The Child Poverty Strategy sets out what the Scottish Government plans to do to reduce the levels of child poverty in Scotland, and so ensure that as few children as possible experience any type of socio-economic disadvantage. There are two very distinctive aims within the strategy:
- to reduce the levels of child poverty by reducing income poverty and material deprivation
- to improve children’s wellbeing and life chance – with the ultimate aim being to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation.
There’s been real progress in reducing children’s exposure to second-hand smoke with the target met five years ahead of schedule (woo hoo!), and Scotland’s smoking in vehicles legislation (started 5th December 2016) will further protect children. But there’s a piece missing from the mix when it comes to Scotland’s ambition to break ‘inter-generational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation’ and that piece is smoking.
ASH Scotland has calculated that a low-income family earning £18,400 a year, where both parents smoke 20 cigarettes a day, will spend more than a quarter of their entire income on tobacco or around £5,200 a year. In yet another twist of the knife though, it’s the families who have the least to spend who are the most affected. We know that approximately 1.2 million children in the UK are living in poverty in households where adults smoke. If these adults quit and the costs of smoking were returned to household budgets, 365,000 of these children would be lifted out of poverty.
So… what if there were an incentive scheme where smokers who were supported to quit benefited by potentially hundreds of pounds a month, and went on benefiting by that much a month for years to come and on top of that (because this really is a win, win, win situation) they enjoyed better, mental and physical health and (we’re still winning) no longer exposed their children to second-hand smoke and reduced the likelihood of those children being smokers themselves and, (still winning) what if that huge cash incentive was THEIR OWN MONEY? Wowser…where do we sign?
Well, Scotland already has a network of smoking cessation services offering free support from specialist workers, GP’s and health professionals, and community pharmacies as well as online support and downloadable apps, so that part is taken care of. Scotland also has a network of money advice and income maximisation services who are well-placed to signpost smokers to this support, not least by revealing this highly effective win, win, win situation to them. We’re not suggesting that money advice workers deliver support to stop smoking any more than we would ask stop smoking workers to deliver money advice – we’re suggesting that money advice workers link up with a nationwide service which could potentially save their clients’ lives as well as have a massive financial impact. And it does happen – take a bow NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde , in a great example of work that is innovative, integrated, and joined up…all words the Scottish Government loves to hear. But it could happen more, and here’s how:
- remember that most smokers actually want to stop
- bear in mind that smoking is an addiction of childhood and seldom an informed choice
- try not to think of smoking as affordable coping mechanism for those in poverty – it kills up to two thirds of users, usually after many years of chronic ill health. So it’s not a ‘your money or your life’ situation – it’s a ‘money AND your life’ situation.
Going back to the ‘win, win’ part of this cunning plan we didn’t even mention the impact on primary and secondary healthcare and future care costs of having decreased smoking uptake, decreased second-hand smoke exposure and larger numbers of ex-smokers freed from smoking to live in better health for longer. That’s not just ‘income maximisation’ it’s ‘life maximisation’, and it could also be two substantial steps towards reducing child poverty in Scotland.