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MSPs unanimously pass Child Poverty Bill at Holyrood

Holyrood has passed “historic” legislation making Scotland the only part of the UK with statutory targets to cut child poverty.

MSPs unanimously backed the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Bill at its final parliamentary hurdle.

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance told the chamber its passing marked “an historic milestone on our road to eradicating child poverty”.

“The Bill signals the importance that we as a Parliament and as a country place on tackling the unacceptable levels of child poverty across Scotland,” she said.

In 2015/16 one in four children in Scotland were living in relative poverty after housing costs.

The legislation emerged following the UK Government’s decision to remove targets from the Child Poverty Act 2010.

Scottish ministers will now be required to ensure that by 2030 less than 10% of children are in relative poverty, defined as those living in a home earning below 60% of the current median UK household income.

Less than 5% of children should be in absolute poverty, meaning households earning below 60% of the 2010/11 national median income.

Further targets are for less than 5% of children to be assessed as being in combined low income and material deprivation and less than 5% in persistent poverty.

Ms Constance said: “We all know that the 2030 targets are highly ambitious and challenging, but poverty is not inevitable and as we’ve seen during the passage of this Bill there is a genuine cross-party desire to place these targets in statute and then to take action to meet them, and if everyone plays their part the targets are indeed achievable and we can transform the prospects of generations to come.

“This Bill is the crucial next step.”

Opposition MSPs previously united during the Bill’s committee stage of scrutiny to vote through amendments requiring ministers to set out whether they will use new welfare powers to increase child benefit, include interim targets on the face of the Bill and put the Poverty and Inequality Commission on a statutory footing.

Tory MSP Adam Tomkins said the Bill was stronger as a result, adding: “I wish Angela Constance and her ministerial team well in seeking to meet these targets.

“They are ambitious, it is right that they are ambitious, but today the Scottish Parliament sends to our country a strong and unified message, we are united that these targets should be met. We can make child poverty history in Scotland, so let’s get to it.”

Labour’s Pauline McNeill said child poverty was a “national scandal” which UK Government welfare reforms had deepened.

She said: “The life chances of hundreds of thousands of children are affected because they live in a very low income household. I know that we all agree that no child should be robbed of their years in childhood because they are too poor.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the government would have to look at its powers to top up benefits and create new benefits.

She said: “The targets in the bill represent a major challenge, one to which we must rise. We should be ashamed in this wealthy country many of our children live well below the average accepted standard. We must break this cycle.”

Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton said the measure of the Bill in tackling the “scourge” of child poverty would be in the progress against the targets.

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