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Tackling Child Poverty in Scotland: A Discussion Paper


3. Our approach to tackling child poverty: key principles

3.1 Contribution to the Scottish Government's Purpose and the National Performance Framework

The Scottish Government's Purpose is to create a more successful country with opportunities for all in Scotland to flourish through sustainable economic growth. To achieve this, we need to break the cycles of poverty, deprivation, unemployment, health inequalities and poor educational attainment which have become deeply embedded in our society, particularly in our disadvantaged communities.

Our focus on poverty and income inequality is reflected in this Government's Economic Strategy, through the Solidarity target: 'to increase overall income and the proportion of income received by the three lowest income deciles as a group by 2017'.

Tackling poverty and income inequality, and improving outcomes for children and young people, are also reflected through the National Outcomes, in particular:

  • "We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society"
  • "Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed" and
  • "We have improved the life chances for children, young people and families at risk"

and also:

  • "Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens"
  • "We realise our full economic potential with more and better employment opportunities for our people."

Progress will be tracked through the National Indicators - in particular:

  • "Decrease the proportion of individuals living in poverty"
  • "Increase healthy life expectancy at birth in the most deprived areas"
  • "Increase the proportion of school leavers in positive and sustained destinations."

These targets and outcomes complement our commitment to eradicating child poverty, and reducing the impacts of disadvantage on children, in Scotland.

3.2 Key principles of our approach to tackling poverty and inequality

Evidence shows that growing up in poverty can have a profound and lasting impact on children's outcomes. The causes and effects of poverty are complex and multi-dimensional, and require equally complex and multi-dimensional interventions and responses.

It is intended that the Scottish strategy will set out this Government's approach to maximising household incomes and reducing pressure on household budgets among low income families through improving families' employment prospects, and promoting greater financial inclusion. However our ultimate aim is to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation. Taking a long-term view requires us to look at the wider forces driving income poverty and material deprivation, and at how to reduce the impacts of poverty on children, breaking the links between life outcomes and the economic circumstances in which children grow up.

There are three key principles to our current approach to tackle child poverty: focusing on early intervention and prevention, taking an assets-based approach and ensuring that the child is at the centre. The Scottish strategy will be based upon these principles, which are drawn from the main social policies to tackle child poverty already in place.

These are the three inter-related frameworks: Achieving Our Potential: A Framework to Tackle Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland; the Early Years Framework; and Equally Well: Report of the Ministerial Taskforce on Health Inequalities (commonly referred to as the 'three social policy frameworks'). These have been developed in partnership with COSLA, and provide the basis for Scottish Government with its local partners (local government, the NHS, the third sector and other community planning partners) to set out our shared approach to tackling the major and intractable social problems that have affected Scotland for generations.

These frameworks are underpinned by policies that are consistent with the principles of Getting it Right for Every Child, which is a distinctively Scottish approach to improving outcomes for all children. They are also linked to a wide range of other social policies, summarised in Section 4 of this paper.

3.2.1 Early intervention and prevention

The principles of early intervention and prevention are at the heart of our approach to tackling child poverty. As the Equally Well review explains, the three social policy frameworks recognise that children's start in life, cycles of poverty and poor health are interlinked. These are complex problems, involving complex solutions, and which require a long-term approach. So we advocate early intervention, moving from crisis management to prevention and breaking cycles of poor outcomes in people's lives. The three social policy frameworks share a commitment to tackling inequality and promoting equality." 9

"the early years provide the first and best opportunity to set children off on the right trajectory"

There is a strong research base and rationale behind the prioritisation of early intervention. Ensuring that children's early years are a priority is a fundamental part of this. The Early Years Framework explains that: Öthe early years are a period of rapid development and can have a major influence on the rest of a person's lifeÖ [they] provide the first and best opportunity to set children off on the right trajectory and reduce the need for later interventions that are more costly in both financial and social terms." 10

The Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Harry Burns, has provided significant evidence-based insights on how a child's early experiences influence their later development - both socially and biologically. This is based on research by Dr Aaron Antonovsky which identifies the ability to make sense of the external world as a key factor in a person's ability to create and maintain their own health. Antonovsky describes this as a sense of coherence" which describes a person's ability to conceive of the world as structured, predictable and explicable; to believe that they have the resources available to meet the external demands in their world; and to view these demands as challenges that are worthy of investment and engagement.

