Tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022-2026 - annex 6: what works - evidence review

This annex to the second tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022 to 2026 summarises the latest evidence on what works in tackling child poverty.

5. What works to reduce costs of living

Cost of living has been identified as a key driver of poverty as it impacts directly on the available income families have left. Low income households spend a greater share on essential costs, such as food, housing, fuel or transport. Households in the lowest income decile spend 54% of their total weekly expenditure in these areas compared with 42% in the highest income decile. Inflationary pressures on essential costs also disproportionately impact on these households. Rising costs sit alongside a host of other pressures on household finances, including the removal of the £20 uplift on Universal credit and the end of the UK Government's furlough scheme. Consistently higher essential costs are likely to increase the number of households experiencing material deprivation (one of the child poverty targets), fuel poverty (another statutory target) and food insecurity.

Key findings – what works to reduce costs of living?

  • Tackling poverty is not about one single policy action, but instead about support across the wide range of costs of living.
  • Evidence shows that tackling costs of living is particularly important at certain transition points for families. Especially those who have recently moved from receipt of out-of-work benefits and then face the financial hurdle of not being entitled to passported benefits, such as free school meals or school clothing grant. But also around major life events, like having a child, changes in family structures (such as through parental separation), or going through health issues.
  • It is well understood that there is complexity in the range of policies required to support low income families out of poverty. This requires a careful balancing act to ensure families are able to secure affordable housing, with transport links to schools, childcare and places of work. It also needs to ensure family finances are not constrained by unmanageable debt that may limit their paid work options or their ability to afford food or pay their energy bills.
  • At the heart of any policy intervention lies the need for clear targeting, so that those who need that kind of support can benefit from it. For those with complex circumstances, a person based approach that supports people in navigating the range of support appears crucial.

This chapter summarises the challenges families face in meeting high costs and explores evidence on what works to tackle each of these challenges. It focuses on the major sources of spend for households. It explores, therefore, challenges and solutions around housing, energy and fuel poverty, transport, childcare/education, financial stability and food insecurity.


High housing costs have a direct impact on poverty and material deprivation. Once housing costs are considered, the numbers living in poverty increase. The phenomenon known as housing-cost-induced poverty (poverty after considering housing costs) is more pronounced among children. Whilst more challenging to meet, the Scottish Government national targets on child poverty track poverty rates after housing costs because it provides a better representation of the disposable income that low income households actually have to spend on essentials.[306]

Housing policies alone are not enough to reach child poverty targets. Despite housing costs representing the biggest spend for families, modelling has shown that even reducing housing costs to zero would not be enough to meet child poverty targets (though it predicted around a 2 to 3 percentage point decrease in relative poverty by 2023). This is mainly because of the existence of housing support embedded in the social security system, which already provides a relatively high degree of support. In addition, for some families, housing costs may not represent the largest monthly spend. For example, for those owner-occupied families with little housing costs, it would be more efficient to help reduce energy costs, travel or childcare. Reducing poverty would require a combination of policies tackling housing alongside increased employment and social security benefits.[307]

What works? Maintaining a strong social rented sector.

Poverty rates before housing costs are similar across the UK. However, when housing costs are considered, there are significant differences with much lower poverty rates in Scotland. This difference has occurred over the last 20 years and is in part due to the stronger social housing sector available in Scotland which provides secure low rent housing for low income households, and also because housing costs are generally lower in Scotland when compared to the rest of the UK.

Evidence shows that the private rented sector tends to be characterised by greater problems of affordability, lower property standards and greater insecurity. All characteristics that would be important to avoid for low income families in particular.

Scottish Government's housing programme has strong investment and targets for social housing. While this should have a positive impact on poverty reduction, because social rents are on average lower, there is as yet no known tangible impact on poverty rates.

What works? Addressing homelessness.

