As our Chair, Bill Scott, finishes his time at the Poverty and Inequality Commission he reflects on the Commission’s work and achievements over the last four years.
In 2017 the Scottish Parliament passed the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act which set in law ambitious targets for reducing child poverty by 2030. The Act also created a statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission. I’ve had the privilege of chairing that Commission for nearly five years now and am sad to be leaving that role due to issues with my health.
Since 2017 we have seen some progress in tackling child poverty. The Scottish Child Payment has rightly been described as a game changer and more recently, by families living in poverty as a lifeline. In its advice to Scottish Government on the 2022-2026 Child Poverty Delivery Plan, the Commission called for the payment to be increased and we warmly welcomed its subsequent increase to £25 per week.
However, despite the undoubted impact of the Scottish Child Payment we are not seeing the progress that will be needed to meet the child poverty targets. One of the Commission’s statutory duties is to scrutinise progress towards the targets and to hold Scottish Government to account. There has been lots of commitment from Scottish Government, Local Authorities and others but the main messages of our scrutiny haven’t changed over four years. We need to see much greater urgency and to scale-up anti-poverty measures in order to meet the targets. We have advised that further action is required, including on childcare, housing, the economy and transport.
Progress in tackling poverty and inequality has of course been made more difficult by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis. The Commission rose to the challenge of meeting these new demands, while also keeping a focus on the fundamental issues of poverty and inequality and the need to redesign our economy to make sure it works for everyone.
In the early days of the pandemic we quickly established a Covid-19 working group that produced rapid briefings on food insecurity, availability of free school meals and the operation of the Scottish Welfare Fund. Our “cash first” advice was subsequently adopted by Scottish Government. We also formed an Addressing Low Income policy circle that contributed to the work of the Social Renewal Advisory Board, and its thinking about how we could address the underlying structural factors leading to poverty.
We also responded to the cost-of-living crisis, providing swift advice to the Scottish Government on both short-term and longer-term actions to support households across Scotland. We followed this with a series of visits to frontline and community organisations across Scotland to understand the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on them and the communities they serve. I want to express my thanks to all the organisations that hosted a visit. These visits informed two briefings on the cost of living that we published to increase understanding of the difficulties that communities and frontline organisations are facing.
Most recently, the Commission’s tax working group has considered not only what action is needed to tackle poverty but also how to raise the revenue we need to tackle poverty and how progressive tax policy can help reduce poverty and inequality. Its report identifies a range of actions that can be taken immediately on land registration, property revaluation and improving public understanding of tax, alongside work that is required to bring other types of income and wealth into the scope of future tax policy.
From the outset the Commission’s overarching strategic priority has been to amplify the voices of those living in poverty to make sure that they are at the heart of identifying issues, developing solutions and scrutinising progress. The Commission established its Experts by Experience Panel and has been working towards an approach where the Commission and the Panel can start to co-produce some of the Commission priorities and recommendations. Again, I want to extend a huge thanks to the Panel members’ whose willingness to share their personal experiences has been invaluable to the Commission. In doing so their expertise has made a real contribution to our child poverty scrutiny and advice, our cost of living advice and the recommendations of the tax working group.
Panel members have also taken forward their own priorities, with groups of panel members responding to calls for evidence and consultations on issues including rural poverty, the new Carer Support Payment, and the Adult Disability Payment. The Commission hopes to establish a new Panel in early 2024.
I want to extend my personal thanks to all those who have contributed to the Commission’s work. Firstly, thanks to my fellow Commissioners whose expertise and commitment has made the Commission’s work possible. I’d like to thank the Commission’s secretariat who have provided myself as chair and the Commission as a whole with high quality support and advice throughout the last 4 years. I also wish to thank the Sponsor Team from the Tackling Child Poverty and Financial Wellbeing Division of Scottish Government and the three Cabinet Secretaries I have served under. It has been a privilege to work with so many people with a shared commitment to reduce child poverty.
I’ve been very grateful to the many people who have shared their expertise with the Commission in one of our working groups or meetings, organised visits or meetings for the Commission, or shared our recommendations and reports. Finally, my especial thanks to those who have shared their personal experiences and reflections, whether as someone with lived experience of poverty or as workers in frontline services and organisations.
Postscript: My biggest regret in having to resign just now is that so much work remains to be done but I am confident that the Commission will continue to contribute significantly to the noble task of reducing child poverty.