet, because we do not have all the levers and the majority of tax and welfare powers remain reserved, but I chose not to do that. As members including Iain Gray did, and despite not knowing what the future holds in terms of our economy, in terms of Brexit or in terms of the constitutional future for Scotland, I came into politics to make Scotland a fairer place: I know that I have no monopoly on that.

The question that we will ask ourselves today and every day is this: what can we do today, and what can we do now to make a difference? Although I will always contend—not surprisingly—that our job of meeting the ambitious and challenging targets would undoubtedly be easier with more powers, I acknowledge that, under any constitutional settlement, the job of eradicating child poverty will always be challenging and will never be easy. That does not mean, however, that it is not achievable. The challenge that we will all face in Parliament is to find ways to do more than just mitigate austerity and welfare reform, but instead actually to lift children and their families out of poverty. That is where the delivery plans are absolutely crucial: they will detail the comprehensive action that will cover our economy, education, the benefits system, housing and health.

We will, no doubt, return to the debate time and again. Ben Macpherson was absolutely right to say that we must all guard against the normalisation of poverty, because poverty is fundamentally wrong on every level. I know that we will, as a Government, have to make decisions that are difficult, and decisions that at times will seem to be impossible. The Tories will, of course, have to answer for the impact of so-called welfare reform, but in fairness we will all have difficult questions to answer.

I know that we will all seek to be guided by the evidence of what works in the current and future contexts—not least, the work and advice that we will receive from the independent statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission. Needless to say, we will debate and disagree over what that evidence is or is not, but there is an opportunity to build consensus on what the right thing to do is, and on what the evidence tells us.

As a Government, we are prepared to have that debate, whether it is a debate on tax or on our new social security powers. What I am crystal clear about is that, as a Government, as a Parliament and as a country, we will have to pull together as never before. What will have to be evident when we publish our first delivery plan is that tackling child poverty must be at the very heart of everything that we do. In that regard, absolutely none of us will be let off the hook.

Ending child poverty is the biggest challenge that we face as a Parliament and as a country, and we all have a responsibility and a role to play. All of us, whether in Government, Parliament, councils, businesses, the third sector or civic Scotland, will have to work together in new ways.

In a minute or so, we will, I hope, stand united—even if just for that moment in time on the journey between now and 2030—to pass the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which I believe will be an historic next milestone on the way to confining child poverty to the history books. The time for talk is over; it is now time for us to act.

Final vote on the Bill

After the final discussion of the Bill, MSPs vote on whether they think it should become law.

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Final vote transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The first question is, that motion S5M-08696, in the name of Angela Constance, on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to. We will have a division on the motion. Members should cast their votes now.

For

Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Southside) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mundell, Oliver (Dumfriesshire) (Con)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McArthur, Liam (Orkney Islands) (LD)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
Mackay, Derek (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Golden, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Dugdale, Kezia (Lothian) (Lab)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Con)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Allan, Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division is: For 115, Against 0, Abstentions 0.

The motion is therefore agreed to unanimously and the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is passed. [Applause.]

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill be passed.

The Presiding Officer

The next question is, that motions S5M-08568 and S5M-08724 to S5M-08731, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, be agreed to.

Motions agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (Supplementary, Consequential, Transitory and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (Supplemental Provision) Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Private Housing Tenancies (Scotland) Act 2016 (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Private Residential Tenancies (Information for Tenants) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Private Residential Tenancies (Statutory Terms) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 (Amendment of Specified Authorities) Order 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Scotland Act 1998 (Insolvency Functions) Order 2017 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Scotland Act 1998 (Specification of Devolved Tax) (Wild Fisheries) Order 2017 [draft] be approved.

Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill as passed

This Bill was passed on 8 November 2017 and became an Act on 18 December 2017. Find the Act on legislation.gov.uk

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