Scotland must tackle poverty among workless families after referendum - JRF report

2nd Feb 2014

Scotland must get to grips with poverty among workless families if it is to reduce child poverty, according to a new report by the New Policy Institute (NPI) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

The analysis, the first in a series published before the Scottish independence vote, found child poverty in Scotland fell by 10 percentage points – about twice the fall in England – in the 10 years to 2011/12.

The reduction is explained by falling poverty among lone parent families as well as among couple households where both adults are in work and at least one of them is working full-time.

But despite this success, further reductions in child poverty hinge upon tackling poverty among workless families, where poverty levels remain high at 54% compared to 10% for children in working families.

The new analysis found:

  • Child poverty in Scotland fell by 10 percentage points between 2001/02 and 2011/12 to 17 per cent before housing costs; this compares to a smaller fall of six percentage points in England.
  • In Scotland, the fall in poverty among lone-parent households accounts for about two thirds of the overall fall in child poverty.
  • Over half (54%) of children in workless families in Scotland are in poverty.
  • Reduced poverty among children in working families in Scotland accounts for almost four percentage points of the overall ten point fall.
  • Despite the fall in the in-work poverty rate, as more children have a working parent, a growing share of its child poverty is among working families.

The report authors say poverty must be central to the independence debate. Both sides need to offer strategies to tackle poverty in the short and long term.

Dr Peter Kenway, Director of NPI and report co-author, said: “Scotland’s better record on child poverty over the last ten years is down to reductions in in-work poverty among couples with children. This is probably due to parents in Scotland being better able to access suitable jobs with adequate pay and services such as childcare and transport. But how much credit policy makers, in either Edinburgh or in London, can take for this is unclear.

“Scotland’s challenge is to find a route out of poverty for the many families that are out of work. This means people with ill-health and disabilities, caring duties and those with a lack of skills. People in such households must be offered a sustainable route out of poverty as well as continuing to reduce in-work poverty.”

Jim McCormick, Scotland adviser to JRF, said: “Regardless of the referendum outcome, tackling child poverty must be a priority for governments in Holyrood and Westminster. Progress on reducing child poverty has stalled after a steady reduction and the rate is set to rise again. The challenge for each side of the referendum campaign is to demonstrate how a country where no child grows up and remains in poverty can be achieved.”