Child poverty has no place in a fairer Scotland

19 October 2015

Carla McCormack is Policy and Parliamentary Officer for The Poverty Alliance. In her blog for Challenge Poverty Week, she focuses on steps that can be taken in Scotland to improve the lives of children and families living in poverty.

In 2013/14, there were 140,000 children living in poverty in Scotland before housing costs, this rises to 210,000 children, or 22 per cent, after housing costs. This difference is significant, and can at least in part be explained by the growth in the private rent sector and the fact that people’s rents are rising faster than their incomes.

We use a relative measure for child poverty so that is when household incomes are equal to below 60 percent of the UK median income. The threshold in 2013/14, for a two parent household with two children was £416 a week.

The UK Government cites the causes of child poverty as family breakdown, debt and addictions. There are a number of problems with this, starting with the fact that these are often results of poverty, rather than causes. Perhaps more importantly than this however, is the fact that it completely ignores the wider structural causes of poverty, and instead places all blame on the individual.

By failing to recognise the wider, structural causes of poverty, we fail to hold governments to account. Poverty is about more than money but ultimately in order to tackle poverty we have to raise incomes― both for people in and out of work.

It can be easy to lose hope for a solution when so many of the UK Government’s recent announcements seem like they will only make the situation worse for people experiencing poverty, but there are things that we can do at a Scottish level to improve the lives of children and families.

There has been a great deal of support for the Living Wage in Scotland, and we hope that this will continue to grow. The Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative is on course to accredit 500 employers by March, and there are new employers signing up every day. These employers range from companies like SSE, RBS and Hearts Football Club to smaller, local businesses like An Clachan Café, to Guitar Guitar, and Redmonds― Scotland’s first accredited bar. We hope the next Scottish Government will continue their support for their accreditation initiative, but there is more to be done. We need to take a sectoral approach looking at areas such a social care and retail, which are plagued with low pay and predominately employ women. It is also important to remember that the Living Wage alone is not enough; it is one of a range of measures needed to end in work poverty. The Scottish Business Pledge was welcome but this could be built on― such as by including a commitment on family friendly working environments.

We also need to see better provision of childcare so that families are able to work. We would like to see the Tax-Free childcare scheme extended to include low income and single-earner families, and guarantee equality of access for all women.

We need to tackle high rents, and the shortage of social housing. Those differences in the before and after housing costs figures for people living in poverty are significant and we cannot afford to ignore them. We have to find a way of providing people with accessible, affordable and good quality housing.

Finally, while much of the social security system will remain reserved at Westminster, Scotland does have significant new powers coming its way. This is an opportunity to think about the kind of country we want to live in, and how we use these powers to improve the lives of people experiencing poverty. This also means re-thinking how we think about benefits and benefit claimants. We have to end the stigma of poverty; poverty should be our shame as a society – not the blame of the individual. If we are to make real progress in tackling poverty then we have to recognise this, and treat the social security system as a safety net for us all.

This blog forms part of a series on child poverty in Scotland. Get in touch if you or your organisation would like to contribute.