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by Jenni Davidson
25 March 2021
Child poverty in Scotland increased even before pandemic

A child looking forlorn - Image credit: Fotolia

Child poverty in Scotland increased even before pandemic

Child poverty in Scotland had risen even before the coronavirus pandemic, new statistics show.

Scottish Government figures published on Thursday reveal that 26 per cent of children in Scotland were in poverty in 2019-20, up from 23 per cent in 2018-19 and 24 per cent in 2017-18.

In the same year 12 per cent were living in a combination of low income and material deprivation, meaning families who cannot afford basic goods and activities that are normally seen as necessities.

And in 2019-20 a quarter of children lived in households with marginal, low or very low food security, where there was a concern about running out of food or members of the household were having to skips meals or limit what they ate.

Campaigners and opposition politicians have called the figures “deeply disheartening”, “truly shocking” and “a scandal”.

Taken as a three year average the levels of child poverty appeared more stable, with the average of 24 per cent for 2017-20 similar to the three year averages of 23 or 24 per cent since 2013.

However, this is well above the levels set out in the Child Poverty Act 2017, which sets mandatory targets of reducing child poverty to 18 per cent by 2024 and 10 per cent by 2030.

Of children who were living in poverty, more than two-thirds, 68 per cent, were in families where at least one adult was working.

And some types of households with children were at a particularly high risk of poverty.

These include households with single parents, three or more children, disabled household members, of a minority ethnic background, with a child aged under one, or a mother aged under 25.

Among single-parent or multi-ethnic households, 38 per cent were in poverty, while 34 per cent of households where the youngest child was under one were living in poverty.

The youngest children, those aged 0 to four, were most likely to be living in poverty, at 28 per cent.

Claire Telfer, Save the Children’s head of Scotland, said: “It is deeply disheartening that the number of children experiencing poverty in Scotland was rising before the pandemic, and that over one in three homes with babies under one live with poverty.

“It will be another year before we understand the true impact of COVID on poverty.

“But we know from our work with families that the last year has seen many families struggling with hardship.

“Behind the statistics, there are too many families who struggle financially, day in and day out, with far reaching consequences for their children.”

Telfer added that the figures should be “the catalyst for further action”.

The statistics show that levels of poverty among adults has stayed fairly stable, with 19 per cent of working age adults and 15 per cent of pensioners in poverty in 2019-20, similar to the previous few years.

The average level of poverty across all age groups in 2017-20 came out 19 per cent, the same as in 2016-19 and 2014-17, and one point below 2015-18.

However, as with families with children, certain groups of adults were more likely to be in poverty that other, with ethnic minorities particularly affected, as well as single-adult households, those including a person with disabilities and younger adults.

The poverty rate was 41 per cent among ‘Asian or Asian British’ ethnic groups and 43 per cent for ‘Mixed, Black or Black British and Other’ ethnic groups.

Young adults aged 16-24 were also more likely to be in poverty than older adults.

The rate of poverty among the over-65s has dropped from 32 per cent in 1994-97, the first year of comparable statistics, to 15 per cent in 2017-20, while the rate of poverty among 16-24-year-olds rose from 22 per cent to 28 per cent over the same period.

Chris Birt, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's deputy director for Scotland, said: “On the first day of the election campaign, these statistics underline the urgent need for a passionate debate about how we drive down poverty in Scotland. 

“People here believe action to significantly reduce poverty is possible and are restless to see greater action from our political leaders.

“To provide a credible route to the child poverty targets they all signed up to, we will need to at least double the value of the Scottish Child Payment, support parents into good jobs and improve the quality and affordability of housing for all families in Scotland.

“The fact that over two-thirds of children live in a household where someone is working shows that our jobs market is not providing a reliable route out of poverty for far too many people.

“The disproportionate impact of poverty on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds is shocking.

“We know the past twelve months of the pandemic have caused immense harm to the lives and livelihoods of so many in our society, making it even more vital we build a recovery that is felt by everyone.”

Alison Watson, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Rising numbers of people are being swept into severe poverty in Scotland and the cost of housing is a key factor.

“The statistics show the level of poverty in Scotland just before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“These same people will now be in desperate need of support to keep their homes.

“Even in a recession and worldwide health emergency we have seen housing costs rise.

“We want to see the Scottish Government accept the reality of the situation: that the poorest have been hit hardest and the current solutions to coronavirus rent arrears don’t go far enough.”

Scottish Labour’s communities spokesperson, Pauline McNeill, called the levels of child poverty “nothing short of a scandal”.

She said: “Child poverty is a blight on our society.

“That over a quarter of children in Scotland are living in relative poverty is nothing short of a scandal.

“Unfortunately, this is what I have been picking up over recent months due to the pandemic accentuating existing inequalities.

 “Child poverty has risen throughout 14 years of SNP failure and on the watch of Boris Johnson’s Tories. 

“Scottish Labour is fighting this election on the people’s priorities: kickstarting our economy, protecting our NHS and fighting child poverty through a national recovery plan.

“We now need a revision of the child poverty strategy in the coming parliament to recognise the unfortunate steep rise in child poverty.

“We cannot lose another generation to child poverty. Scottish Labour will fight to unite our country and make an end to child poverty a reality.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton, who worked for more than a decade in the third sector on child welfare, called the statistics “truly shocking”.

He said: “These figures are truly shocking. No child should ever have to live in poverty. 

“Knowing that the government has not done enough to help families, young parents and children is heart-breaking.

“The figures are pre-COVID, and there is a real risk that the situation will have worsened the situation has become.

“This government has not used its time in power to change things or help people. It is time to change that.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to put recovery first, we want to see the people of Scotland thrive and not wonder whether they’ll be able to buy their children their next meal.”

Read the most recent article written by Jenni Davidson - COVID deaths in Scotland exceed 10,000

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