Child Poverty Debate

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 @ 1:28PM

Kez spoke on a debate on child poverty, below is her speech from the debate.The rest of the debate can be found here.

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): “I express my gratitude to all the organisations that provided briefings for the debate. I read them with great interest and will refer to three that I found to be particularly challenging to the Government. I hope that, if the Minister for Children and Young People values the work that those organisations do every day, she will give them the courtesy of a response in her closing speech.

Children in Scotland highlighted the impact of the council tax freeze on childcare services—in particular the impact that it has in poorer areas. The organisation notes that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has also made that point, so I would be interested to hear what the Government has to say about that.

Save the Children pointed in its briefing to the significant gap in out-of-school childcare in the child poverty strategy. I would be interested to hear what plans Aileen Campbell has to address that.

CPAG says in its briefing:

“To date there is little evidence of systematic proofing of budget decisions across government for their impact on child poverty and socio-economic inequality.”

The briefing goes on to highlight the fact that there is no reference to child poverty in any of the budget lines for housing, health or education. We need a whole-Government approach to child poverty and we have not heard a tremendous amount about that.

I am angry about levels of child poverty in Scotland. There is no doubt that that anger is shared across the parties. I am sure that it is heartfelt and sincere, but it would be more authentic if the Government’s record on housing, health and education stood up to scrutiny. The points that Duncan McNeil made on those policy areas, in a blistering decimation of the Government’s case, were particularly strong.

I will take one of the issues from the Government’s strategy—education—and examine it in detail. I will address the points that Mr Doris made in his speech when I do that. Educational attainment is key to tackling child poverty. The Government has known since 2007 that we have a problem in our schools with young boys in that our school system fails boys from working-class communities, and we have done little to address it.

The Wood commission report is promising. I look forward to seeing the next stage of it on Monday. It looks forward to more vocational education in our school system. I recently visited Helsinki, which already has a two-tier school system, part of which is vocational. It is interesting that, if we ask people in Finland what is wrong with their school system, they say that the one group that they still fail is working-class boys. We can learn much from Finland, but in a way we need to look beyond that to what the solutions might be.

Another example of educational inequality concerns implementation of the curriculum for excellence. Last week, Holyrood magazine exposed a massive increase in the number of private tutors in Scotland. There has been a 300 per cent increase in use of them in the past year alone, 95 per cent of which has come from state schools. It is predominantly a case of middle-class parents who are worried about their kids passing their exams buying in help to get them ready for school. Some families are spending £1,900 making sure that their kids get one hour of tuition 38 weeks a year for one course. Across a number of subjects, they could be paying fourfold that £1,900.

The Government is celebrating its progress on education maintenance allowance but, when we dig below the Government statistics that were published today, we find that there are 2,365 fewer people in our colleges getting education maintenance allowance. That is the equivalent of £2.9 million-worth of support for the poorest students in our colleges, which is another horrific statistic around the Government’s agenda when it comes to colleges.

Statistics today from the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council about widening access to university are troubling, as they indicate that the number of students at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Stirling from Scottish index of multiple deprivation 20 districts is falling, and that the number of students at Edinburgh, Napier, Stirling, Dundee and Aberdeen universities from SIMD 40 areas is falling. We were told that the whole point of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill was to widen and increase access to education, but under this Government it is falling. Members can look at the statistics for proof of that.

On childcare, I recently launched—along with a number of Labour colleagues—the every step campaign for affordable and flexible childcare. We would like to look beyond the 600 hours debate. We were very proud to support the Government’s Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, but we need to get past the retail politics around hours and look at the wider issues around the childcare agenda of quality, affordability and flexibility.

We are in the early days of the every step campaign, but I have met the mum of a three-year-old who has spent £19,000 in the past two years bringing in childcare to look after her child; and I have met a granny in Portobello who flies in from Malaga on a Monday and flies out on a Thursday to look after some kids because doing it is cheaper than paying for childcare. So, money is going to a low-cost airline instead of the mother being able to access the childcare that she should have for her kids.

As Alison Johnstone said earlier, we know that child poverty is linked to educational attainment—in particular, the educational attainment level of the primary carer, who tends to be the mum. She made pertinent points on that, but I say to her that if someone’s highest level of qualification is a general standard grade, they have a 50 per cent chance of being employed at the moment; if it is a higher national certificate or a higher national diploma, their chance is 74 per cent; and if it is a degree, their chance is 81 per cent.

If this country wants to get women into work, we must first give them the appropriate skills. However, they cannot get in the doors of the colleges because of decisions that have been made by the Scottish Government. There are now 88,000 fewer women in our colleges than were in them in 2007. Working that out year by year from 2007 to 2012, it means that 242,000 women have failed to get to college since the Government came to power in 2007.

The minister is shaking her head. I would like her to stand up and reject those statistics, which are from the Scottish funding council. Does she deny them? The Government cannot deny them because the blunt reality is that they are true.

I want to move on to what the white paper “Scotland’s Future—Your Guide to an Independent Scotland” says on the childcare agenda. We know that it has not been completed yet and that the Government has not done any modelling around it, which is why I was surprised to hear the First Minister boast on “Politics Scotland” that he had got 60,000 women back into employment in the past year and that the large majority of the jobs were full time. If he could do 60,000 in one year, he could do 104,000 over the next five years. However, those 60,000 women did not return to full-time work, because the vast majority are doing part-time, low-skilled and low-paid work. Last week’s labour force statistics tell us that the majority of the women concerned were over 50, so they were not mums accessing the labour market.

Yes, we are lifting people out of poverty, but that is undermining the Government’s case in the white paper because the case for its childcare policy is built on income tax receipts. If women return to work part time on a low wage, they do not pay income tax. The white paper’s childcare proposal falls down because of that. It is no wonder that the National Day Nurseries Association has described it as “unworkable”.

Bob Doris referred to modern apprenticeships. I say to him that, yes, there has been an increase in the number of women undertaking modern apprenticeships, but when he looks at the details he will see that the vast majority of that increase has come in administration, hospitality and retail modern apprenticeships, which are level 2 qualifications that take about six months. What we are not seeing is an increase in the number of women undertaking traditional apprenticeships, which take three or four years and would massively increase women’s ability to access decently paid employment. That is our criticism of the Government’s modern apprenticeship framework.

I will try to end on a positive note, if I can. The child poverty strategy is for 2014 to 2017, so it will outlive the referendum, the next general election and this Parliament. We should remember that. The greatest service that we can do the strategy is to debate it regularly, challenge it and seek to better it. If we seek to work together in that regard, we can all unite behind a shared commitment to eradicate child poverty.”

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