Child poverty could ‘soar’ as a result of coronavirus as new statistics show nearly one in four of Scotland's children in poverty
The child poverty rate in Scotland could be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, warned charities and politicians after new figures revealed almost a quarter of young people have experienced relative poverty in recent years.
New official child poverty figures show 24 per cent of children in Scotland in the 2016-2019 period experienced relative child poverty, equivalent to 230,000 children.
Absolute child poverty after housing costs remained at 22 per cent (220,000 children each year) after a long, slow decrease.
Save the Children have warned that the coronavirus crisis will worsen the situation for many families, and push many more over the poverty line.
Despite government measures to protect jobs, many people still face losing their jobs or will see a significant drop in income as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with the number of families claiming welfare support through Universal Credit expected to surge.
Save the Children’s Head of Scotland, Claire Telfer said: “Today’s figures remind us that many families in Scotland were struggling before the coronavirus crisis. We are concerned these numbers could soar further as a result of the coronavirus crisis, plunging families into desperate situations.
“The government has already done a great deal to support households during this difficult time – but more must be done to help some families stay afloat.
“We urge the Scottish Government to use all of its powers to put money directly into the pockets of families. This should include cash payments for free school meals and topping up benefits that support low-income families. If we don’t act now, we risk even more families being locked in poverty.”
John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, called for further measures to be put in place by government.
"Whilst not surprising after a decade of UK benefit cuts, low wage growth and increasing insecurity in the workplace it is no less shocking to see that nearly one in four of our children were still living in poverty even before the current corona crisis hit,” he said.
“The longer children experience poverty the greater the damage to their health, wellbeing and life chances so it is especially worrying to see the increasing number of children living in persistent poverty. At a time of national crisis these are the children already most at risk from further shocks to family income.
“This is stark reminder of how important the hugely welcome new Scottish Child Payment will be, but the scale of the gap between the latest figures and the statutory target to cut child poverty to less than 10 per cent by 2030, will mean far, far more is needed in the months and years ahead.
“At UK and Scotland level we need to build the social security system, create the labour market and invest in the public services that we know parents need to provide the best possible start in life for their children.
"Unless concerted action is taken now, this week's laid-off workers and their children will be adding to next year's poverty statistics.”
He called for an extra £10 per week per child to be added to child benefit as the most effective way of getting support to families quickly in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
“Additional payments for children of an extra £10 per week through universal credit and tax credits are also needed to help avoid struggle turning to real hardship for families during the pandemic.
“The benefit cap and the two-child limit policies must be removed to prevent the poorest families missing out.
“There can be no doubt we are facing a child poverty crisis.”
Scottish Greens children and young people spokesperson Alison Johnstone said emergency measures should protect more children from falling into poverty as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
She said: “I welcome the measures to protect incomes during this crisis that are coming from the UK and Scottish Governments, but the latest child poverty figures show a real need to ensure more children don’t fall below the poverty line.
“These figures represent the extent of child poverty up until last April and the severe economic impact of Covid-19 will mean that even more families will now be struggling.
“That’s why we need to make support easy to access and available to everyone who needs it. We need to ensure all families affected are encouraged to apply for the Scottish and UK benefits that are due to them, and to the emergency support schemes in place.
“This crisis has shown how vulnerable so many families are in Scotland and made the case for a guaranteed basic income that would provide a real safety net.”