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Poverty in Scotland 2018

Authors: Emma Congreve and Jim McCormick

In Scotland, close to one in four children – almost a quarter of a million – are in poverty, with their families facing impossible decisions such as whether to pay the rent, heat their home or put food on the table. There is consensus across the Scottish Parliament that this situation will be ended within a generation, but it will require renewed action by government, employers, landlords and providers of key goods and services.

Over the past 20 years, child poverty in Scotland has seen many changes. A supportive policy environment in the late 1990s/early 2000s led to many families moving out of poverty. Since 2010, however, the trend has been the reverse, mainly due to UK Government-imposed social security cuts.

There are also other issues that are increasing the pressures on low-income families, including low pay and limited working hours, rising prices and lower employment rates for some groups. Most children in poverty are in working families, but some parents, including those with young children and parents with health conditions and/or disabilities, can face large barriers to work.

This report shows how gender and disability can create barriers to the workplace are intrinsically linked to child poverty. In the three years from 2014/15 to 2016/17 (the most recent available statistics), 230,000 children in Scotland were in relative poverty on average each year.

  • Of these children, 90,000 lived in a family where a family member, usually an adult, had a disability or limiting health condition – around 40% of all children in poverty. Around a half of these children (45,000) lived in a family where no adult worked and close to an additional 15,000 lived in a couple family where only one adult worked.
  • Of the 230,000 children, 30,000 lived in a non-disabled couple family where one adult did not work and the other worked full time. In at least 90% of cases, it was the mother who did not work.
  • A further 30,000 children lived in a non-disabled single-parent family where the parent did not work. Almost all single parents in these families were women.
  • Just over 15,000 children of lone parents who worked part time were in poverty as were just under 15,000 children of couples where one worked full time and the other worked part time. Again, the majority of these part-time workers were women.

The Scottish Government has made some progress towards loosening poverty’s grip, but has not taken the decisive steps needed to make the transformational change required for Scotland’s children. In the coming months, the Scottish Government will launch two strategies that could make a crucial difference for our society. The first is an action plan on halving the disability employment gap, and the second is a gender pay gap action plan that is due to follow on from recommendations from a working group.