Plea for urgent poverty payment rethink

Tuesday 25th June 2019

Doctors’ groups and health and social campaigners are writing to the First Minister urging her to speed up plans for a new income supplement to tackle child poverty.

The Scottish Government has committed to bringing in a top-up payment in 2022 but supporters say action to help families is poverty is needed now.

Professor Steve Turner of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health says growing up in poverty can have “devastating” long-term effects.

“We know that children living on or below the breadline are more likely to die suddenly as babies, suffer acute infections, experience mental health issues, and miss school.

“Child poverty has an immediate and life-long impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being, and also education, and so it’s paramount that every effort is made now to tackle child poverty and reduce the number of families living in severe hardship,” he explains.

Anne Mullin is a GP at Govan Health Centre who chairs the ‘Deep End’ group that brings together GPs working in the most deprived areas of Scotland.

She is telling she and her colleagues see on a daily basis how poverty can scar people’s health.

“This is of concern to the Deep End GP group that represents GPs who serve multiply disadvantaged families with persistent poverty-related stress,” Dr Mullin says.

“GPs provide holistic family support in Deep End communities and we are very familiar with the impact of child poverty and child health inequality that are drivers of adversity in families. This can have lasting effects on mental and physical well-being into adulthood.

“Subsequent increased incidence of homelessness, mental health presentations, complex multimorbidity and end of health living expectancy are well documented in Deep End communities.”

The Scottish Government is set to update Holyrood about its plans to bring in an income supplement tomorrow.

Ministers have been urged to act quicker in a letter signed by 70 organisations from across Scottish society, including faith groups, charities and academics, as well as medical groups like the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, the Deep End GPs’ group and Voluntary Health Scotland.

Their letter warns that, without action, the child poverty rate is predicted to rise to 35% by 2020/21, which would leave the Scottish Government missing its own child poverty targets.

Signatories say bringing in supplementary payments in 2022 is ‘simply far too late’.

“Poverty is a structural issue, government is in control of the economic levers to address it and society at large should support that endeavour,” says Dr Mullin.

The group is calling for welfare workers to be embedded in GP practices to help patients access benefits and support they are entitled to.

But the Glasgow GP believes more radical action is needed.

“The scale of childhood poverty must be further addressed and the policies of austerity rejected. Enacting a new income supplement for low income families that is aligned with a robust child rights agenda will contribute to this,” she says.

“A cross-cutting theme in national strategies in Scotland, the reduction of child poverty levels led by government is an important development to address the stigma of childhood poverty, strengthen family cohesion and reduce child health inequalities.”