The announcement of a Scottish “child poverty” benefit has to be welcome. In principle, it will increase the incomes of many families by £10 per week per child, starting with children under the age of six. Focusing on the under-sixes is good; there’s a clear relationship between the age of the youngest children and low incomes. So is the promise that it will be there for every child in a family.
The main problem with reliance on qualifying benefits is that receipt is going to reflect the deficiencies in that system. One clear problem is takeup. I’m not convinced by the HMRC claim that CTC goes to 85% of all potential recipients (if it’s true, it’s more accessible than any other means-tested benefit), but that still leaves out the 15% who don’t get it. A second problem is that entitlement is intermittent, particularly for benefits assessed on the basis of income; and benefit entitlement can be interrupted by sanctions, which shouldn’t be relevant for this supplement. Dealing with changes in circumstances – including moving out of Scotland – could also be problematic.
In practice, the details are still vague; I’ve been greatly helped by a reference supplied by Ian Davidson, who pointed me towards the Position Paper posted on Wednesday by the Scottish Government. The qualifying benefits will be:
- Child Tax Credit
- Universal Credit
- Income Support
- Pension Credit
- Working Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Those benefits are all under the control of the DWP, with a particular emphasis on Universal Credit; Scottish benefits, including Council Tax Reduction and Disability Assistance, will not qualify claimants for the Scottish Child Payment.