The time to act on poverty is now

Written by Kate Shannon on 19 May 2017 in Comment

As the Holyrood baby, Kirsty, turns one, there are 40,000 more children in poverty than when she was born

Baby being fed - Image credit: Eric Ward via Flickr

One of the most common things you’ll hear parents say, apart from “no” and “put that down”, is that time flies.

And while our Holyrood baby is a fictional infant, the fact she is turning one is a poignant moment.

For me, it’s got particular significance as my own child is only six months older than Kirsty and I have followed her progress avidly.


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If you have kept up with Kirsty’s journey, and that of her mother, Caley, you will know that they live in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas.

When she was born in 2016, she was one of 220,000 children living in poverty.

Today, she is one of 260,000. That’s 40,000 more young people who have a mountain to climb to shake off the dreadful blight of poverty.

The sheer number is staggering but the statistics associated with being born into these circumstances make for equally horrifying reading.

I’m not going to repeat all the figures which you’ll find elsewhere, but a couple stand out.

For example, the chances of Kirsty having below average problem-solving ability by the age of five are 53 per cent.

She is twice as likely to be obese by primary one than a child raised in an affluent area and there is a 16 per cent chance that Kirsty will have emotional problems by the age of five.

Starkly, her life expectancy is low – she will die younger than those living in better off parts of Scotland.

So what can we do? For years, successive UK governments have presented us with the ‘workers v shirkers’ view of the UK which demonised those who claim benefits and advocated that having a job was the ‘answer’.

This sounds logical, surely if you work then you will have enough money to feed your family and live a comfortable life?

Wrong. Thanks to research from many quarters, we know that being in work is not an automatic route out of poverty and according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has hit an all-time high.

Couple this with benefit changes which seriously affect those on low incomes and you’ve got a dangerous situation.

Poverty is a terrible, endless cycle and it is always the innocent – the children – who suffer the most. Kirsty is not a real child, but she represents hundreds of thousands of little ones who have no voice of their own.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in relative affluence have a responsibility to do what we can for children like Kirsty.

There is no silver bullet, easy answers do not exist but I believe the most important thing we can do is to keep talking about it.

We’re in the throes of another general election campaign so we must insist that policymakers and politicians keep the idea of tackling poverty behind every decision they make and everything they do.

Let’s hope that this time next year, when Kirsty is about to turn two, the number of children living in poverty will have dropped. If it continues to rise, it will be on all our heads.

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