Could a minimum income guarantee help Scotland to keep The Promise?

07 October 2022

Topic: Throughcare and aftercare, Financial Insecurity
Author: Paul Sullivan and Lizzie Thomson

A young person taking food out of a fridge

For Challenge Poverty Week 2022, Paul Sullivan, Sector Engagement Lead and Lizzie Thomson, Policy Associate at CELCIS look at the impact the cost of living crisis is having on families in Scotland, and CELCIS’s involvement in a project co-designed with care experienced children, their families, and partner organisations, to pilot a minimum income guarantee for care leavers in Scotland. They spoke with Sam Upton, a consultant at CELCIS with her own experience of care to get her thoughts.

Making ends meet can be hard at the best of times, and these certainly are not the best of times. We all know how much harder it has suddenly become to simply to get by, with a seemingly endless spiral of increasing costs and price hikes for everything from food to heating, rent to fuel - fundamental things none of us can live without. Hundreds of thousands of families were struggling and experiencing poverty in Scotland even before the cost of living crisis escalated, and now many more are being pulled under by an ever rising tide. Wages and welfare benefits are not rising in line with inflation, leaving people short of what they need to maintain a decent standard of living. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that one in five households on low incomes in Scotland has already gone hungry and cold this year. This is hugely concerning as we come into winter weather.

Impact of Poverty

Research evidence from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Poverty Alliance and other related organisations supports what children and families have already told us about the pervasive impact of poverty on their lives. For some families, the stress and difficulty of living with poverty can be the tipping point of being able to cope, and high levels of deprivation are strongly associated with increased proportions of children coming into contact with the care system or child protection services.

Children and families all across Scotland are at heightened risk of poverty. However, for kinship care families (where a relative or close friend cares for a child because their parents are not able to), many of them are at even higher risk, and additionally, they often face barriers to accessing the social security payments, and other finances they are entitled to, due to complex, bureaucratic and impenetrable systems. Care leavers, too, are significantly impacted by poverty and financial precariousness. Often without financial support from family and facing significant financial responsibilities at an earlier age than many young people, many care experienced people have highlighted the significant stress of poverty, and limited financial and emotional support after leaving care. Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living including food, clothing, housing and care, and we urgently need measures that help provide that quality of life.

But there are answers out there, and things can be different, if decision makers make effective choices. One possible opportunity is the implementation of a minimum income guarantee, with work currently underway in Scotland to explore the idea of ensuring every citizen receives a minimum guaranteed income, and that no one has to live in poverty.

What is a Minimum Income Guarantee?

The Institute for Public Policy Research explains that a ‘minimum income guarantee’ is based on three core attributes:

• it is universal (for all citizens) and is delivered through a targeted payment;
• it aims to realise an acceptable standard of living for all; and
• it is designed to reduce poverty, inequality, and insecurity

Planning and implementing a minimum income guarantee is complex work, requiring intricate financial modelling, considering the interplay between complex systems (including taxation and social security), and detailed attention to a broad range of designs and delivery models which could be used to implement such an ambitious policy. But it is significant and encouraging that the exploration of these options is happening and has cross-party political support.

Keeping The Promise

The Independent Care Review recognised the personal, societal and economic costs of our current care system, showing a link between care experience, poverty and adverse outcomes; however, it doesn’t have to be like this. There are political levers available to us. If we invest in our children and families, lives will improve. A minimum income guarantee should not be seen as charity, but as an investment in our society.

To keep The Promise of the Independent Care Review, it is vital that any work underway to develop a minimum income guarantee in Scotland takes full consideration of the needs, views and experiences of children, young people, and families whose lives are impacted by the care ‘system’ in Scotland. Already, work is underway led by children’s charity Aberlour, Staf, the organisation for all involved in the lives of young people leaving care, and care experienced advocacy and participation charity Who Cares? Scotland, alongside care experienced members of a Care Leavers Income Advisory Group, to co-design and pilot a guaranteed an income for care leavers in Scotland, something that is currently being trialled in Wales. At CELCIS, we are engaging with, and supporting the intentions of this group, with care experienced people directly, and with the wider research evidence base to look at what the implementation of a minimum income guarantee could look like for care leavers and for kinship families in Scotland.

We spoke to Sam Upton, who is part of a group of consultants who bring their lived experience of care to help inform our work at CELCIS, about the potential of a minimum income guarantee. She told us:

“I’m a student and the care experienced bursary and its extension over the summer holidays was transformational for me, allowing me a guaranteed income when I needed it most. I think there is potential for a minimum income guarantee to have a similar impact for all care leavers in Scotland.”

Ensuring the views and needs of other care experienced children and families, such as kinship families who face unique and complex financial circumstances, are heard and taken into account in the early planning stages of a minimum income guarantee is crucial. In this way, we can be confident that Scotland could develop a minimum income guarantee approach that meets the needs of all children and families, and helps us to keep The Promise.

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