Speech: Child Poverty & the Living Wage

21 Nov 2014
  • John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP): Share Copy LinkJohn Mason in Holyrood debate

    Child poverty is a subject to which we keep coming back. Many of us wish that we did not need to do that, but it is right that we continue to talk about the issue as long as it exists—and, sadly, child poverty shows no sign of going away. I thank John Wilson for securing the debate.

    Last night I attended the graduation ceremony at Glasgow Kelvin College, at which Henry McLeish spoke very well. He said that inequality is poisoning our society—a phrase that I thought was excellent.

    The Child Poverty Act 2010, which was passed while I was at Westminster, contained a commitment to abolish or eradicate child poverty by 2020. Even at the time, there was major disappointment with the Labour legislation. First, achieving the target on abolition or eradication would still mean that 10 per cent of children were left in poverty. Secondly, there were no new resources to make that happen. I think that that is the kind of lip service to which Hugh Henry referred.

    Four years later, I fear that there has not been much progress. More than one in five children in Scotland—some 220,000 children—are officially recognised as living in poverty. The level is significantly higher than the level in many other European countries. In 2012-13 the proportion of children in Scotland who were experiencing poverty increased from 19 to 22 per cent. The most recent modelling by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that up to 100,000 more children will be pushed into poverty by 2020, with the proportion of children who live in poverty in Scotland forecast to increase to 26.2 per cent by 2020.

    What are the effects of all that? As we heard, by the age of five, children in poverty lag between 10 and 13 months behind their more affluent peers in terms of school readiness and attainment. Three-year-olds in households with incomes below £10,000 are two and a half times more likely to suffer chronic illness than children in households with incomes above £52,000. Children who live in low-income households are also nearly three times more likely to suffer mental health problems than their more affluent peers.

    There used to be an assumption that work was a certain route out of poverty. However, as members said, it is clear that that is no longer the case. I am sure that paying the living wage more widely would make inroads into poverty at all ages. However, although the approach has maximum support from the public sector, it remains voluntary for large sections of employment.

    At best, a voluntary living wage can be only an interim step. The longer-term answer has to be an increase in the statutory minimum wage, not just to £8 by 2020, as Labour disappointingly suggested—


    Neil Findlay: Share 

  • Copy Link

    Will the member give way?


  • John Mason: Share Copy Link

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

    The statutory minimum wage should be raised to the level of the living wage, and that should happen as soon as possible. The country can afford to do that. As it says in one of our briefings, this is a country in which the most affluent households in Scotland are 273 times richer than the poorest ones. Something very wrong is going on here.

    Jamie Hepburn referred to the report by Children 1st, “Wishes for Scotland’s Children”, which I think has just been published. The report sets out a range of children’s wishes, ranging from the humorous to the deadly serious, especially in the “Included” section, from which Jamie Hepburn quoted.

    Good things are happening, not just in relation to finances. For example, the getting it right for every child policy will facilitate a more joined-up approach to supporting children and vulnerable families. In particular, I welcome the named person approach, which I think can help families from poorer backgrounds to pin down the person who can answer their questions.

    I fear that this will not be the last time that we debate child poverty. We certainly need to keep such topics on the table. I hope that we will see progress.