Parental attachment in the early years in particular, and good, consistent parenting more generally, are the key factors in building a sense of coherence and, in turn, increasing a person's chances of experiencing a range of positive social outcomes. On the other hand, chaotic surroundings and lack of coherence can produce consistently higher stress levels as children grow up. This impacts directly on cognitive and emotional development, and can lead to a higher likelihood of experiencing problems in later life, such as poor health, low educational attainment, substance misuse and offending.

While the critical importance of the early years is clear, our early intervention and prevention approach applies throughout the life course. It is about ensuring that the right support is available to people at the key points when they need it, so that people at risk or in the early stages of developing difficulties do not reach crisis point. This principle underpins this Government's approach to social policy, across the whole spectrum of issues affecting families.

There is also a clear economic case for shifting resources into early intervention. Notably, a wide range of economic studies suggest that returns to early investment in children during the pre-birth period and first few months of life, up to the age of eight years old are high, but reduce the later the investment is initiated. Investment in early and effective interventions translates into substantial savings to the public sector. Rates of return on investments in the early years range from 1:3 to 1:7, up to 1:17 where children have been tracked beyond the age of 21, based on international evidence. Further, a new economic modelling study undertaken by the Scottish Government and experts in the early years field puts the potential savings from investment in the early years into a Scottish context. Key findings are that there are short, medium and long term savings through effective early years interventions. While savings in the short term are more modest, it is estimated that up to £131 million per annum could be saved in the medium term. Failure to intervene effectively in complex cases could cost 9 times more in direct public costs in the longer term, compared to a child who only needs access to universal services. There is also strong evidence in support of focusing public spend on preventing negative social outcomes across a wider range of social policy fields, including health and criminal justice 11.

3.2.2 An assets-based approach

Although the barriers to exiting poverty for individuals and families may be considerable, it is important that policy makers and delivery agents ensure that efforts to tackle poverty do not focus on these barriers alone. Individuals, families and communities have assets and capabilities as well as support needs.

"moving from welfare to wellbeing and from dependency to selfdetermination"

The three social frameworks promote an assets, rather than a deficits, approach, to tackling poverty and inequality. This means building the capacity of individuals, families and communities to manage better in the longer term, moving from welfare to wellbeing and from dependency to self determination" 12. An assets-based approach relies on the ability of professionals to recognise that individuals, communities and populations have significant potential to be a 'resource' rather than just a consumer of services.

The principles of asset-based approaches include:

  • Emphasising those assets (any resource, skill or knowledge) which enhance the ability of individuals, families and neighbourhoods to sustain health and wellbeing;
  • Instead of starting with the problems, starting with what is working and what people care about; and
  • Ensuring programmes include the need to build networks, friendships, self esteem and feelings of personal and collective effectiveness which promote health and wellbeing.

We will consider how an assets-based approach can be taken in the final child poverty strategy, building on evidence of how best to harness the assets and promote resilience and capabilities within families and communities. This consultation seeks views on how this approach might be more effectively promoted through the new Scottish child poverty strategy.

3.2.3 A child-centred approach: Getting it Right for Every Child

Getting it Right for Every Child aims to improve outcomes for all children and young people through a shared approach to service provision (including adult services where parents are involved). It is about how practitioners across all services for children and adults put the needs, experience and wishes of children and young people at the heart of the process.

"Getting it Right for Every Child builds solutions with and around children and families, and enables children to get the help they need when they need it"

Getting it Right for Every Child:

  • builds solutions with and around children and families;
  • enables children to get the help they need when they need it;
  • supports a positive shift in culture, systems and practice; and,
  • involves working together to make things better.

The Getting it Right for Every Child approach creates a single system for planning and delivery across children's services. It helps to create a positive culture of collaborative working, streamlining systems, achieving valuable savings in time and resources and develops consistently high standards of practice.

Evaluation of pathfinder projects has shown that the Getting it Right for Every Child approach brings considerable benefits to the children and families who receive more joined up, holistic and timely support. It also brings efficiency savings through identifying need for intervention at an earlier stage, and reducing bureaucracy 13.

3.3 Equalities and children's rights

Getting it Right for Every Child has been developed to reflect the principles of The Children's Charter and is consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC). It has at its heart an ethos that respects the voice of the child and their best interests. The new child poverty strategy will also support and promote the key principles of the UNCRC.

Child poverty is an issue that disproportionately impacts on certain groups within society (see Section 2 of this paper), and the development of a child poverty strategy provides us with an opportunity to address the significant inequalities experienced by children and families. Poverty itself is also associated with stigma and discrimination, which adds to the exclusion and stress experienced by disadvantaged families. We will consider these issues in the development of the strategy and a full Equalities Impact Assessment of the policy will be undertaken.