New figures show people are continuing to live in poverty despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government to mitigate the impact of UK wide welfare cuts, according to Communities Secretary Angela Constance.
Published today, the Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2014-15 figures show that almost one in five (18%) of people in Scotland were living in poverty after housing costs.
While poverty before housing costs increased by 1 percentage point to 15%, a real terms decrease in housing costs for Scotland’s lowest income families meant poverty AHC was unchanged in the latest year.
Child poverty before housing costs increased to 17% however, after housing costs, child poverty was unchanged, reflecting the real terms decrease in housing costs for the lowest income families.
More than one in five (22%) children in Scotland were living in poverty after housing costs, or the equivalent of 220,000 children. 66% of those children are living in working families – up from 56% in 2013/14.
Communities, Social Security and Equalities Secretary Angela Constance described the figures as “further proof of the damaging impact of UK Government welfare changes”.
Ms Constance said: “Poverty is a scourge in our communities and we are determined to tackle it by doing all we can, wherever we can, to reduce the harm it causes.
“However, despite spending £100 million a year tackling the negative impacts of the UK government’s welfare changes, including fully mitigating the bedroom tax, people are still living in poverty.
“Not only does this spend have a direct impact on the money available for the Scottish Government to address the longer term cycles of poverty, but the continued UK cuts mean the effect is limited to helping people to standstill – not improving their situation. This is doubly and deeply frustrating, especially where tackling child poverty is concerned.
“We know the causes of poverty are complex. For example, increases in parental employment and decreases in the number of children living in workless households mean fewer children are living in material deprivation.
“However, two thirds of children in poverty were living in working households in 2014/15. This shows how important the living wage is to ensuring a decent standard of living for workers and their families and why we are determined to continue to promote it. We will also be able to address this further through our inclusive growth agenda – growing the economy will help us to tackle inequalities.
“The real terms decrease in housing costs is welcomed, suggesting that our ambitious investment on affordable housing, and our changes to regulation in the private rented sector are targeted in the right areas.
“If we needed further proof of the damaging impact of UK Government welfare reforms, today’s figures do that. It is abundantly clear the approach the UK Government is taking to welfare reform is causing real damage and undermining the work we are doing to try and lift people out of poverty.
“I want to see a fairer future for families across Scotland. And I don’t want to see children living in poverty. I will be looking closely in the coming weeks at all the options available to me to tackle this issue.
“And I will be doing all I can to stand up for those who need it the most and fight against further damaging UK welfare changes.”
John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland said: “Behind these statistics are tens of thousands of children across Scotland whose life chances, education, health and well-being are being undermined because their families have to survive on poverty incomes.
“It’s good that lower housing costs in Scotland continue to protect many families from increases in child poverty and it’s vital that housing costs continue to be pushed down, but overall these figures are in line with independent projections that forecast 50% increases in child poverty by the end of the decade.”
He added: “We urge Scottish Ministers to now fill the legal gap left by the UK government’s abandonment of any strategic duty to end child poverty and put in place its own targets and measures to end the poverty that scars the lives of so many of our children.”
Across the UK, the number of children living in poverty has risen by 200,000 in the last year, the first increase since 2006. Analysis of government data by the Resolution Foundation think-tank found that 2.5m children across the UK are living in poverty, compared to 2.3m in 2014.
David Finch, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation said: “After a prolonged and painful period for living standards, it’s encouraging to see that typical incomes have finally returned to pre-crisis levels.
“But it’s a concern that the welcome income growth in recent years has failed to make any inroads into reducing high levels of child poverty in working households.
“And while income growth has been positive in recent years, the outlook of weaker pay growth, significant welfare cuts and now higher inflation stemming from the Brexit sterling plunge means the living standards of many families may come under strain in the coming years.
“Given the challenging outlook for living standards, its right that the new government takes stock and thinks again on major reductions to working age benefits that are set to seriously undermine the incomes of low income working families in the coming years.”
Household Below Average Income data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show a 4% rise in the proportion of children in poverty who are in working families.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We can tell how strong the economy is, and how fair it is, from how well working families are doing. But since the Conservative-led government took office in 2010, there has not been any progress reducing working age poverty.
Chancellor George Osborne has warned of tax rises and public sector cuts following last weeks Brexit vote.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Mr Osborne said: “We are absolutely going to have to provide fiscal security to people – in other words we are going to have to show the country and the world that the country can live within its means.”
Asked whether this will mean tax rises and spending cuts, Mr Osborne replied: “Yes, absolutely”.
Frances O’Grady said: “Working families were unfairly made to pay the price of a financial crisis they did not cause. With the economy now facing trouble again from Brexit, working people should not be made to pay the price a second time.”