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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Making the most of the Scottish Child Payment

When the Scottish Government’s plans to reduce child poverty through a Scottish Child Payment were announced earlier this month, they were warmly welcomed by activists and economists alike. But against the strong currents pulling the equivalent of a classroom of children into poverty every week, how can we make sure Scotland’s new benefit stands the best chance of turning the tide on child poverty? 

The Scottish Child Payment was previously known as the Income Supplement, which was a key part of the Child Poverty Action Plan published by the Scottish Government in March 2018. This roadmap set out the Scottish Government’s course for meeting ambitious 2030 child poverty targets. IPPR and JRF, alongside partners across civil society, pushed for the payment to be early and ambitious. The Government listened and announced the accelerated introduction of a new Scottish Child Payment at the first annual update on the Action Plan in June 2019.

This new Payment will take the form of a £10 weekly payment for every eligible child under 6 when it’s introduced in 2020, before being extended to under 16s by 2022.  Once fully rolled out, the payment will be worth £180 million – with the potential to reach 410,000 children in 250,000 households each week, and to lift 30,000 children out of poverty. This investment stands to make a real difference to the lives of families in Scotland who are struggling to make ends meet.

The announcement was significant, but now the hard work of delivering the greatest possible impact really begins. IPPR and JRF will continue our research, working with those with experience of living on low incomes, and the Government, on the detail of the Scottish Child Payment over the next few months. This will include setting out priorities for the Scottish Child Payment in the short-term as it begins, but also setting out a vision for the Payment over the medium-term, as we look to the next Scottish Parliament elections and beyond.

A key challenge lies in maximising take-up of the new Payment. Whilst we now know which families will be eligible for the payment, we must make sure payments reach those families. Plans for the Scottish Child Payment will see eligibility based on whether families receive other qualifying benefits, such as Universal Credit and tax credits, with plans for a short application form and process. To ensure the new benefit reaches the most vulnerable families and those in the deepest poverty, we’ll need to consider how best to ensure families are included in the system.

Our work with people with experience of the Social Security system has put a focus on making the process as human as possible, including building in options to access face-to-face support, and by making use of ‘touch points’ where families are already in contact with public services. Whilst the accelerated introduction of the payment will be the priority in the lead up to 2020, it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of design features that could make the greatest difference to take up of the payment, even if they aren’t feasible within the initial roll out. This should include work now that helps to pave the way to an automated payment in the future.

We also know that predictability will be a key challenge to meet if the payment is to unlock greater security for families struggling on very constrained budgets. We know from our earlier work that people with experience of the social security system place a high priority on reliable payments, valuing income that their family can count on regardless of short-term changes in circumstances. We’ll be looking at how the design of the Scottish Child Payment can best ensure predictability, offering families a greater degree of security and means of planning ahead. We’ll be exploring how to get aspects such as the regularity of reassessment of families’ incomes right from the start. Looking further ahead, we also want to investigate alternative options to monthly payments, and the most appropriate mechanism by which the payment is withdrawn as family incomes rise, so as to ensure the Payment provides the best support for the complex reality of people’s lives.

Whilst the Payment itself will be a crucial tool to protect families against the rising tide of child poverty, we will also be looking at how receipt of the Payment can act as a link or a gateway to other forms of financial and non-financial support. By setting our sights now on designing a payment that can act as a route to wider social security and other support in the future, we can provide the best possible protection for families struggling against the currents of low pay, rising income inequality, and barriers to work.

The Scottish Child Payment is a golden opportunity to turn the tide on child poverty and transform the lives of families across Scotland. We can’t afford not to seize it with both hands.

Rachel Statham is an Economic Analyst at IPPR Scotland. She tweets @rachelstatham_.