The findings are published in a new report from Aberlour.
A new report by Aberlour Children’s Charity has shown that public debt pulls families deeper into poverty and holds them there.
The research commissioned by the charity outlines and evidences the impact of public debt, such as Council tax and rent arrears, has especially on low income children and families in Scotland.
The report also indicates that low income families are in the midst of a debt crisis.
The qualitative research was conducted by Professor Morag Treanor from Glasgow University, as part of a wider public debt research project which has examined school meal debt and public debt arrears faced by low income families receiving Universal Credit.
She reports that for too many low-income families their income simply is not enough to enable them to afford the basics for themselves and their children, forcing many into debt just to survive.
CEO SallyAnn Kelly, OBE said: “We are deeply concerned about the public debt crisis people on the lowest incomes in Scotland are facing.
“Living on low income and having debt, especially public debt has a hugely detrimental effect on the lives of children and families already struggling with the cost of living crisis. We know it affects their ability to live a dignified life, to provide food, clothing and heating for their homes, for children to engage fully in education and to have strong relationships and connections. It’s also strongly linked to mental and physical health.
“By listening to and elevating the voices of parents to recount what day to day life is like for them, we hope that we can help to bring about long-term change which will tackle debt and raise incomes to reduce child poverty.
“We are calling on government at all levels to tackle the debt crisis that so many low-income families are facing and take action on public debt that prevents families getting into debt in the first place. This must include ending the 5 week wait for new Universal Credit claimants and increasing Universal Credit to a level that enables families to cover the costs of the essentials they need for themselves and their children.
“We also want to see action to make public debt recovery processes fairer and that don’t push families into deeper into poverty, recognition of the impact of domestic abuse and financial abuse that too often leaves women solely liable for a joint debt, and for local authorities and social landlords to stop preventing families moving to more suitable accommodation if they have outstanding rent arrears.”
Public sector debt recovery is recognised as being unfair, inflexible and inefficient. Repayments and deductions for public debt and arrears are recouped considerably quicker than for private debt.
Moreover a significant chunk out of families’ already low income is pushing low income families deeper into poverty.
For families already struggling before this crisis, ever increasing food costs, rising energy prices, additional cost of living pressures and now this public debt crisis have been nothing short of calamitous.
Levels of deprivation reported by families living with public debt are stark with many in a state of destitution, unable to afford the bare essentials they need to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.
Food insecurity has become the biggest problem for many due to the cost of living crisis, with food prices increasing by up to 25 per cent over the past year and a half.
For many families their housing situation causes them concern and anxiety, due to either not having suitable housing that meets their needs or the high costs and uncertainty of living in a private let.
Parents voiced their concerns about the impact on their mental health. Repaying debts and managing low incomes is even harder for families already struggling with their mental health.
Other parents spoke of the impact of joint debt which often results in both individuals in a couple being jointly and individually liable for the entirety of the debt, if one half of the couple is no longer able to pay or refuses to pay.
Professor Morag Treanor from Glasgow University said: “Public debt is pulling people further into poverty and holding them there. On top, the cost of living crisis is stopping families from helping each other - poverty is becoming wider and deeper. Action is needed to prevent poverty becoming endemic in Scotland.”