Over the last twelve years of Conservative rule and financial chaos, it has been children that have sadly paid the price. Children are often collateral damage in the UK Government’s on-going war against the poorest in society.
The UK’s Government’s crumbling social security system is failing families across the four nations and is not fit to withstand the financial crises that we are facing.
I recently secured my first Westminster Hall debate and I took the opportunity to raise these critical issues that are causing untold harm to children, young people, and their families.
We are currently in a position where around four million children in the past month have experienced food insecurity – and with the rising cost of food and energy, children and their families are being pushed further and further into poverty, with little to no hand to help them up from the UK Government.
We know that childhood poverty has both short and long-term social and economic consequences, and this is something that has been sorely overlooked by the UK Government.
Last week in my opening speech I said that raising an issue such as social security for children provides a voice for the voiceless – as children and young people are often largely underrepresented in political debate. When debating social security provisions, our minds generally associate this with the working age population, and what support is in place for such a group.
However, I would argue that a robust social security system ensures everyone, regardless of age and of course other characteristics, are considered equally.
It has been said that an investment in our children, is an investment in our future – and being a Scottish Member of Parliament in Westminster provides me with a unique perspective both on policy and legislation.
As an SNP MP, I will often speak about a “tale of two governments” when discussing the vastly different policy approaches the UK and Scottish Government take in comparison to each other. What we are currently witnessing is a Scottish Government producing bold and progressive policy across the board, using the limited economic and legislative power it has to make meaningful change to its citizens lives.
This is in stark contrast to the regressive and punitive policy Westminster is currently producing such as the benefit cap, two-child limit and five week wait for Universal Credit – these policies are inherently poverty inducing.
It is imperative that social security, particularly in the case of children, is seen as an investment, which is why I am proud that the Scottish Government has followed the lead of its Nordic neighbours, framing children’s social security in this way. OECD research has shown that investing in the early years can make a significant social and economic, ensuring an equal playing field for children.
To ensure every child has the best possible start in life, the Scottish Government has rolled out several bold policies such as the The Scottish Child Payment, The Baby Box that has a 98% uptake rate, and fully funded high quality childcare hours.
The Scottish Child Payment has recently increased to £25 per week for those already in receipt, and based on recent modelling, this increase in payment is set to lift 50,000 children out of poverty. This is a piece of game-changing progressive that will make a real difference to children and families across Scotland.
We must not only consider the immediate impact of robust social security for children, we must also think about the issue as a societal one, and how targeted policy can actually diffuse throughout society.
There are long term economic and social benefits by investing in the early years and a robust social security system for children can also have positive outcomes for other societal issues such as gender inequality.
By providing free childcare hours in Scotland, this not only ensure children have the best start in high quality early years education, it also allows for mothers – who are often burdened with the majority of childcare – to return to work or education earlier.
The UK Government is at a crossroads. It has a choice to deliver meaningful policy for children living in poverty across the UK. Poverty is a political – not personal – choice.
As the cost of living crisis continues to spiral, UK Government Ministers must act quickly and follow the lead of the progressive path the Scottish Government has taken to alleviate child poverty – building a longstanding social security system that works for the next generation, the generation after that, and the generation after that.