On 15 March, Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the nation''s strategy to tackle child poverty. One fifth of children in Scotland are growing up in relative poverty, and these children''s futures are heavily influenced by their parents'' economic circumstances.
The unprecedented campaign aims to benefit the poorest Scottish families and help them increase their household incomes and improve their children''s life chances in the largest ever coordinated effort to lift more children out of poverty.
The strategy is set in the context of the goals of the UK Child Poverty Act 2010 that sets a series of targets to be met by 2020 in order to tackle child poverty. These targets relate to levels of child poverty in terms of relative low income, combined low income and material deprivation, absolute low income and persistent poverty.
Explaining the reasons behind such a campaign in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: "We already have innovative home grown policies in place, such as free heating help for low-income families, freezing the council tax and scrapping prescriptions charges. But we need to do more. Scotland''s first ever national strategy will put helping the poorest families at the heart of every policy, whether on housing, health or education.”
The Scottish government has defined two key aims to help reduce child poverty. One relates to maximising household resources. This includes increasing the number of parents in employment, through initiatives such as Community Jobs Scotland and offering more apprenticeships. A further goal is to reduce the strain on family incomes by providing school clothing grants, freezing council tax, scrapping prescription charges and providing free heating.
The second main aim is to improve children''s wellbeing and life chances. One way to achieve this will be by encouraging positive parenting skills and by helping parents provide nurturing homes through projects such as You First for vulnerable families and the Family Nurse Partnership programme which offers support for first-time teenage parents over two years. Better housing and communities by building new affordable housing in mixed income communities with more green spaces, recreational and sport facilities have also been defined as key factors. The government will also step up the financial support for young people to remain in education through the Education Maintenance Allowance.
Concretely, a £6.8 million (approximately €7.7 million) ''Early Years'' fund will be set up, for which national voluntary sector organisations will be able to bid in May. The fund will finance projects that offer parenting support, affordable childcare, play and bonding activities and family health initiatives.
Welcoming the strategy, Douglas Hamilton, Head of Save the Children in Scotland, stressed: "Far too many children in Scotland today are born without a warm home, the right food, or the hope of a good education. That is why the first national strategy to tackle child poverty is such an important step forward.”