Scotland in 2019: a country ravaged by poverty and inequality

Poverty girl

The toll taken by austerity and stagnating wages is shown in an increase in the numbers of people pushed below the breadline

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28th March 2019 by Graham Martin 2 Comments

Poverty and inequality are stalking Scotland – with new figures showing a deepening of deprivation.

The toll taken by austerity and stagnating wages is shown in an increase in the numbers of people pushed below the breadline over the past four years.

Most worryingly, child poverty rates continue to rise, according to newly released Scottish Government figures.

The latest statistics show rising poverty, with the incomes of poor families falling further behind those of middle and high income households.

This poverty plunge follows a relatively stable decade – and Scotland‘s third sector, which has to deal with the direct consequences of poverty, says the situation is dire and concerted action is needed from government at all levels.

Over the three-year period 2015-18, one in five people in Scotland, 20%, or 1.03 million people each year, were in relative poverty after housing costs, a one percentage point increase.

Child poverty in Scotland is up from 230,000 to 240,000, or one in five children, with 65% of children in poverty living in working families, showing the consequences of poorly paid employment and falling wages.

Relative poverty for pensioners is also up a percentage point. Now 18% - or 150,000 OAPs – live in deprivation.

Scottish charities said that while much of the blame can be laid at the door of the Westminster Tory government’s ideologically-driven austerity offensive, the Scottish Government can do even more to mitigate its effects.

This includes using full use of devolved powers.

For example, here has been a row recently when it became clear that Holyrood is deferring full control over aspects of social security until 2025.

Douglas Hamilton, chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, said: “Poverty has a firm grip on Scotland. The statistics show that poverty is rising. Behind these statistics, there is the reality that over one million people are locked in a daily struggle to make ends meet.

“If the Scottish Government is serious about addressing this, it should be making full use of their powers to reduce housing costs, improve earnings and enhance social security.

“The Scottish Government must prioritise the development of its income supplement for low income families. Current actions are not having a significant impact on reducing the numbers of people trapped in poverty. Tinkering around the edges is not working. It is time for meaningful action.”

Our children can’t wait - we need to act immediately to stop this backward trend

Children are victims of deepening austerity. Over the decade from 2010 to 2020, child benefit alone – a vital lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet – will have lost almost a quarter of its value simply because it has not been updated as prices have risen.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “These stark figures show that families struggling now cannot wait years for the Scottish Government’s promised income supplement, welcome as it is.

“Whilst there is no question rising child poverty is driven by UK government social security cuts, Scottish ministers must act now and use new powers to boost family incomes immediately.”

He said that  £5 top up to child benefit would be one simple way of lifting thousands of children out of poverty and protecting many more: “As time slips by, childhoods slip by, childhoods blighted by the simple fact their families just don’t have the money they need to give their children a decent start in life.

“These aren’t just statistics. These are children going hungry, missing out on school trips, unable to enjoy the activities and opportunities their better off peers take for granted. These are parents going without meals, juggling debt and seeing their own health suffer to protect their children from the poverty they face”.

Claire Telfer, Save the Children’s head of Scotland, added: “We’re going in the wrong direction if we want to lift all children in Scotland out of poverty by 2030. Our children can’t wait. We need to act immediately to stop this backward trend.”

The figures were released as the scale of foodbank use in Scotland was also revealed.

As reported in TFN this week, The Trussell Trust has 118 sites in Scotland and gave out 258,606 parcels over 18 months, from April 2017 to September 2018. A further 84 independent providers handed out 221,977 parcels over the period, taking the total to at least 480,583.

Communities secretary Aileen Campbell said she was disappointed in the figures but added that the Scottish Government remained determined to reduce poverty in Scotland.

But she said they did so with "one hand tied behind our back" as cuts were set to reduce the UK government social security spend in Scotland by £3.7 billion by 2020-21.

She said: "A key driver in rising poverty is the devastating impact of the UK government's welfare cuts and benefits freeze - policies we have consistently called for an end to.

"We invested over £125m in 2018/19 to mitigate the worst of these cuts, however I would rather we were able to use these funds to pull people out of poverty rather than protect against the impacts of another government's policies.

"We remain determined to tackle and reduce poverty in Scotland and have shown this through the bold decisions we have made on income tax, affordable housing provision, early learning and childcare and in ambitious action to end child poverty. "

29th March 2019 by Lok Yue

Perhaps the SNP should take responsibility instead of blaming Westminster. They have had the best part of ten years to get things right but its always someone else's fault. Would an independent scotland do better, shorn of the Barnet £9,000 per head and if so how - tax higher rate taxpayers more? Streamline the expensive blame shifting government? Cut out subsidies for 'renewable energy'?

29th March 2019 by Katrina

Indy Scotland is the way to go - ditch trident, & invest in people through a humane social security system.