The changing face of poverty in Scotland: young adults and those privately renting now at greater risk

Young adults under 30 now make up the biggest share of those experiencing poverty in Scotland, according to new research by the New Policy Institute (NPI) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). They are also the age-group at highest risk (25 per cent) of poverty and are the only age group to have seen an increase in poverty levels since 2003.

Published today, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Scotland 2015, finds rises in the number of young people in poverty and persistently high levels of disadvantage in health, education and work.

 Around one in every eight under-25s is unemployed, twice as high as any other age group. But 43 per cent of people in poverty live in working households, showing that work by itself is not an adequate route out of poverty. 

The last ten years has also seen a shift in housing costs and tenure. The average private renter now spends almost a quarter of their income on housing, compared to 18 per cent of social renters’ income and 11 per cent for owner-occupiers with a mortgage. Over the same period the proportion of homes in the private rented sector has almost doubled to 15 per cent.

The research shows:

  • Young adults under 30 are now at a higher risk than any other age group of experiencing poverty in Scotland – the only age group to have seen an increase over the last ten years.
  • Child and pensioner poverty rates have fallen from 33 per cent for both groups in 1996/97 to 22 per cent and 11 per cent respectively in 2012/13.
  • 920,000 people in Scotland lived in poverty in 2012/13, 230,000 less than ten years before.
  • The number of people living in poverty in the Private Rented Sector has risen sharply, whilst falling in the social sector and among owner-occupiers. 29 per cent of people who are in poverty live in the private rented sector, up from 11 per cent 10 years ago.
  • Life expectancy in Scotland is still lower than in England: men in the poorest parts of Scotland live 3.9 years less than in the poorest parts of England. Only two Scottish local authority areas have a higher life expectancy than the England average, 
  • The attainment gap, based on results at S4, between pupils who live in deprived and wealthier areas remains wide. The gap has narrowed slightly, but at the current rate of progress, it would take 28 years for pupils in the bottom quintile to reach today’s level of attainment of those in the top. 
  • Better qualified people are increasingly finding themselves in low-paid work. In 2013, 13 per cent of low-paid workers had a degree, compared to 5 per cent in 2003, while the proportion with no qualifications had fallen from 23 per cent to 9 per cent.
  • People who work part-time, are low paid or lower qualified are less likely to get in-work training. Female employees who have Highers or higher qualifications are twice as likely to get in-work training as those who don’t.
  • At its peak in 2013 almost one in six JSA claimants were being referred for a sanction each month. This is double the highest rate in the years before 2006.

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“Falls in child and pensioner poverty over the past decade in Scotland show that poverty can be reduced. But sustained action must be taken to stop a lack of high-quality work, and a shortage of affordable homes from trapping a generation of young people in poverty. 

“All of us in  government and local government  as well as employers, housing providers and the NHS, need a shared focus to alleviate the impacts of poverty across all age groups.”

Dr Peter Kenway, Director of the New Policy Institute and author of the report added:

“Organisations across Scotland, local councils, the NHS and businesses are accepting a responsibility for acting against poverty and are making plans accordingly. The challenge is to turn words into deeds. Involving people with direct experience of poverty themselves is vital to this.”

To reduce levels of poverty in Scotland JRF recommends:

  • Encouraging employers to pay the living wage, and increasing opportunities for people in low-paid, insecure work to access in-work training.
  • Building more genuinely affordable good quality homes in areas accessible to employment opportunities and halting the fall in the proportion of affordable social housing in the overall market.
  • Government need to ensure all schools have access to timely attainment data so schools can develop effective approaches to reducing the attainment gap based on data and evidence. Proven teaching methods such as peer-tutoring and one-to-one tutoring, study skills, mentoring opportunities and working with parents on supporting children’s learning at home can also help those from poorer families.
  • Sanctions should only be used as a last resort after all other means are exhausted. The use of sanctions has increased greatly and it appears they are being applied both hastily and inconsistently. There needs to be much better communication between Job Centre Plus and claimants about how and when sanctions will be applied.

JRF is writing the first evidence-based, costed, UK wide anti–poverty strategy for all ages to be published early next year.