Child poverty in Scotland: The facts


More than one in four (260,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty. (Source: Scottish Government)

This statistic refers to the latest official statistics generated for 2019/20. Official statistics were not published for 2020/21 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on data collection. 

In the absence of significant policy change, this figure is likely to increase in the coming years, with Scottish Government forecasts indicating that it will reach 38% by 2030/31. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests the Scottish child poverty rate will be 29% by 2023-24 - the highest rate in over twenty years. This would reverse the fall in child poverty observed in the UK since the late 1990s (Source: IFS).

68% of children in poverty live in working households. (Source: Scottish Government)

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 (Townsend, 1979). 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.

From latest figures (2019-20) a family is considered as in poverty if, after housing costs, they are living on:

  • Less than £333 a week or £17,400 a year for a single person with children aged five and 14
  • Less than £450 or £23,400 a year for a couple with children aged five and 14

What are the effects of child poverty?

The effects of child poverty should not be underestimated.  Experiencing child poverty can undermine the health, wellbeing and educational attainment of children. For example, Scottish Government statistics show:
•    61% of low-income families with children in Scotland can’t afford to make regular savings of £10 a month or more.  
•    51% report that they don’t have a small amount of money to spend each week on themselves. 
•    10% can’t afford to have friends of their children round for tea or a snack once a fortnight. 

We also know that:

  • 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 (Source: JRF). The Growing up in Scotland study recently found that that there is still a gap in language ability between more and less advantaged children as children reach the last years of primary school. This is the case regardless of whether the gap is measured with respect to family income, area deprivation or the parent’s level of education. (Source: GUS)
  • 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 (Source: Donald Hirsch).
  • There are strong links between the experience of child poverty and poor mental health. Some studies suggest that children living in low-income households are nearly three times as likely to suffer mental health problems than their more affluent peers (Source: JRF; Audit Scotland).
  • Children from lower income households are also more likely than children from more affluent households to experience behavioural and emotional problems. (Source: University of Edinburgh)

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. (Source: Donald Hirsch)

Characteristics of child poverty in Scotland

1 in 4 children
in Scotland are living in poverty
of children living in poverty in Scotland are in households where someone works
of children in lone parent households live in poverty
of children with a disabled family member are in poverty