Homelessness rates in Scotland have slightly increased since 2015. In 2020/21, there were 42,149 people in homeless households, including 11,804 children.[308] There is some evidence to suggest a correlation between the impact of Universal Credit and homelessness. It is also estimated that the freeze in Local Housing Allowance rates, the Benefit Cap, and the Bedroom Tax will cumulatively reduce expenditure on housing related reserved benefits by around £115 million each year in Scotland by 2024/25.[309]

The impact of Universal Credit on homelessness has become increasingly important during COVID-19. The Universal Credit caseload has nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020, meaning more people than ever are at risk of being affected. While emergency measures have been taken to house rough sleepers, protect tenants from eviction, and provide further financial assistance to help those struggling to pay their rent, there is evidence that arrears have mounted, as have mental health and relational problems.

What works? Understand housing needs for different priority families.

There is a shortage of research directly linking the impact of housing policy initiatives on priority families at higher risk of poverty. Detailed reviews have been undertaken to understand the housing needs of gypsy/travellers and minority ethnic families. [310] [311] Findings on this are summarised in the section in Chapter 2 looking at minority ethnic families specifically. While 25% of homelessness applications are from adults with children, there is limited evidence collected on specific barriers they face or evaluations on whether current policies are working for families in particular. Specifically, there is limited evidence on how best to support lone parents or young mothers, despite the most common reason for homelessness among women being as a result of a violent household dispute.[312]

What works? Exploring different approaches to calculating housing benefit entitlements.

In Germany, researchers have advocated to exclude child benefit from the calculations of other benefit entitlements.[313] This is because when child benefits are included as income they can reduce entitlement of other benefits. The modelling suggested that this can result in child benefit money being used to cover housing or other costs rather than benefiting the child.

Researchers comparing similar child maintenance systems across four countries (the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and New Zealand) found that when child maintenance is counted as income in calculating benefit entitlements, it can reduce the value of other means tested or income based benefits.[314] The researchers advocate for not including child maintenance as income when assessing access to other benefits. They also highlight the importance of including travel costs as part of any housing subsidies, as many families can find themselves living in areas with poor transport links far from work/schools and struggling to meet transport costs.

Energy and Fuel Poverty

The cost of energy and fuel can represent a significant cost for many families. Energy price increases impact on fuel poverty rates.

In 2019, an estimated 613,000 households (24.6%) in Scotland were in fuel poverty[7], of which 311,000 households were in extreme fuel poverty (12.4%). In April 2022 the energy price cap is expected to increase to around £2,000 for the 'average' dual fuel bill household. An increase to this level would bring the total number of fuel poor households to around 874,000 households, an increase of 43% on most recent 2019 published statistics and 593,000 households in extreme fuel poverty. The median fuel poverty gap would increase from the 2019 level of £750 to £1,410, with those already in fuel poverty most affected.

The Scottish Government overarching statutory target to 2040 requires, as far as reasonably practicable, that no household in Scotland is in fuel poverty and in any event, no more than 5% of households are fuel poor, no more than 1% are in extreme fuel poverty and the fuel poverty gap is no more than £250 (2015 prices).

In order to support people experiencing fuel poverty, the Fuel Poverty (targets, definition and strategy) (Scotland) Act, was unanimously passed by Parliament during 2019. The development of the legislation was informed by recommendations from the Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, and supported by a public consultation.

The latest strategy on tackling fuel poverty was informed by available evidence on what works to tackle fuel poverty. The analytical review highlights: [315]

  • The importance of monitoring characteristics. There is no single variable on its own that identifies all fuel poor households with complete accuracy and coverage. The analysis suggests that interventions targeted at a range of household and dwelling characteristics will always exclude some households that are fuel poor and include some that are not, but that the extent of this can vary depending on the indicators used. And therefore, detailed monitoring is crucial for identifying gaps in coverage.
  • More efficient to focus on energy/money saving schemes. Although income poverty is an important factor in identifying fuel poor households, in purely measurement terms, in the majority of cases reducing fuel bills directly, for example through schemes such as Warm Homes Discount, will be a more effective means of reducing fuel poverty rates than providing a more general income-related benefit. This is due to the criteria in the fuel poverty definition that required fuel costs are more than 10% of net income after housing costs. As a result £10 off a fuel bill would have the same effect as increasing income by £100.


Transport is key to allow people to access services, employment, or education.[316] In some cases high transport costs can stop people travelling entirely or costs need to be weighed against earnings when making decisions about whether to take up a job offer or training opportunity.[317]

What works? Subsidised travel.

