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Scotland on course to miss its child poverty target, Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns

Child at window - Image credit: Holyrood

Scotland on course to miss its child poverty target, Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns

Scotland is on course to miss its child poverty target in 2024, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has warned.

Currently, 24 per cent or 230,000 children are growing up in poverty – an increase on five years ago.

The target is to reduce that figure by a quarter to 18 per cent by March 2024.

The message on child poverty comes as JRF publishes its annual Poverty in Scotland 2020 report, which will be launched today at an online event featuring a keynote speech by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, to coincide with the start of Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland.

The report warns that Scotland risks seeing a rising tide of poverty due to the economic impact of coronavirus unless political parties commit to bold action on job training, affordable housing and income support for families at next year’s Holyrood election.

The pandemic has had a serious impact on jobs and financial security, with workers already in poverty hit hardest.

Areas with a high number of lower-paid, at-risk jobs, such as in accommodation and food, retail and wholesale, manufacturing and entertainment sectors, face the threat of increased poverty.

The pandemic has also resulted in a drop in hours worked, with mean working hours in Scotland dropping from 32 per week at the start of 2019 to 25 in the period up to June 2020.

By August 2020, the number of individuals in receipt of Universal Credit in Scotland – both in and out of work – had nearly doubled compared to January, to over 470,000 claimants.

By May, claims by single adults with no children had increased three-fold, while the number of couples with children claiming had doubled compared with the start of the year.

The biggest increases in Universal Credit claims occurred in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire.

Although temporary increases to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit have stopped family income falling even further, with those scheduled to end in April, JRF warns that withdrawing this support would lead to a significant rise in poverty.

According to JRF modelling, 1.2 million people in Scotland benefit from those higher payments and a further 100,000 would gain if the increase was extended to key legacy benefits.

In combination with the first phase of the Scottish Child Payment next year for children aged under six, it estimates that 25,000 fewer children would then be trapped in poverty.

Housing costs also affect levels of poverty, with 30,000 children living in poverty due only to family housing costs, even before the pandemic.

To tackle poverty in Scotland, JRF is calling for three areas of action: around employment, family income and housing.

It wants the Scottish Government to urgently strengthen employment measures for people made redundant or at risk of losing their job to meet the likely winter surge in unemployment.

In addition, it recommends increasing and extending the Parental Employment Support Fund across the lifetime of the next parliament.

It also calls for stronger income support for school-age children to be introduced by 2022.

While JRF says its accepts that it may not be possible to extend the Scottish Child Payment faster than planned, it is calling on the Scottish Government and COSLA to use local government payment channels, such as those for free school meals, as an alternative for additional payments in next year’s budget.

Thirdly, JRF believes a major new programme of building affordable social homes is needed in the next five years as an economic stimulus and to drive down housing-related poverty.

It wants the Scottish Government to commit to building 53,000 new affordable homes by 2026, with 70 per cent of them for social rent.

The government should also prepare to step in with additional legislative protection and help with housing costs if existing support for renters proves insufficient to keep people in their homes, it says.

Jim McCormick, Associate Director Scotland of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We went into the pandemic with unacceptable levels of poverty.

“The resulting economic storm risks blowing us even further off course.

“People and places already at greatest risk of poverty face tougher times ahead unless we are bolder in our approach to recovery.

“Now is a crucial moment for Scotland. The decisions we make will determine whether we reach our ambitious child poverty targets by the middle of the next parliament.

“As the shape of our economy changes, it is vital to do all we can to protect people’s jobs, homes and living standards, so more families are not pulled into poverty.”

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Read the most recent article written by Jenni Davidson - The Holyrood baby: More likely to live in poverty now than the day she was born.

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