Save the Children: Don't let youngsters pay the price of cost-of-living crisis
Welfare charity Save the Children is calling on the Scottish and UK governments to ensure children “don’t pay the price” of the cost-of-living crisis after polling from research organisation Nesta revealed that the majority of parents are concerned about how they will pay for essentials in the coming months.
Nesta interviewed 1,000 parents across Scotland at the beginning of the new school year, with 80 per cent saying they were concerned about how they would pay for gas and electricity in the months ahead while more than two-thirds (69 per cent) said they were concerned about how they would pay for petrol amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and a similar proportion (65 per cent) said they were worried about being able to pay for food.
Around half of those responding to the survey said they were unsure if they would be able to make rent or mortgage payments.
Claire Telfer, head of Scotland for Save the Children, called the results “distressing and unmistakeable” and noted that “families across Scotland are at breaking point and scared it’s only going to get worse”.
“There is nothing left to cut back on, the huge increases in the cost of basic necessities is going to have a catastrophic impact,” she said.
“Save the Children is deeply concerned about families not being able to make ends meet this winter and the toll of this stress and anxiety on family wellbeing and mental health.
“This crisis is on a scale of the pandemic. Government support for children and families should reflect that.
“We need urgent action now to alleviate this worsening crisis but also to build greater stability into the fabric of the social security system to protect families in the future.
“Governments must use all the tools they have so children don’t pay the price for this crisis.”
Last week regulator Ofgem confirmed that the energy price cap will rise by an average of 80 per cent on 1 October as the impact of soaring wholesale market prices take effect. This will see the typical household bill increase from £1,971 a year to £3,549 with the expectation that prices will go up to around £4,200 in January.
Shetland Islands Council said this week that continuing rises will push every household on the islands into fuel poverty by next April and called on Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi to act.
"Our islands have been at the heart of oil and gas activity for over 40 years yet our people have not seen the benefits of that in terms of a lower cost of fuel," said council leader Emma Macdonald.
Parties from across the political spectrum have urged the UK Government to scrap the planned October increase to the energy price cap, but so far no action has been taken.
Labour has also called on the Scottish Government to do more, with Scottish leader Anas Sarwar proposing last month that an Emergency Cost of Living Act be passed.
The Nesta research found that concerns about the cost-of-living crisis have come on top of the impact of Covid-19, with 49 per cent of respondents saying they were concerned about the knock-on effect the pandemic has had on children’s mental health.
Just over a quarter (27 per cent) said their child had previously struggled with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic while a further 22 per cent said their child was still struggling with those mental health issues now.
Adam Lang, head of Nesta in Scotland, said the results of the polling were “stark and deeply alarming”.
“It’s clear that families across Scotland are at a financial cliff edge,” he said.
“With this many people worried both about their children’s mental health and being able to pay for basic human necessities like warmth, food and transport, urgent action is needed to mitigate the worst of this social and economic emergency.
“We need to see a response from both the UK and Scottish governments on a par with the pandemic; one that acts urgently to limit the impact of the energy price rises and mobilises support from across sectors to provide immediate and direct help for the most vulnerable.
“Families are caught in a perfect storm of consequences from both the legacy of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. They need more support now to help manage the months ahead.”
It comes as a study from the University of Stirling has identified big differences in the provision of child mental health services across health boards in Scotland.
Led by Dr Lynne Gilmour, the research examined referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in two health boards between January and June of 2019. It found that 25 per cent of children referred to CAMHS were either thinking about suicide or had attempted suicide, with 31 per cent of those being offered an appointment in one health board compared with 82 per cent in the other.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats said this shows that a mental health first aider should be provided at every stage of education while all schools should have access to counsellors.
The party’s leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Scottish Government should also “lower referral bars, introduce earlier support and establish a single point of contact for CAMHS waiting lists”.
“No child should ever feel suicidal. We need to move heaven and earth to ensure every child knows that they are loved and supported,” he added.