Families in poverty need better support

Once again, the rising tide of poverty is rising and engulfing too many families in Scotland in its wake.

Parenting across Scotland’s partner organisations work with tens of thousands of families throughout Scotland and they tell us that the biggest issue facing families in Scotland today is poverty. In Challenge Poverty Week we’ll be sharing blogs from our partner organisations about the impact poverty is having on the families they work with.

Child poverty figures continue to rise with one in four children in Scotland living in poverty with this projected to rise. The pressures on families because of poverty are likely to increase as the impact of the two-child limit, the benefit cap and the introduction of Universal Credit is felt.

In a country that prides itself on being compassionate, it’s simply not just that families should have to make choices between feeding their children and paying their bills.

There’s rarely a single cause for poverty: as well as inadequate social security benefits, rising housing and other living costs, low pay and insecure employment contribute to throwing families into poverty and mean that for many work is no longer a route out of poverty.

So profound is the grip of poverty that we’ve even started to compartmentalise it into different poverties - food poverty, period poverty, and so on. While each of these is real and is a way of thinking about poverty that focuses on particular aspects of not having enough to live on, ultimately poverty is poverty - it’s about not having enough to live on and not having the resources to make choices about even the most basic needs in your life.

There can hardly be a more basic need than family - and yet poverty can threaten even this. As Scotland prepares to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it’s important to bear in mind that the UNCRC recognises the family as the natural place for children to grow up in. Its preamble states:

Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding

And yet in Scotland children in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods are around 20 times more likely to be looked after or on the child protection register than children in the least deprived 10%[1]. The Child Welfare Inequalities Project (ibid) found that deprivation was the largest contributory factor in children’s chances of being looked after.

The reasons for this remain unclear and are the subject of further research. However, they are likely to be many and various. Neglect is too often conflated with poverty with responses being made to the perceived neglect rather than finding solutions to poverty. Often professionals working with families have very high caseloads, are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of poverty and unsure of how best to tackle it.

There is evidence that social and economic inequalities, particularly poverty and debt, increase the stressors in families and communities. The vast majority of families living in poverty neither neglect nor abuse their children; however, poverty makes parenting so much more difficult and when combined with other issues such as mental health problems or domestic abuse magnifies the challenge to parenting.

In a just and compassionate society, it simply can’t be right that a disproportionate number of parents living in poverty have their children removed from them because there’s not enough support available.

It’s crucial that families living in poverty get better support to ensure that, where possible, they can stay safely together. Making sure that families live in decent housing, have sufficient resources to meet their needs and are able to stay together as a family doesn’t really feel like a radical proposition - it simply feels like the right thing to do.

[1] Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates: comparative studies in four UK countries, Bywaters, P et al, 2017