By Professor John McKendrick

THOSE of a certain age lament the demise of communities where the welfare of children was the responsibility of parents, friends and wider family. Changing times have produced a paradox regarding tackling poverty: if we yearn for the days when everyone was more concerned for the welfare of others, why then are we content to attribute primary responsibility for tackling child poverty to government?

Every few years, the British Social Attitudes survey asks the people of Scotland to identify who is responsible for tackling child poverty. Around three-quarters of people think responsibility lies with UK and Scottish governments, just under half believe parents have a responsibility, with around a third thinking the voluntary sector and friends/relatives have a role to play. However, when the same Scots are asked to identify the main reason for child poverty, very few attribute it to factors within the realm of government, for example “because of inequalities in society” (which could in theory be tackled through progressive taxation). Rather, we are more likely to blame parents on account of perceiving them to be troubled or not achieving in the labour market.

So, we look for solutions from government and blame parents… is there another way?

Tackling poverty must be systemic and systematic. There is also a pressing need for actions rooted in interpersonal interaction and everyday contexts. A few years ago, the EIS published Face up to Child Poverty, a booklet for union members offering succinct advice on what they could do as part of their everyday work to ameliorate a poverty-related problem. Much progress could be made in improving the lives of Scotland’s most disadvantaged children if other professional groups and practitioners followed EIS’s lead.

Last December the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 received Royal Assent, making the historical commitment to “eradicate” child poverty in Scotland by 2030. Each local authority and relevant health board must now prepare a local child poverty action report, including measures taken during the reporting year and any it proposes to take.

This has the potential to be a game-changer. However, this will only work if ownership is shared among the wider population and interest groups. Local strategies need to belong to everyone and we need to ensure that professions, communities and interest groups are as central to these 32 strategies as local authority/NHS departments and budgets.

What I am suggesting amounts to a cultural change. Some might argue that these are difficult to achieve, but we have had one already – we now accord responsibility for tackling child poverty to government, whereas once it was viewed as the responsibility of communities. Things are not so good now that we should continue on regardless and things were never so good that we should aspire to return to the past. Rather, Scotland’s children deserve a better future and we need a third dimension that builds on both the interventions of government and everyday community support.

This means all of those who engage with children should be thinking about what they can do to tackle poverty through their everyday interactions with children experiencing it. We also need to hold government to account. It is laudable that the Scottish Government has committed the nation to eradicate child poverty by 2030. But it will be shameful if we don’t all contribute to capitalising on the opportunity that presents to realise a child poverty-free Scotland within a generation.

Professor John McKendrick is Co-Director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University. His call is one of national charity Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls campaign to improve children’s lives.