4. The role of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Child Poverty
Question 3 asked:
How do you think the role of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Child Poverty can be developed to ensure that they play a key role in developing the legislation? (102 respondents answered this question)
4.1. Advising Scottish Government and providing oversight
A range of suggestions were made for developing the role of the Ministerial Advisory Group. Key areas where the Ministerial Advisory Group was seen as having a role were in advising on priorities and action; making links across different sectors and levels; independent scrutiny and monitoring; and disseminating good practice.
"There would seem to be a continued role for the Ministerial Group in terms of advising on priorities and action and providing a forum for the discussion of evidence and the dissemination of good practice." (Angus Council)
As noted above, a key role respondents identified for the Ministerial Advisory Group was advising the Scottish Government on action to be taken to tackle child poverty and in developing the delivery plan. Linked to this was strengthening cross-government action and communication.
"One of the key strengths of a Ministerial Group is the influence that can be exerted by the Cabinet Secretary across SG and the wider public sector system to make positive change occur. Representation by other Ministers at some prior meetings has helped strengthen the cross-cutting nature of policy responses to child poverty. Therefore, the Group could ensure that there is cross-government Ministerial portfolio involvement in developing the legislation and inclusion of the level of accountability required." ( NHS Health Scotland)
"A key task of the Ministerial Advisory Group should also be to consider how action to eradicate child poverty can be communicated across government and link with other policy initiatives, particularly around closing the educational attainment gap and the expansion of early learning and childcare." (Barnardo's Scotland)
A few respondents felt that there should also be an independent body or commission established to provide oversight and scrutiny of the Scottish Government and its parters' progress towards the targets:
"In addition, we feel there is also an opportunity in developing this legislation further to establish either a statutory independent body or post holder tasked with responsibility for providing oversight and scrutiny of the performance and progress of Scottish Government, local authorities, and any other relevant agencies in carrying out their statutory obligations to address child poverty. To this end, it is our opinion that such a statutory body or post holder's functions should include a duty to annually report on performance and progress made towards statutory income targets." (Aberlour Child Care Trust)
4.2. Making links and sharing good practice
Making links between the national and the local level was also highlighted by several respondents. Aspects of this role that were mentioned were: clearer links to, and understanding of, the role that local authorities and community planning partners play in reducing poverty; developing understanding of local initiatives; connecting with local poverty and fairness commissions and local groups; and providing support to Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) in drafting local strategies.
"This group should have a key role in leading on action to address child poverty. This should include providing support to Community Planning Partnerships in drafting local strategy as well as a monitoring role in confirming that at both national and local levels, action is being taken to address child poverty and outcomes targets are linked to equivalent local planning targets for child abuse and neglect." (Social Work Scotland)
"This group should also have a key role in leading on action to address child poverty, including providing support to Community Planning Partnerships in drafting local strategies." (Aberdeen City Council)
Another key role for the Ministerial Advisory Group that was highlighted by several respondents was in developing mechanisms for sharing good practice guidance, in particular with local partners.
"A potential role for the Ministerial Advisory Group could be to hear evidence relating to best practice, ensuring that such examples are grounded in research and can evidence impact. Furthermore, the Advisory Group could have a role in developing ways of ensuring that best practice is shared and replicated more widely across Scotland as appropriate." (North Ayrshire Integration Joint Board)
"It would be helpful if consideration could be given to how the expert advice from the Ministerial Advisory Group could also be made available to local partners where appropriate, perhaps though CPPs." (Aberdeenshire Council)
4.3. Profile and representation
Several respondents noted that there was a lack of information available about the role and activities of the Ministerial Advisory Group.
"The Ministerial Advisory Group as an Advisory Board provides the Scottish Government with critical insight and expertise relating to child poverty. There is limited specific information available on their current role and active membership to allow comment on how this could be further developed." (South Lanarkshire)
Linked to this, a number of respondents suggested that the role of the Ministerial Advisory Group should be higher profile and its visibility should be increased.
"The role of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Child Poverty could be strengthened, and there could be increased visibility of the Advisory Group's work." (Local authority council)
Regular meetings were suggested (a few respondents mentioned these should be at least quarterly). Several also suggested that, with the changing legislative situation, the remit of the Ministerial Advisory Group and its representation should be revisited.
"The key to the Ministerial Advisory Group is ensuring that the membership remains relevant and contemporary and contains the necessary expertise to advise on what is undoubtedly a complex issue. It would also be important that terms of reference are revised to ensure that the Group is given a key role from the outset in developing the legislation." (North Ayrshire Council)
A wide range of suggestions were made for representation on the Ministerial Advisory Group. Incorporating an understanding of rural poverty was highlighted, particularly by rural local authorities:
"The Ministerial Advisory Group is valuable. However, it could be strengthened by ensuring sufficient representation from those with a background and understanding of poverty in rural areas." (Local authority council)
Other groups or areas of topic knowledge suggested included:
- Those with lived experience of poverty
- The private sector/economic growth
- Trade unions/fair work convention
- Rural poverty
- Equalities groups, especially racial equality; gender equality and disability
- Health professionals
- The youth work sector
- Welfare, debt and financial wellbeing
- Constitutional law
- Target setting and measurement of population health outcomes
In particular, many respondents stressed the importance of engaging with and including the voices of communities, families who have experience of living in poverty, and children and young people, and saw the Ministerial Advisory Group as having a role in ensuring they are consulted and their views taken into account.
"The group needs to have a fairly fluid programme of consultation and they need to come out and speak to communities, so that they can understand the lived experience of poverty in our disadvantaged areas." (Health and Social Care Partnership)
"Fundamentally, it is crucial that children and young people and families, particularly those who are living or have lived in poverty, are involved in developing the legislation, as well as its implementation and scrutinising the effectiveness of policy and practice. We would therefore strongly urge that the Ministerial Advisory Group is developed with a view to ensuring that the voices and experiences of children, young people and families are at the heart of decision making, recognising the expertise these individuals bring." (Children in Scotland)
Within this, specific groups that were mentioned were families who are experiencing severe difficulties and vulnerable groups, particularly care leavers.
The young people consulted by the Scottish Youth Parliament were asked how they could be involved in local and national efforts to tackle poverty. The overarching theme that emerged was around increasing representation of young people. The highest priority was identified specifically as: "registering young people in deprived communities to vote". It was additionally felt that there was a need for young people, particularly those affected by poverty, to be regularly consulted, and that this should be included in government reviews at local and national level. Several young people also thought this increased representation could take place through "making an effort to get young people in positions of power." (Scottish Youth Parliament response)