Dear Sir Robert

Re: Scottish Government Child Poverty Statistics

I am writing to seek the assistance of the UK Statistics Authority in establishing both the accuracy of statements made by the First Minister and former First Minister, and the methodology used by the Scottish Government, to claim that they have already, or they will lift 100,000 children out of poverty, as per the Child Poverty Cumulative Impact Assessment published by the Scottish Government on the 28th of February 2024.

On the 9th of May 2024, John Swinney claimed at First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) in the Scottish Parliament, that the SNP had ‘delivered measures such as the Scottish child payment, which is taking 100,000 children out of poverty today’. This was the second time Mr. Swinney had made this claim on that day alone.

The former First Minister, Humza Yousaf, has also made similar claims on a number of occasions, including in Parliament on the 2nd of May. Meanwhile, social media graphics and videos advertised by the SNP have promoted this claim as fact repeatedly.

According to the most recent statistics, however, child poverty rates have broadly remained static in Scotland, with approximately 240,000 Scottish children (24%) living in relative poverty. Indeed, single year statistic estimates actually suggest an increase in the number of children in poverty in 2022-23 to 260,000 children.

Given these statistics do not seem to reflect real progress on reducing child poverty, and do not correlate with claims made by SNP politicians as outlined above, Scottish Labour put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into the methodology and modelling used by the Scottish Government as evidence for their claims. I have attached the FOI response we received for ease of reference.

As you can see, the modelling used by the Scottish Government uses a counterfactual scenario that presumes a number of policies were not in place. Yet, the levels forecast for this counterfactual scenario are comparable to existing poverty levels, indicating that it cannot be an accurate reflection of any alternative scenario, and therefore could give an inaccurate and misleading account of the effect of Scottish Government policies.

The guidance also makes clear, contrary to some statements by SNP politicians, that this figure is an unconfirmed forecast to be reached 2024-25 and is not lifting children out of poverty but just keeping more Scottish children from going into poverty.

The guidance given to the Scottish Government explicitly states that ‘the estimated impact under this approach [the modelling used by the Scottish Government] does not equate to observable changes in poverty over time, or even… to the contribution of Scottish Government policies to those changes. For this reason, we refer to the impact of the policy package as ‘keeping’ children out of poverty rather than ‘lifting’ them out of poverty.’

You will note, as outlined in the instances mentioned above, that this advice seems to have been ignored repeatably by the First Minister and former First Minister in Parliament, and by the SNP on social media more widely.

Given both recent poverty statistics and official advice to Scottish Ministers appearing to contradict the claims of the First Minister about ‘lifting 100,000 children out of poverty’, I would welcome your view on both the language used by Scottish Government politicians, as well as the model used by the Scottish Government, which seems misleading given they compare the benefits of the policies they have implemented to an entirely unrealistic and abstract world.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,
Paul O’Kane MSP
West Scotland Region
Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice and Social Security, and Equalities


Related links

Letter from Sir Robert Chote to Paul O’Kane MSP – Scottish Government child poverty statistics