Tackling child poverty is one of the most challenging issues facing our society. The extensive and often innovative work being carried out by our local authorities is a solid base to build on - we need to use this work as a springboard to impact ever more forcibly on Scotland’s ambitious national reduction targets.
I’m glad that the Scottish Government is proposing to introduce a Scottish Child Payment. This will mark Scotland out as a country that that is serious about tackling child poverty.
Poverty is a corrosive disease within society. It blunts the chances of so many of our children and prevents them from reaching their full potential. So many of the essential services that local government delivers are unevenly burdened by the cost of poverty.
We need to change direction. To do that we need strong leadership, both at national and local level, and new, additional resources from the Scottish Government. Without a fair settlement, local government will continue to be stretched, especially in the face of ongoing threats such as Brexit.
Hanna McCulloch, the National Coordinator for Local Child Poverty Action, spoke eloquently at last week’s conference about the common areas of action all spheres of government can take. Advice and rights support, affordable credit, work in schools to reduce parental costs, increasing our commitment to support children and young people all year round. She articulated how we need to grasp the opportunities available to us by engaging the local players with the biggest reach, essential to achieving larger, sustainable impacts. That challenge is about getting our housing, economic development, land-use planning, procurement and transport services fully immersed in the poverty challenge, we need those services across the country to see tackling child poverty as part of their remit. We need to see more examples like Shetland, where a woman in poverty whose circumstances and those of her children have been transformed by the provision of affordable public transport services that paved the way to childcare support, volunteering and learning opportunities and ultimately sustainable employment.
Many councils and community planning partnerships have challenged the risk of local complacency by establishing local poverty commissions to consider not only what we should do but also how we should do it. We could do more to learn from each other and further afield, taking the very best of practice and seeing how we can adapt that for our local circumstances. We need to evaluate more effectively to root out what is making the least difference.
Let’s strengthen how we include community voices to inform all that we do, and how we do it, and to challenge us when we are getting it wrong.
Investment could help us to do more with valuable administrative and other data to target where we do things and how we do them, to help lift preventative measures up alongside necessary crisis support.
We can do more to ensure that our front-line staff are empowered to engage their clients on poverty and help them access the right support. But to do so we need to invest heavily in their training and support them so that they can do that confidently and impactfully. We have some lessons to learn from health service and third sector colleagues, and upskilling staff to support raised expectations should be a shared aspiration.
We need investment in our capacity to coordinate a complex landscape of contributors so that our work is complementary; aligned and pulling in the same direction - and more than the sum-of-our-parts. Part of that is about stretching our partnerships. Dundee and Glenrothes in Fife have become Scotland’s first Living Wage city and town and to do so they have stretched to include not only the same old community planning partners in their endeavour but have worked hard to draw in the business community.
Challenge Poverty Week at the start of October marks an opportunity for us to shine a line on all that we are doing but also to use it to set out our local ambitions and how others can add their contributions. Together I’m convinced we can achieve a better, brighter future for Scotland’s children.