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Community / More investment needed in tackling child poverty, councillor says

Photo: Save the Children

A COUNCILLOR says it is a “dereliction of duty” not to investigate options around tapping into financial reserves to address child poverty in Shetland.

Ryan Thomson, who represents the North Isles, said more could be done to tackle child poverty in the isles through “prioritisation of funds and some forward thinking investment”.

It comes after Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) agreed on Thursday to increase its spending after its investments rose in value far beyond expectation to nearly half a billion pounds.

At the end of June Shetland Islands Council’s reserves, which are separate from SCT’s, were valued at £443 million.

Councillor Ryan Thomson.

But the council is still not deemed sustainable due to its level of expenditure, while the charitable trust can only spend so much before it regards itself as no longer self-sustainable.

Warnings are also regularly made over value of investments falling due to fluctuations the financial market.

Thomson agreed with using reserves carefully, but he has called for more flexible thinking.

“We must manage these reserves wisely, but in equal measure, we should be looking at extracting every single penny we affordably can through careful management while having a community discussion about what we see as our priorities in Shetland,” he said.

“We’re sitting on funds which could be used to give our bairns a strong start in life, an equal start in life.”

Recent research showed that an estimated 15.8 per cent of Shetland bairns are living in child poverty. While this is one of the lowest rates in Scotland, the isles often have a higher cost of living and greater fuel poverty.

But this figure of nearly 16 per cent does not take into account the period of the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been calls for a new trust to be set up to eradicate child poverty in Shetland, including from David Polson in an opinion piece earlier this summer.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison, however, said the recently established early intervention Anchor project is already bearing fruit.

Meanwhile Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick has raised concerns over the impact of proposed £20 cut to the Universal Credit benefit payments.

The SNP politician claimed it could undermine the Scottish Government’s planned increase to the Scottish Child Payment.

This payment aims to reduce the number of children living in poverty by providing more money to families who rely on Universal Credit.

Roddick said £28,500 was paid directly to families with young children in Shetland this summer as part of the bridging payment prior to full rollout of the benefit.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart meanwhile has regularly raised with the Scottish Government wider issues such as fuel poverty and the concept of a ‘Shetland tariff’.

This would aim to deliver cheaper energy to local residents while the isles play host to large scale renewable exporters like the Viking Energy wind farm.