Earlier this month, the Scottish Government published its Programme for Government 2021-22, which aims to create a fairer, more just, prosperous, and equal Scotland. The wide-ranging programme covers care services, child poverty, climate change, economic recovery, tackling homelessness.

The programme strongly indicates the government’s interest, commitment, and efforts to better the lives of Scotland’s children, young people and families, post pandemic and beyond. Particular focus is placed on the importance of upholding and improving children’s rights by #KeepingthePromise and ensuring all children and young people have access to equal opportunities and ability to flourish.

Read the full Programme for Government here.

Child Poverty

The Scottish Government aspires to ‘Create a Land of Opportunity’ for all young people. The programme acknowledges that the groups in society affected most severely by the pandemic, including those on low income and disadvantaged families.

Despite the impacts Covid-19 had on efforts to tackle child poverty in Scotland, the government maintains that ‘we cannot ever accept the inevitability of poverty, or that any child will be born into and grow up in it, with the devastating lifelong consequences that can bring.’

The Government aims to publish the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-26 which will set out a route map to reduce relative child poverty rates to 18% by 2023/24, as well as an additional £50 million investment to the Tackling Child Poverty Fund.

Scottish Child Payment

As part of the mission to eradicate child poverty, the Scottish Child Payment will be extended to include children up to the age of 16 by the end of next year. Despite recent campaigning, the payment has not yet been doubled to £20 per week, however, the First Minister has announced plans to do so as quickly as possible. To provide immediate support to children and young people, a ‘bridging payment’ in 2021 and 2022 will be issued to those eligible for free school meals on the grounds of low income.

The Scottish Government continues its quest to convince the UK Government to maintain the £20 uplift to universal credit, which will affect over 450,000 families in Scotland.

Free school meals and free travel

With regards to free school meal provision, from August 2022, all primary school pupils will be eligible for free lunches.

Nationwide free bus travel for young people aged under 22 from January 2022, is also proposed.

Childcare

Access to free and affordable childcare is a key component of is strategies to alleviate poverty. The proposals to develop a five-year delivery plan regarding a new wraparound childcare system (including during holidays) for school aged children is welcomed.

With initial priority given to children from low-income households, free early learning and childcare for 1- and 2-year old’s will also be expanded.

Poverty-related attainment gap and education

Plans to further tackle the poverty-related attainment gap were also outlined in the document. £1 billion will be invested into the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the first £215 million of which has already been allocated to:

  • The Challenge Authority Programme
  • The Schools Programme
  • Pupil Equity Funding
  • Care Experienced Children and Young People Funding
  • Various National Programmes including third sector organisations who provide services to increase attainment and equity.

In line with these education-centred plans, the government will provide funding to recruit an additional 3,500 teachers and 500 classroom assistants, as well as continuing to work towards achieving the OECD recommendations with regards to curriculum and assessment.

Ensuring that every child and young person has equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of learning was also highlighted as a key priority i.e., eliminating financial barriers towards subject choice, school trips and other activities/opportunities. Over the next year, the government aims to increase digital inclusion and provide every child with a digital device and connection to ‘get online.’

The Scottish Government is also committed to fully implementing the findings of the Additional Support for Learning Review. Children with Additional Support Needs have been particularly affected by the pandemic and ensuring that they, and their families, get the help they need is welcomed.

Young Person’s Guarantee

The government recognises the opportunities young people have lost to the pandemic. To make up for these lost opportunities, the Scottish Government will continue to invest in the Young Person’s Guarantee by allocating an additional £70 million, to provide employment, education, training or volunteering opportunities to every young person in Scotland.

Keeping the Promise

Children’s Rights

The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was passed in March this year, embedding the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law, however, the commencement of this legislation is uncertain, as we await the judgment of the UK Supreme Court.

The Scottish Government aims to invest £4 million to public services to maintain children’s rights and a Children’s Care and Justice Bill will be enacted to help safeguard young people in the youth justice system. The Children’s Hearings System will also be reviewed and revised by working with The Promise Scotland.

Care Experienced Children

The Scottish Government vows to continue working towards achieving the priorities set out in The Promise Scotland Plan 21-24.

They have initiated work to ensure that all children in Scotland who have been victims or witnesses of abuse or violence, and children under the age of criminal responsibility, will have access to a ‘Bairns’ Hoose’ by 2025. The Government describes a Bairns’ Hoose as a ‘child-friendly environment providing trauma informed recovery, improving children’s experience of the criminal justice system and preventing them from being re-traumatised.’

They also aim to begin work with The Hunter Foundation on the Supporting Young People through Mentoring and Leadership Programme to support up to 15,000 young people from care experienced and disadvantaged backgrounds.

In addition, a new Care Experience Grant will be implemented – a £200 payment for care experienced young people – paid annually and over ten years for those aged 16-26.

Family Support

£500 million will be invested into the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund to help keep families together whilst reducing the need for crisis intervention by funding universal and holistic support services within communities.

Health and Wellbeing

Mental Health

The Scottish government acknowledged a decline in children and young people’s mental health as a result of the pandemic. From the loss of social peer interaction to distanced learning environments, children and young people have been particularly affected by lockdown restrictions.

Adolescent mental health services will be allocated at least 1% of NHS mental health spending and the children and young people community mental health and wellbeing budget will be doubled to £30 billion. This will aim to clear the historic waiting lists for CAMHS services.

National Care Service

The proposal to create a National Care Service, which might include Children’s Services, could have a significant impact on the lives of children and families. It is vital that this is well thought through and based on what children and families need.

Final comment

The 2021-22 Programme for Government presents many positive changes and commitments to children, young people, and families and to the organisations/services who provide valued support to these groups. There are a number of areas where more detail is needed and some concerns that there is not enough in the commitments to reduce child poverty or address the unmet levels of need for mental health services, but the direction of travel is welcomed.