It’s time to put young people first

Monday May 22nd 2023


This View has been written by Ross Laird, Convener of Midlothian, Tweeddale and Lauderdale Liberal Democrats

Of all the criticisms and accusations that have been thrown in recent weeks at the former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, few would have stung more than that of the Scottish Children’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, who claimed the First Minister had failed to deliver for young people. The SNP might have set laudable goals of reducing child poverty by 2030, yet this is a government that is failing our younger people and the consequences will be felt for generations in Midlothian and beyond.

The Children’s Commissioners damning assessment was, unfortunately, just the latest of damning assessments of the SNP’s time in office and their impact on poverty and young people. Instead of being surprised at the Commissioner’s remarks, we should be more concerned as to why the Scottish Government has done so little for so long.

Today, nearly a quarter of all children in Scotland are living in poverty. According to Audit Scotland, relative child poverty, increased from an average of 21% across 2011-14 to 24% across 2017-20. Save the Children Scotland called the latest figures a ‘wake-up call.’

The impact of this failure will be felt for years to come. According to NHS Health Scotland, the health impacts alone are likely to lead to greater obesity, more accidents and disabilities, poor general health and poor mental health. Such a trajectory flies in the face of the SNP’s purported focus on health inequalities.

Concerns about the lack of government action have been raised for some time. In 2021, the highly-respected think tank, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation complained that child poverty was rising before the pandemic and that Covid had only thrown a spotlight on the problem. The authors warned then that “Alarm bells must be ringing in the Scottish Government and Parliament because families all over Scotland need them to do more and do better.”

At a national level, the SNP has failed to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the Scottish Parliament passing the bill, the measures have yet to be ratified. Such a failure to implement legal protections speak volumes.

More locally, child poverty rates in Midlothian were cited as being higher than the national average even before the pandemic – standing at 25% in 2019/20. And the picture has been getting steadily worse over the pandemic. The recent report by Integrated Joint Board in Glasgow found that there were some 2,500 more children living in poverty this February than pre-pandemic levels in 2020.

Part of this is down to funding. Starving local authorities, youth work and childcare of much-needed funds has had a huge knock-on effect. The role of local authorities, such as Midlothian Council, in addressing child poverty was highlighted in a recent Audit Scotland report, citing that they had a key role to play in alleviating poverty. Yet services such as youth work and support to young people has been crippled and in many areas no longer exists at all.

The Scottish Government under the SNP has been systematically failing Scotland’s children for years. It’s time for young people to be put at the heart of our decision-making and making sure that the support services they need are there to support them throughout their lives.

Ross Laird is Convener of Midlothian, Tweeddale and Lauderdale Liberal Democrats.

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