This week, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published its state of the nation report, Poverty in Scotland 2018. Home-Start works every day with families trapped in poverty by low pay and inadequate benefits. Deborah Hay, JRF Policy Officer, argues that “early intervention” needs to include more positive change in benefits, in childcare and in levels of pay so that parents can lift their children out of poverty.

Deborah HayOur report, Poverty in Scotland 2018, confirms that one in four children in Scotland (230,000) is living in poverty and most of those children come from households where someone is working. It also highlights just how many children are living in families who are just above as well as below the poverty line – this just isn’t right.

As a nation, we have committed to reduce relative child poverty to fewer than 1 in 10, by 2030. We know that those huge shifts are possible: you need only look at the massive reduction in pensioner poverty over the last thirty years to see that.

Our report suggests where we might concentrate our efforts – firstly, 40% of all children living in poverty are living in households where someone has a disability or chronic ill health. Half of those households are working, and half are not. Clearly, the labour market isn’t working for disabled people living on low incomes, whether working or not – and the level of support isn’t enough to sustain a decent standard of living.

Secondly, our research highlights that women are still shouldering the bulk of caring responsibilities with a significant number of those in poverty taking time out of the labour market or working part-time. Given what we know about how few escape low waged work, this creates a lifetime drag: it powers the gender pay gap and limits both individual women’s prospects and that of their families. Single parents are particularly constrained trying to juggle childcare and work on their own, but it is also impacts women who are not working in single earner, couple households.

Thirdly, the report reveals just how vulnerable those early years are to poverty. Most mothers in poverty don’t work when their children are very young: they are not required to do so by the benefits system and they shouldn’t have to, to make ends meet. Notwithstanding real commitment to early intervention in Scotland, more needs to be done to support families at this vulnerable time. The new Best Start grant in Scotland is a welcome start – but if we are to achieve our child poverty targets, we must significantly ramp up the momentum.

What might be some of the solutions? One is making better use of economic policy. The Scottish Government will soon be publishing an action plan to support higher employment rates for disabled people and announcing their plans to tackle the gender pay gap. Our research suggests that ensuring both those strategies explicitly seek to improve the prospects for low income families could be ‘transformational’.

Secondly, we need to tackle head on the quality of work available and the chance of securing it – yes, Living Wage as the norm is a vital part of that, but so is scaling up high quality, part-time work that truly enables women and men to have choices about how to balance work and care between them, and progress once at work. There’s some important work to do to find ways to finance higher wages which must be part of the answer (boosting productivity in key industries, for example) and a need to scale up the kind of flexible, wraparound childcare for all ages that can support women and men to take up available work or training and build better lives. The cost of that care shouldn’t come solely out of women’s wages.

Thirdly, the constraints facing some families can mean that work (or more work) is not the right thing for them – so we need a social security system, at UK and Scottish levels, that doesn’t force them into poverty by design, but instead offers the kind of assistance that allows for a dignified and adequate standard of living, whilst that’s needed.
Finally, given the risks of poverty faced by families with very young children, even where they are doing everything that is asked of them, we’ll be urging the Scottish Government to consider investing the new Income Supplement for families in this group, as part of their commitment to early intervention.

#SolveUkPoverty #AyeWeCan #CPW2018

Deborah Hay is Scotland Policy Officer at the Joseph Rountree Foundation. To read the full report visit