Experts say UK must learn from ‘big deal’ Scottish Child Payment

IT is “crucial” for the UK Government to learn from the “potentially transformative” Scottish Child Payment (SCP), experts have said.

Experts say UK must learn from 'big deal' Scottish Child Payment
Experts say UK must learn from 'big deal' Scottish Child Payment

By Steph Brawn

See original post here.

Academics in social policy and economics have insisted the weekly benefit handed out to low-income families north of the Border – which they described as a “big deal” – means children are facing “a more hopeful future” than their counterparts living elsewhere in the UK.

Experts Ruth Patrick, Kate Andersen, Kitty Stewart and Emma Tominey have noted how the Scottish Government has used devolution to forge a different path on tackling child poverty, marking a “substantial departure” from the austerity which has dominated elsewhere in the UK since 2010.

They also praised the 2016 Scottish Social Security Act which embedded dignity and respect into benefit provision, a far cry from what is often seen as the more punitive approach of the Department for Work and Pensions.

In a blog written for the London School of Economics, they said: “Clearly, the SCP marks a substantial departure from the austerity which has dominated the social security landscape since 2010.

“The devolution of some social security powers has meant that Scotland has been able to forge a different path, introducing potentially transformative policy reforms which mean families with children living north of the border face a more hopeful future than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

Oxford University’s Danny Dorling has predicted that the increased and extended payments will transform Scotland from being one of the most unequal places to live in Europe to being one of the most equal. In short: it’s a big deal.

“Elsewhere, however, the main political parties across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been reluctant to commit to a similar investment in financial support for families living in poverty.

“Evaluating the effects of the Scottish Child Payment is crucial. The differences among the UK’s devolved areas provide a rare opportunity to undertake intra-UK comparative analysis.

“It is a direct consequence of devolution that the position of otherwise identical families will diverge depending on where they happen to live.

“Let’s make sure we take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the difference such policies can make – ensuring that the policy lessons of the Scottish Child Payment can help improve the lives and outcomes of children throughout the UK and beyond.”

Introduced in 2021, the SCP was initially set at £10-a-week for children under six in families receiving income-related benefits.

But to help mitigate the cost-of-living crisis and the removal of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, it was increased in April last year to £20 and then again in November 2022 to £25, as well as being extended to all under-16s in eligible families.

This means that a family on a low income with three children under 16 could receive a payment of £300 a month, raising their annual income to almost £4000 more than an equivalent family in England.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the bottom third of Scottish households with children will, on average, be around £2,000-a-year better off than similar English households. 

The Children’s Commissioner in Wales, Rocio Cifuentes, has said she hoped it would one day be replicated in the country, though the Welsh Government has no control over social security at the moment.

The SCP has now reached more than 316,000 families across Scotland with the amount going directly to lower-income families now at more than £350 million since the payment was launched.

The academics said analysis of how the SCP has benefitted families is vital so similar interventions can be looked at in other nations, particularly as research aligns with the Scottish Government’s approach.

They added: “There is substantial evidence that generous child benefits are an effective way to reduce child poverty and improve children’s well-being and opportunities.

“For example, research on a previous UK expansion in financial support for families, the introduction of the child tax credit in the early 2000s, found that the money was spent on the children – on fresh fruit and vegetables and on children’s clothes, toys and activities. Meanwhile, spending on alcohol and tobacco actually fell.

“Despite this evidence base, the role of cash benefits to families in securing child well-being remains hotly contested. The lack of political consensus on the issue is evident in the cuts we have seen to children’s benefits in the UK across the last decade.

“Parties wanting to explore anti-poverty strategies need to learn from what is happening across the UK, and the SCP represents a major intervention which would merit sustained analysis.

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