Scotland’s best growth industry under the SNP – POVERTY!

Scotland’s best growth industry under the SNP – POVERTY!

by Gordon Dean
article from Friday 19, February, 2021

THE SNP HAS FAILED to tackle poverty in Scotland, which has become appreciably worse under the Salmond-Sturgeon administrations. While poverty rates had been steadily declining in Scotland for many years, once the SNP took over that decline stopped and then poverty started increasing again. 

Scotland under the SNP is doing worse in respect of all the main measures of poverty – relative poverty, persistent poverty, child poverty, in-work poverty and pensioner poverty. The data is all published by the Scottish Government itself, and the latest release pre-dates the Covid crisis. 

By contrast the situation in the UK as a whole is more positive. Relative poverty among working age adults without children has fallen since 2011-12, with relative poverty as a whole remaining constant since that time. Absolute poverty fell by 1.4 percentage points between 2010-11 and 2018-19. In 2018-19 only 12 per cent of non-pensioners lived in households where no-one was in paid work, down by  a third from a figure of 18 per cent in 94/95. 

Persistent poverty involves individuals who have lived in relative poverty for three or more of the last four years. Suffering from poverty for a significant period of time is more damaging than brief periods on a low income, and the effects can scar an individual for life. 

The latest figures published by the Scottish Government show that persistent poverty has risen yet again, from 12 per cent in the 2013-17 period to 13 per cent in 2014-18. This followed rises in each of the two previous periods from 10 per cent in 2011-15.  

Persistent poverty rates are even higher for children. While 15 per cent of children were in persistent poverty after housing costs in the previous period this has now jumped to 17 per cent. For pensioners, the persistent poverty rate after housing costs increased from 11 per cent in 2013-17 to 12 per cent in the latest period. 

The picture for in-work poverty is also dire. ‘In-work poverty’ involves individuals living in households where at least one household member is working (either full or part-time) but where the income of the household is below the relative poverty threshold (<60 per cent of the median UK income in the same year).  

In the last year 2018/19, in-work poverty after housing costs increased for working age adults from 60 per cent in 2017/18 to 63 per cent, and for children from 66 per cent in 2017/18 to 67 per cent in 2018/19. When the SNP took charge of the Scottish Government in 2007, in-work poverty was at 53 per cent for all adults and 48 per cent for children. The rise in respect of children is particularly large and especially unfortunate. 


As far as relative poverty is concerned, the SNP has also managed a substantial increase. Latest figures show that 19 per cent of Scotland's population (1.02 million people each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2018-19. This is a substantial increase over the 16 per cent recorded in 2010/11. 

Pensioners are also suffering from higher poverty rates. The percentage of pensioners in relative poverty after housing costs increased from 12 per cent in 2008-11 to 15 per cent in 2016-19.The percentage of pensioners in material deprivation increased from 5 per cent in 2017/18 to 6 per cent in 2018/19, again according to the Scottish Government’s own figures.  

Only in respect of absolute poverty, has there been no significant increase in poverty rates, rather the improvements seen before the SNP came to power have ceased. As the Scottish Government’s most recent report on poverty states, “After a long decline since the beginning of this time series in the mid-nineties, absolute poverty rates have stagnated since 2006-09.” 

The most recent research on child poverty in Scotland, released in October 2020 by the End Child Poverty Coalition and conducted by Loughborough University, shows that child poverty has risen in nearly every Scottish local authority and Westminster constituency since 2014/15. 

It increased more in Glasgow than anywhere else in Scotland, with more than five and a half thousand children forced into poverty in the last four years. The research showed that in October 2020 there were 31,823 children in Glasgow living in a household whose income is below 60 per cent of the average, up from 26,146 Children four years ago.  

The research found a national increase in child poverty from 22 per cent to 24 per cent, but a much higher increase in certain localities, with the Glasgow increase of 4.8 per cent to 31.8 per cent, the highest in Scotland. Indeed, in the Glasgow Central constituency 41 per cent of children are living in poverty, the highest rate in Scotland. Six of the seven other constituencies in Glasgow have the highest child poverty rates in in Scotland, which each of them being above 30 per cent. 

The Scottish Government has set targets for the reduction of child poverty, but with poverty actually increasing there appears to be no chance of these being met. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation stated in a highly critical report

“Poverty has been rising and Scotland is not on course to meet its interim child poverty targets within three years. Currently, 230,000 children are growing up in poverty (24 per cent) – an increase on 5 years earlier – while the target is to reduce this number by a quarter to 18 per cent by March 2024.” 

The failure to tackle child poverty is a national tragedy and embarrassment. As the Understanding Glasgow Project lamented: “Children living in the poorest neighbourhoods can expect to live 14 years less than those in wealthier areas. Poverty also has a negative impact on physical and mental health and educational and social development. This becomes a vicious circle, where poor physical and mental health and low educational achievement increase the risk of lower earning capacity and of continued poverty throughout life.” 

Who is responsible for increasing poverty in Scotland? Surveys, such as that commissioned by the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, have shown that most people believe the Scottish Government to be primarily responsible. They are correct.  

The devolved government has control of all of the primary levers that can be used to address poverty: health and social services, education, training, housing, economic development, and welfare. Many new welfare powers were devolved in 2016, including control over benefits affecting some of the most vulnerable, responsibility for disability and carers' benefits; benefits for maternity, maternity, funeral and heating expenses; and powers to vary the housing cost element of Universal Credit and UC payment arrangements. The Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for discretionary payments to people in any area of welfare. The Scottish Government has its own employment programmes to help the long-term unemployed into work. It runs its own Scottish social security agency

Addressing poverty effectively requires an integrated approach across many policy areas. Take childcare for example. Under the SNP less than 30 per cent of local authorities have enough childcare for parents working full-time, compared to 56 per cent in England. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation  reports“Scotland has one of the lowest provisions of childcare for full-time working parents, compared to the rest of the UK. Previous JRF research has shown that families on a low income are more likely to work atypical hours, and therefore accessing childcare that fits those hours is important. In Scotland, just over 20 per cent of local authorities do not report any availability of childcare for parents working atypical hours.” 

One Scot in poverty, Drew from Fife, explained: “You’re being pressured to or need to get a job to boost your income, but I’ve got a one-year-old and don’t qualify for any funded childcare … I know for me personally finding and affording childcare at this stage makes it even more difficult to get into work. How am I supposed to change my situation? Where do you make the cuts when you’re already on a low income?” 

The simple fact is that the SNP has failed to develop a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, or to put much concentrated effort into addressing any of the underlying causes of poverty in Scotland.  

The result is a shameful record of rising poverty across all measures. 

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Gordon Dean is a Scottish policy analyst. 

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