One in four Scottish children in poverty as parents locked out of jobs market

Ambitious targets to reduce child poverty will stall unless the Scottish and UK Governments and employers unlock more opportunities so families can find fair work with flexible hours and decent pay.

In its state of the nation report, Poverty in Scotland 2018, the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) warns one in four (230,000) children in Scotland live in poverty. The report comes as Challenge Poverty? Aye we can! gets underway, a campaign by the Poverty Alliance which shows how poverty in Scotland can be solved and allow everyone to take part in society.

With UK benefit changes driving increases in child poverty, JRF is calling on the Scottish and UK governments to take action. A shift in attitudes, policy and practice is needed on childcare, flexible work and benefits. This can only be achieved through firm commitments by employers and both governments in Holyrood and Westminster.

The majority of children are in poverty because their parents are restricted by a lack of work, mainly due to disability, or the struggle to juggle work and childcare. In the majority of cases, it is the mother who works part time or is locked out of the jobs market.

The report found for children in poverty:

  • Disability: 90,000 live in a family where a family member, usually an adult, had a disability. Around a half of these children lived in a family where no adult worked, leaving the family unable to build a decent standard of living.
  • Couples: 30,000 live with both parents, one of whom worked full time. In the majority of cases, the mother did not work. A further 15,000 children had one parent working full time and the other part-time. The majority of these part-time workers were women.
  • Single parents: 30,000 children in poverty live with a single parent who was out of work, while a further 15,000 live with a lone parent working part time were also in poverty.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), said:

“In Scotland, we believe in protecting each other from harm and yet we are now seeing more children growing up in poverty. One in four – almost a quarter of a million children – are now exposed to this harmful reality. Families in Scotland are facing impossible situations such as deciding whether to pay the rent, put food on the table or pay for heating. There is consensus across the Scottish Parliament that this unacceptable situation of so many children in poverty will be brought to an end within a generation. This is achievable. But it means the Scottish Government needs to lead the way, working with and encouraging employers to open opportunities for parents with disabilities or caring commitments, so everyone can build a decent and secure life.”

JRF’s recommends:

  • Scottish Government raise awareness and encourages good practice among employers to make flexible work for men and women easier. It should also offer flexible and affordable childcare for low-income parents with children of all ages, including after school and holiday provision. At the UK level, greater shared rights to parental leave would contribute to progress on this goal.
  • The Scottish Government’s forthcoming strategies on disability employment and the gender pay gap should be targeted to reduce child poverty, by helping parents find work, increase their hours or help people stuck in part-time work progress.
  • The Holyrood and Westminster governments ensure benefits act as an anchor against poverty. The UK Government should raise the work allowance (the amount people can earn before their Universal Credit payment is affected) to enable families to keep more of what they earn. Alongside this, JRF wants to see take-up of Scottish flexibilities boosted (more frequent payments and the housing allowance going to landlords) and new social security payments in Scotland uprated in line with inflation.

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, said:

“In our society we believe in doing the right thing. It’s simply not acceptable that we are letting one in four of our children slip into poverty.

“All across Scotland groups and organisations are coming together as part of Challenge Poverty Week to highlight the problem and show what they are doing to help overcome the barriers that lock so many children and families in poverty. They are providing vital support to help loosen the grip of poverty on people’s lives.

“We know what can be achieved when the right solutions are in place. But we also know that much more needs to be done. That’s why more concerted action is required from Scottish government and business. The success of the voluntary real Living Wage in Scotland shows what can be done, but there is a need to build on this success.”