Issue 6

THE OPPORTUNITY TO ERADICATE CHILD POVERTY IN SCOTLAND

By Neil Mathers, Head of Save the Children in Scotland

In our last edition we argued that there is a ‘paradox of poverties‘ in Scotland with complex patterns of low income and deprivation in different parts of the country.

In  this edition Neil Mathers responds, arguing that: “We have the opportunity to be the generation that eradicates child poverty in Scotland.”

The debate on child poverty is not a new one, it has rumbled on for decades - charities have called for action, politicians have argued about it in Parliament - many have refused to acknowledge that it even exists.

But what do we mean when we say ‘child poverty?’ We could argue about definitions for this entire article but it just detracts from the issue at hand and gets in the way of our fight to change the lives of the poorest children. At Save the Children, we believe that child poverty is about children living in households that don’t have enough money to enable children to grow, develop and fulfil their potential.

By 2020 it is forecast that there will be as many as one in four children in Scotland living in families that struggle financially.

As a charity that works in some of the poorest countries in the world, we often get asked about ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ poverty. Any child growing up in a family that struggles to afford basic items deserves support; any child that might not reach their full potential in life because of financial issues deserves our time; and any form of child poverty, no matter where it is in the world, is wrong.

We know that that the numbers of children growing up in poverty is set to worsen. By 2020 it is forecast that there will be as many as one in four children in Scotland living in families that struggle financially.

Recent reports estimate that the cost of child poverty to the UK is £29billion and is set to rise. This highlights a strong economic and social argument for creating policies and approaches that tackle the root causes of poverty. In Scotland alone, child poverty costs public services up to 0.75billion a year and underachievement in schools adds on a further £1billion in Scotland per annum.

Figures aside, the real stories that we hear from families we work with in Scotland bring home the realities of living on low incomes. The mum who has one meal a day, so her children can eat three, and the 10-month-old boy who shares a bed with his parents because they can’t afford a cot. We speak to families who are forced to use payday loan companies where the average APR is 339%, or mums that are thousands of pounds in debt to companies for essential household items, such as a bed or a fridge. Some of the psychological effects of poverty on families are just as damaging as the physical, one of the parents we work with Debbie, from Glasgow told us:

“Winter is really bad – we have ice on the inside of our windows, the whole way up to the top of the window. My main thing with not having an awful lot of money is that I’m afraid to put the heating on.

I’ve cut back on absolutely everything, I’ve really cut back. I’m not different to a lot of other people but we’re living it day in, day out.

Some days you get up and you’re like ‘we’re skint and that’s all there is to it’ and other days you get up and one too many bills have come in on the same day and I’ve just burst into tears”.

Winter is really bad – we have ice on the inside of our windows, the whole way up to the top of the window. My main thing with not having an awful lot of money is that I’m afraid to put the heating on.

We know that poverty destroys childhoods. By the time poorer children reach primary schools, they are already twice as likely as other children to have developmental difficulties such as poorer physical health and are less able to cope emotionally with being in the school environment or to communicate with their peers. We know that this development gap only widens throughout the school years, resulting in poor educational outcomes, joblessness and ultimately a life of poverty as an adult.

The Scottish Government is taking some major steps – the Child Poverty Strategy sets out a strong vision and tackles the right policy areas including financial security and securing resources for children to thrive and reach their potential. However, the gap between ambition and action remains. The Scottish Government needs to act with greater urgency to ensure the Child Poverty strategy is put into practice.

Additionally, local governments need support to tackle issues within their own areas as initiatives that are rooted in communities can be some of the most effective ways to create change. If we are to tackle child poverty we need policies that make a real difference to families on low incomes, and which ensure children do not fall behind.

Investing in parents and communities to support their children’s education is an investment in our future as a society.

Access to affordable, high quality early education and childcare is a crucial step along the road to closing the educational achievement gap and provides a route out of poverty for parents. This has the impact of enabling parents to get back into work to maximise their income, and ensures that children get the best possible start in life.

Efforts to engage parents and support them to improve the home learning environment are also important in helping children to learn and achieve at school. Investing in parents and communities to support their children’s education is an investment in our future as a society.

In Scotland, we have an opportunity to be the generation that eradicates child poverty. Nelson Mandela pointed out that poverty, like slavery and apartheid, is not natural, it is man-made and can therefore be overcome by our actions. It is simply a matter of justice.

By Neil Mathers, Head of Save the Children in Scotland

Issue 6

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