Adam Tomkins MSP
Conservative (Glasgow Region)
Which is more important: measuring child poverty or taking steps to reduce it?
Since the last Scottish parliamentary election 12 months ago Holyrood has made very little law but a trickle of legislation is now starting to emerge from the SNP government.
MSPs will soon debate a new Child Poverty Bill but, unless it is substantially amended, we may as well not bother.
Because, if it is passed in its current form, it will achieve next to nothing.
It proclaims child poverty in Scotland is to be reduced between now and 2030, but it says nothing about how this should be done.
It talks of delivery plans, targets and annual progress reports, but unless accompanied by concrete action on the ground, none of this will make any difference in practice.
Only the SNP could introduce a Child Poverty Bill that will do nothing to lift any child in Scotland out of poverty.
There is hope, however. The SNP run a minority administration in Holyrood and it could be that a cross-party consensus of opposition MSPs can amend the legislation as it proceeds through parliament, so that by the time it becomes law, it might be worth the paper it’s written on.
That’s what the Scottish Conservatives will be seeking to achieve.
Let me give two examples.
We know a lot about the underlying drivers of poverty.
We know, for example, that addiction problems, family breakdown, unemployment and educational under-attainment are among the main causes of poverty.
Bizarrely, the SNP would prefer their Child Poverty Bill to remain silent on all these matters. But that’s not good enough.
The First Minister has said that she wants to be judged on her record in education, and that closing the attainment gap is her top priority.
So let us amend the bill so that it requires Scottish ministers to take steps to close the attainment gap and to report annually to parliament on the effect that their measures are having.
In other words, let’s turn the SNP’s words into binding action.
Likewise, with unemployment. Lets insist as a matter of law that the Scottish ministers have a duty to ensure that, each year in Scotland, fewer children grow up in workless households.
We all know that, for those who can, work is the best route out of poverty. So let’s add some sharp teeth to an otherwise limp Child Poverty Bill to make sure that happens.
The SNP are right to legislate on child poverty. All parties in Holyrood will, I’m sure, support the new bill.
But if we are serious in our aspiration to eradicate child poverty in Scotland, we are going to need much stronger legislation than the SNP are offering.