Yes vote is the key to ending child poverty

LAST week, we got a clear glimpse of the two alternative futures that lie ahead for Scotland, depending on the outcome of the independence referendum.

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On Monday, the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who has already slashed Scotland's budget over the last few years, announced that he wants to cut public spending by a further £25 billion - with £12 billion of the cuts coming from the welfare budget.

George Osborne thinks that the welfare budget is an easy hit - he calculates that people will agree with him that so-called 'scroungers' have it easy and cutting back on what they get is a good thing.

There are two serious problems with his analysis, though. Firstly, the welfare state is there to provide a safety net for all of us - none of us know when we might hit bad times and need support.

And secondly, only a small proportion of the welfare budget is actually spent on people out of work - most of it goes to pensioners, the disabled, people in low paid work and families with children.

Working families with children have already taken a big hit as a result of the cuts already introduced and it looks like they are in line to bear the brunt of the Tories' future plans too. One of the policies that George Osborne talked about last week was removing entitlement to housing benefit from under 25s.

Many hard working people in low paid jobs get housing benefit.

If it was taken away from the under 25s, around 32,000 households in Scotland would be affected.

Even more worrying is the fact that there are more than 20,000 children living in those households - children who would immediately be at risk of homelessness if this policy was introduced.

It would be a wrong-headed policy - but it may well be imposed on Scotland if we vote No in September and leave these decisions in the hands of Westminster.

The day after George Osborne's announcement, we got a glimpse of an alternative future. The Scottish Government announced that all children in primaries 1 to 3 will get free school meals from next year.

This will have a big impact on child poverty - although for reasons best known to themselves, Labour voted against it in the Scottish Parliament.

In addition, the Scottish Government announced the extension of childcare for two-year-olds.

We also made clear our commitment to a transformational extension of childcare in the event of a Yes vote. This simply can't be afforded within the fixed budget of the devolved parliament.

But with independence, we can make different choices.We can invest in childcare instead of Trident. And we can use the extra tax revenues that comes from more women being able to work as a result of decent childcare to help fund this policy - without independence, these tax revenues go straight to George Osborne.

Last week, it couldn't have been clearer. A No vote risks pushing more children into poverty. A Yes vote will give us the chance to help lift them out of it.

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