Glasgow is the area of Scotland with, at 18%, the highest level of children living in severe poverty.
Shocking yes. But wait a minute. The City of Westminster, housing the UK parliament, has 24% of children living in severe poverty.
A rate 33% higher that the highest local authority in Scotland. Save the Children figures not mine.
In the last part of ‘Scotland is doing OK’ we compared the level of children in workless households that turned out to be lower in Scotland (15.3%) compared with London (22.4%) and also lower than many regions in England.
A new report from Save the Children published this week confirms our findings and the link between the level of children in workless households and the level of severe child poverty.
The results are not just startling but actually JAW DROPPING.
Our friends in much of the Scottish media in reporting the Save the Children’s findings have concentrated on the headline results for Scotland creating an impression that Scotland is doing significantly less well than other areas of the UK.
The reverse is in fact the case.
Let me be clear. No level of children living in severe poverty is acceptable in a civilised society.
This series is not about pretending that we do not have challenges.
It is about helping to place them in context when other parts of the UK, that we might assume are doing better, are actually lagging behind progress made in Scotland.
We are always ready to believe that we are no daeing sae weel. We have become used to this because for a long time it was often true.
The rate for Scotland as a whole is 9% and that means fewer Scottish children are living in severe poverty than the average for England (13%) or that of Wales (14%).
When we study the breakdown for the regions of England only East England and the South East regions match Scotland’s low score.
The Top 10 of local authority areas in the UK with the highest levels of severe child poverty is an all England affair, headed by Manchester at 27%.
In fifth place is the aforementioned City of Westminster Council area.
I wanted to know why the results were better in Scotland compared with England and if still more could be done to improve the situation of Scottish children locked in severe poverty
So I asked the people who should have some of the answers.
Douglas Hamilton, Head of Save the Children in Scotland, told me that targets were set in 2005 for all nations and regions to reduce the level of child poverty but only Scotland had met the target.
He referred me to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report – Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland 2010. This is a much respected foundation who have produced some excellent work.
Douglas Hamilton told me Save the Children believed that Scotland’s position was better than that of England because the employment statistics in Scotland were better than that of England until the start of the recession but that the relative position had changed slightly because unemployment rose in Scotland as the recession bit.
He concluded that we could expect the level of severe child poverty to rise when the 2010 data became available.
The relationship of severe child poverty with unemployment levels would seem a reasonable and understandable conclusion but the extent of the correlation does not actually add up.
Areas with similar unemployment levels in England in the tables Save the Children provided me with had much higher levels of severe child poverty.
Housing costs in London are higher so that could be a factor but heating costs are higher in Scotland.
Scotland’s Housing and Communities Minister, Alex Neil, told me ‘Our robust efforts to support jobs, skills and training are paying off as Scotland has a higher employment rate and lower economic inactivity rate than the UK as a whole.’
Indeed the latest employment statistics show that our relative position to England is turning positive again following a brief blip.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report speculated on the small narrowing of the gap of households in poverty between Scotland and England as the recession took hold, on which the Save the Children Scotland report places some emphasis.
That speculation may have been premature.
Alex Neil added, ‘We are supporting thousands of families with innovative home-grown policies such as freezing council tax, free heating help, progressive abolition of prescription charges and the extension of free school meals.
‘However, to achieve lasting change it is crucial that we secure real financial powers and importantly, responsibility for the benefits and tax credits system in Scotland.
‘This is more important than ever as the UK government embarks on sweeping and savage changes to welfare which we know are going to penalise the poorest families in Scotland.’
BBC Scotland reported the story (24th February) under the heading ‘Job Crisis causing child poverty in Scotland’
The article is overwhelmingly negative and paints a picture that suggests the situation in Scotland is dire when Scotland is actually doing better that England and Wales.
Save the Children Scotland is a campaigning organisation and are seeking action at UK Government and Scottish Government level.
But do they do themselves any favours by stressing the negative rather than the achievements that have been won and for which they can claim a share of the credit?
What my fellow journalists have not done is go through Save the Children’s own statistics. Doing that presents a very different picture
Save the Children list 204 local authority areas in a table profiling the performance from the worst to the best performing local authorities across Scotland, England and Wales.
They have banded all Local Authority areas in England, Scotland and Wales into the following levels of severe child poverty-
- Over 25% severe child poverty – No local authorities in Scotland
- 20 to 25% severe child poverty – No local authorities in Scotland
- 15 to 20% severe child poverty – one (Glasgow) in Scotland out of 61 in GB
- 10 to 15% severe child poverty – 12 Scottish local authorities out of 87 in GB
- Less than 10% severe child poverty – 19 Scottish Local Authorities out of 32
So when the Save the Children Scotland figures are reported by the BBC as nearly half of Scottish local authorities with a performance worse than the Scottish overage we are not getting a sensible picture of relative performance.
That’s the way averages work with usually around half on each side of the central point.
Scotland has something to be proud of in achieving a much better performance than is the case south of the Border.
Only 15.68% of all local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have less than 10% severe child poverty.
60% of these best performing local authorities are in Scotland.
And among them is Argyll & Bute at 8%. Just one third the rate of severe child poverty in the City of Westminster.
Scotland is doing OK. But some it seems like to suggest otherwise.
Russell Bruce, Books Editor
Sources and notes
Save the Children: UK Briefing, Scotland Briefing, Northern Ireland Briefing
Save the Children: LA Estimates EMPLOYMENT MARKETS xls
Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland 2010
Save the Children’s latest research findings were commissionede from the New Policy Institute
There is a recognised basis for establishing households in poverty that is widely used.
There is not so far a widely accepted formula for determining households or, in the case of this study, children, in severe poverty. Save the Children have made a serious attempt to address this problem. That is to be welcomed.