Child poverty in Scotland

Almost one in four (240,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty[i]. This is higher than in many other European countries[ii]. In the absence of significant policy change, this figure is likely to rise in the coming years with independent modelling by the Institute for Fiscal studies (IFS) forecasting that more than a third of children in the UK will be living in poverty by 2021/22. [iii] This would reverse the fall in child poverty observed in the UK since the late 1990s. [iv]

There is hope that action will be taken to reverse this trend in Scotland where the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 places a duty on the Scottish Government to eradicate child poverty by 2030.










Watch our Poverty Matters film on child poverty in Scotland here.

What is child poverty?

Child poverty means growing up in families without the resources to ‘obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities’ which are the norm in 21st century Scotland.

Children are considered to be living in poverty if they live in households with less than 60% of median household income. This is the key measure used by UK and Scottish Government. Using this measure the latest single year (2016/17) figures show;

• a lone parent family with two children (aged 5 and 14) is living in poverty if they are living on less than £306 per week (after housing costs have been deducted).[v]

• A two parent family with two children (aged 5 and 14) is living in poverty if they are living on less than £413 a week (after housing costs have been deducted).[vi]

What are the effects of child poverty?

The effects of child poverty should not be underestimated and experiencing child poverty can undermine the health, wellbeing and educational attainment of children. For example:

• Children from higher income families significantly outperform those from low income households at ages 3 and 5. By age 5 there is a gap of ten months in problem solving development and of 13 months in vocabulary [vii].

• Three year olds in households with incomes below £10,000 are two and a half times more likely to suffer chronic illness than children in households with incomes above £52,000[viii].

• There are strong links between the experience of child poverty and poor mental health. One study shows that children living in low-income households are nearly three times as likely to suffer mental health problems than their more affluent peers[ix].

As well as being harmful to children and families child poverty has a wider cost for society. A 2013 study estimated that the high levels of child poverty in the UK are currently costing the country at least £29 billion a year. This includes the cost of policy interventions, long term losses to the economy, lower educational attainment and poorer mental and physical health.[x]

What causes child poverty in Scotland?

Child poverty is caused by a range of factors which work together and result in inadequate household resources. Factors which contribute to insufficient income include:

Low wages and underemployment: 65% of children in poverty were living in households with at least one adult in employment [xi], confirming that employment is by no means a guaranteed route out of poverty. While there is an upward trend in terms of rates of employment in Scotland [xii], changes to the quality and nature of work [xiii] have driven up in-work poverty [xiv].

Worklessness: Households in which no-one is in paid employment are most likely to experience poverty, with 73% of children in workless households in the UK experiencing poverty [xv]. Common barriers to work include a lack of suitable employment opportunities, a lack of suitable child care, caring responsibilities, ill health, disability and employer discrimination.

Inadequate social security benefits: Despite being intended as a safety net against poverty, many families in receipt of social security benefits are living below the poverty line. Nearly three quarters of households with children in which no-one works experience poverty. Furthermore, ongoing welfare reforms are a major contributing factor to the dramatic increase in child poverty which is projected for Scotland [xvi].

The interaction of the factors above mean that children in households with certain characteristics are at greater risk of experiencing poverty. For example at UK level [xvii]:

• Children living in households where someone is disabled have a 36% risk of experiencing poverty.

• Children living in lone parent families have a 49% risk of experiencing poverty.

• Children living in households where there are more than two children have a 42% risk of experiencing poverty.

What needs to be done?

There are many steps which could be taken to maximise family incomes, minimise essential outgoings and mitigate the effects of poverty on children, their families and the communities and services which support them. These include:

Access to secure employment and decent pay: 65% of children in poverty in Scotland live in families where at least one adult is in work [xviii]. Given that low pay and job insecurity are a key factor in the existence of in-work poverty it is essential that all working parents receive at least the real Living Wage a reasonable degree of security and opportunities to develop their skills and progress at work.

Adequate social security benefits: Benefit rates should be increased to a level which ensures that children do not experience poverty whether their parents are in or out of work. An important step towards this would be increasing the rate of child benefit to reflect the increased cost of raising a child at the same time as re-instating the link between benefit uprating and inflation.

Increased uptake of benefits: According to DWP figures, between 16 and 44% of families in the UK are not claiming the means-tested benefits (such as income support and employment support allowance) which they are entitled to, meaning up to a million families are missing out [xix]. This highlights a need for more high quality information and advice.

Affordable childcare: Overall, the average cost of part time (25 hours) child care in Scotland for a child under two is £109.68 per week, while the average cost of an after school club is £56.74 per week [xx]. As well as easing pressure on family budgets, increased provision of affordable, high quality childcare would facilitate access to employment for parents and carers and improve outcomes and educational attainment for children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds.

The removal of financial barriers to education: The provision of universal free school meals could save a family with two children more than £800 a year [xxi]. Providing adequate School Clothing Grants to low income families and reducing the cost of school transport and school trips would also help to ease the financial pressure experienced by families.

For information, facts and figures on the extent, nature and causes of poverty in Scotland please see our publication Poverty in Scotland 2016 - tools for transformation.

Order the book

• Percentage of children living in poverty in Scotland by local authority and parliamentary consitutency



[ii] The latest Eurostat figures (2016) show that rates of child poverty are higher in the UK than in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Finland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Norway.

[iii]Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2017-18 to 2021-22, (Institute for Fiscal Studies) page 15,

[iv]. ibid

[v] Latest 2016/17 Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland figures, Table T1: Income Thresholds for Different Family Types (AHC) , 2015/16 (See Associated tables)

[vi] Latest 2016/17 Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland figures, Table T1: Income Thresholds for Different Family Types (AHC) , 2015/16 (See Associated tables)

[vii] Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Closing the Attainment Gap, Scotland 2014

[viii] Unhealthy Live, Intergenerational Links between Child Poverty and Poor Health in the UK, page 3, Donald Hirsch

[ix]Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The cost of child poverty for individuals and society, 2008

[x] Estimate of the Cost of Child Poverty in 2013, Donald Hirsch, Centre for Research and Social Policy, Loughborough University,


[xii] See Scotland’s Labour Market statistics (Nov-Jan 2018)

[xiii] EMP17: People in employment on zero hours contracts – Office for National Statistics, February 2018

[xiv] Wages, the Labour Market and Low Pay, Stephen Boyd, page 211, Poverty in Scotland 2014, The Independence Referendum and Beyond, Edited by John McKendrick, Gerry Mooney, John Dickie, Gill Scott and Peter Kelly

[xv] 2016/17 Households Below Average Income (HBAI) Table 4.5 db: Percentage of Children in low income groups by various family and household characteristics, detailed breakdowns UK

[xvi] Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2017-18 to 2021-22, Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

[xvii] 2016/17 Households Below Average Income (HBAI) Table 4.5 db: Percentage of Children in low income groups by various family and household characteristics, UK

[xviii] Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland in 2016/17, Table CH 18 People in relative poverty in households with at least one adult in employment (in work poverty) by age group (2016/17); (see Associated tables)

[xix] Income Related Benefits: Estimates of Take-up in Financial Year 2015/16, Department of Work and Pensions;

[xx] The 2018 Scottish Childcare Report, Family and Childcare Trust,

[xxi] Edinburgh City Council, for example, charges £2.15 per day for a school lunch for a child in primary school and £2.55 per day for a child at secondary school.