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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 11:32 GMT
McConnell in school meals pledge
Children on estate
The impact of poverty on children's lives can be long-lasting
First Minister Jack McConnell has pledged that if Labour wins power again in May, the number of children entitled to free school meals will increase.

His promise came ahead of the launch of a book, outlining the measure of poverty in modern Scotland.

The Child Poverty Action Group said almost a fifth of the population is living in poverty, including nearly a quarter of children.

Mr McConnell admitted more must be done to reduce poverty at a faster rate.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We need to go faster and further, the numbers of children in poverty have gone from one in three to one in four.

Anti-poverty unit

"But we need to take further radical steps in the third term of the Scottish Parliament, in conjunction with those responsible for the benefits system and employment legislation at Westminster, working together in the next four years to make a further significant reduction in the number of both children and pensioners who find themselves in this position."

Mr McConnell's pledge came in the light of a study which said that more than 900,000 people in Scotland are living in poverty, including 240,000 children.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland called on all parties to commit themselves to more concerted measures to eradicate poverty.

Mr McConnell has pledged to almost double the number of children entitled to free school meals and to create an anti-poverty unit.

The CPAG Poverty in Scotland 2007 report has been compiled by a partnership of academics, campaigners and frontline workers.

KEY POVERTY INDICATORS
A single person is in poverty if they are living on less than 100 per week
A lone parent family with two children (aged 5 and 11) are living in poverty if they are living on less than 186 per week
A couple with two children (again aged 5 and 11) are living in poverty if they are living on less than 268 a week
910,000 people in Scotland live in poverty (18% of the population)
240,000 children in Scotland are in poverty (23% of all children)
Source: Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland

It found progress had been made in reducing the numbers of people living in poverty, specifically children and pensioners, but there had been no improvement among working age adults without children.

A fifth of the worst affected people lived in Glasgow and the city had a disproportionate share of Scotland's poorest local areas.

However, large numbers of people in poverty were also found to live in areas with lower concentrations of deprivation.

Factors contributing to the problem were found to be inequality, low pay, inadequate benefits, poor quality work opportunities and lack of support for those with caring responsibilities, ill health or those affected by disability.

The study welcomed progress made in tackling poverty, but called for better targeted solutions.

Do we want our children to grow up in a society scarred by poverty?
John Dickie
CPAG

John Dickie, head of CPAG, said: "We all face some fundamental choices.

"Do we want our children to grow up in a society scarred by poverty, or are we willing to pay for the decent wages, benefits and services that would lift all Scotland's people out of poverty?"

Dr Gerry Mooney, from the Open University in Scotland, an editor and contributing author of the CPAG report, also warned that there was a "marked unwillingness" on the part of government to tackle the causes of inequalities in Scottish society.

The focus on poverty comes as the first minister attends a poverty event in Glasgow.

Mr McConnell's school meals proposal, to be launched at the event, is expected to be part of a package in the party's manifesto for the next election.

Currently, only children in very low income families and those whose parents are out of work are entitled to a free school meal - about 122,000 in total.

Under the proposals free school meals would be extended to a further 97,000 children whose parents receive working tax credit, at a cost of between 20m and 30m.

Opposition moves to introduce universal free school meals have been rejected by ministers.


SEE ALSO
Child poverty plight highlighted
18 Jan 07 |  Scotland
Children 'living in fuel poverty'
03 Nov 06 |  Scotland
Mixed views on poverty statistics
09 Mar 06 |  Scotland

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