15 February 2017
Child poverty and serving Scotland
While Brexit continues to dominate Scottish politics, the last few weeks have also seen developments in the other story of this session of the Scottish Parliament – namely tackling the attainment and life chances gap that exists between the rich and poor of Scottish society.
As the "defining mission of the Scottish government", Nicola Sturgeon has placed a lot of political capital in closing this attainment gap, particularly in education. And it's clear from recent reports into both Scottish education and child health outcomes that there are significant problems to be addressed. While the high level constitutional debate will continue to dominate Scottish politics, there is no doubt in the mechanics of day to day governance there is a significant national debate opening up about how to fix these systemic and endemic problems.
It's into this context that the Scottish government last week published its Child Poverty(Scotland) bill. This bill defines various aspects of poverty, sets mandatory targets for the Scottish government to meet in reducing rates of poverty, and requires regular reporting and planning on progress. It's admirable in its intentions and also the way in which it opens up the Scottish government to scrutiny for its actions. Particularly welcome is the requirement to engage with families, communities and stakeholders, and we will be looking to ensure the Scottish government recognises the huge work churches do in this area.
As Christians these issues matter because fundamentally we are all made equally in the image of God, designed to flourish as we bear that image. Poverty distorts this, causing potential to be squashed, health to be damaged and perpetuating the fundamental injustice of having life chances determined by where you are born and not fully by your own life choices. Added to this mix the higher prevalence of crime, poor environment, addiction and instability in deprived areas and there is a picture that is the antithesis of the kingdom of God at work.
It's into this environment that the Church steps in to play a vital role week by week as we run foodbanks, addiction recovery services, family support groups and debt advice centres. As its best the Church is the community within a community that invites all to participate and be strengthened by spiritual and social transformation.
Admirable though the Child Poverty bill most certainly is it would be a mistake to think that this is an issue that can be fixed by government action alone. Just as it's a mistake to minimise the reality of poverty in today's Scotland, it's also a mistake to frame the discussion in purely economic terms. Poverty is more than just material and the role of community, and crucially family, must be recognised as part of the solution. In a week designated as International Marriage Week with statistics suggesting family breakdown now costs £48 billion across the UK, supporting families and strengthening communities should be a core part of our anti-poverty strategy.
We also recognise as churches that we need to do more of this work together and so with other partners we have recently established the Serve Scotland network, which seeks to draw together those churches and organisations who are involved in tackling issues of poverty and deprivation in our communities. It's in early stages, but it's a brilliant example of Christians coming together to help tackle one of the most pressing issues of our time. We will be sharing 2017 plans for Serve in due course but for more info on the background or to sign up to the mailing list visit www.servescotland.org.
Image: CC0 Need NOT Greed