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The politics of poverty

This opinion piece is 7 months old

Every day the headlines highlight the crisis of struggling families facing energy price hikes and rising costs.

But this crisis isn’t new.

First, we had austerity cuts reducing money in the pockets of low-income families. Then, the pandemic hit, entrenching poverty even further.

It is hard to overstate the impact the cost of living crisis will have on the poorest families. We know of too many families already living lives of quiet desperation, forced to turn to foodbanks for food and to charities for help with bills. And this is before the storm really hits.

Disposable incomes are set to fall by 2.2%, the steepest decline since records began in 1956. Benefits are rising by just 3.1% while inflation will soon hit 8%. For those living on the lowest incomes, this will have the biggest impact.

Parenting Across Scotland’s recent Cost of Living Crisis research showed that even in November, 49% of all parents in Scotland were finding it more difficult to pay their bills. This rose to 58% for single parents. Those on the lowest household incomes were significantly more likely to find it difficult to pay their bills. Nearly half (47%) also reported they were less able to put money aside or save for the future - a chilling statistic given what lies ahead.

The Chancellor’s Spring Statement and package of support promised much but failed to deliver. For a typical working-age household, income will fall by 4% - or £1,000 - in 2022-23. The poorest quarter of households will see incomes drop by 6% as benefits fail to keep pace with inflation. It is projected that this will plunge a further 1.3 million people across the UK, including 500,000 children, into poverty.

The costs of poverty, both to individuals and to society, are well known: health inequalities, the poverty-related attainment gap, poorer educational and employment outcomes, and ultimately lower life expectancy. By failing to target children and families in most need, we are shoring up problems for the future.

Poverty is a political choice. The UK Government has made the choice to slash the incomes of those who can least afford it, with policies like market rent housing benefit, the two-child benefit cap, the bedroom tax and last year’s move to take away the £20 uplift in Universal Credit that kept so many families afloat. There is simply nowhere for low-income families to cut back. There simply isn’t enough money in the pot.

It is possible to make better choices. The Scottish Government has set its sights on  tackling child poverty with targets set in legislation, and an ambitious new plan. Amongst other things, the Tackling Child Poverty Plan promises new employment support for low-income families, a continuation of its affordable childcare expansion, working with local authorities to mitigate the effects of the benefit cap and a rise in the new Scottish Child Payment. This rise will undoubtedly have the biggest impact, putting money straight into the pockets of those who need it most and giving them the dignity to make choices about their lives rather than being forced to rely on hand-outs.

As always, the devil is in the detail and in the implementation. Measures need to be rolled out quickly and to scale. Careful monitoring and an iterative approach are needed to ensure that if measures are not having the desired effect they can be adjusted timeously. Government must consider the evidence and work alongside those priority family types groups most at risk of child poverty: lone parent families, minority ethnic families, families with a disabled child or adult families with a younger mother (under 25), families with a child under 1 and larger families (three or more children).

We, along with fellow members of the End Child Poverty coalition, urge government at both national and local level to use every lever at their disposal to ensure child poverty in Scotland is consigned to the past. It is unconscionable that in the 21st century one in every four children in Scotland is living in poverty. As a country, we can and must make better choices and ensure that no child’s life is blighted by poverty.

Clare Simpson is Manager of Parenting across Scotland.

This article was originally published in the summer 2022 edition of Insight, the membership magazine of national charity Children in Scotland. For more information visit



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David Ashford
6 months ago

Poverty is, without doubt, the most shameful scourge of our society. It has reached levels that demand innovative radical solutions. Universal Basic Income is one and the transformation of the tax system to ‘Annual Ground Floor & Roof Rent’ usage is the other. Proof of the first can be seen in a TED Talk by Rutger Bregman. Just put his name in the ‘Search TED Speakers’ box of the ‘TED Talks’ website and be amazed by what he says. The second is the work of Graeme McCormick who sets out his arguments on the Business for Scotland website and his book . Just go to the mid-page Q, enter ‘Annual Ground Floor & Roof Rent’ and be educated!