Research suggests various methods that can be successful in reducing transport costs for low income households, including offering free or discounted travel (e.g. at specific times or on certain routes) and targeted discounts or free provision for target groups.[318] It is not clear that one method is particularly more effective in reducing child poverty than another but what is key is that affordable travel can act as an enabler to accessing wider essential services and benefits including access to employment, wider services and lower cost goods and services, and that it needs to work for the people who need it most.

Evidence suggests that it is not only important to reduce the cost of transport, but also to ensure that fare structures do not discriminate. A review of Transport and Inequality for the Department of Transport found that careful consideration of fare structures is necessary to ensure discounts help those that need them most.[319] For example, the review found that fare structures that only offer discounts through initial lump sum payments may be out of reach for some people. Instead, other options include flexible payment options or subscriptions that spread the cost more evenly.[320]

What works?

Increasing take-up among those who need it most. In transport, there is a lack of evidence on whether universal or means-tested benefits are better to tackle child poverty. Evidence suggests that whatever form a policy takes, it requires clear targeting techniques to ensure that it reaches those most in need. Research investigating low income households' experiences of public transport in Scotland found that the provision of travel cards among participants who were eligible due to caring needs, disability or health conditions, was helpful in reducing the cost of transport. Respondents noted that without the entitlement they would have been limited in their daily life or would have faced financial pressures managing their household.[321] This study also found however that a lack of awareness about discounts can stop people from accessing targeted transport support. The evidence acknowledges that targeting subsidies according to financial need is difficult, and in practice tends to be approximated by supporting groups in easily identified categories (e.g. students).

What works? Accessibility for all.

As well as cost, other barriers exist around availability and reliability of transport. While not universally the case and dependent on a range of factors including geography, historical land use and local politics, research suggests that across the UK public transport links tend to be poorer in areas with higher levels of deprivation in terms of both the number of options and quality of services.[322] [323] Lower income households are more likely to rely on public transport, and especially buses, and have less choice in using alternative options such as cars.[324] [325]

There are some groups who face additional barriers to accessing transport. For example, young mothers trying to navigate transport systems on their own with prams. Disabled people face a wide range of different barriers depending on their type of disability. People in minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience discrimination and stigma when using transport, so even when transport is available they may not feel safe to use it.[326] Families with three or more children are more likely to have access to a car compared to families with fewer children. However, this involves significant costs that can impact on their ability to provide for other aspects of life.[327]

Women face specific transport issues around safety and discrimination, which are even more pronounced when bus stops or stations are in unsafe or isolated areas.[328] Women are still more likely than men to do most of the childcare and unpaid household labour.[329] [330] For women, transport needs to allow them to balance responsibilities for caring, paid work and domestic tasks. Evidence highlights there are fewer services available for these kind of trip-chaining journeys women may need to make more often.[331]

There is a lack of detailed evidence on what works to tackle the specific barriers each of these groups face. Generally, for systems to be accessible for everyone it is important that an understanding of these issues is built into service design.

What works? Removing barriers to active transport.

Evidence shows that forced car ownership – where those on lower incomes are forced to take on the high costs of private car ownership because of inadequate alternatives – is growing in disadvantaged urban areas in Scotland.[332] Having affordable, quality alternatives that work for people is important in tackling this issue. This can include improvements to public transport which are discussed throughout this section but more recent evidence also points to the value of active transport solutions, particularly in urban areas. An assessment of high-risk transport poverty[8] zones in Scotland found that 61% of areas designated as being high risk for transport poverty were areas where essential services can be accessed by cycle within 10 minutes.[333] Currently, however, there are barriers to accessing active transport options such as cycling, with lower levels of bike ownership for lower income households[334], and among women.[335] There is a lack of evidence on what works to address these barriers, but understanding these will be important in increasing uptake for priority child poverty family groups.

What works? Understanding local needs in rural areas through a demand-based approach.

People living in rural areas face specific challenges in accessing public transport and urban areas are generally better connected than rural areas. People living in rural areas face more complex travel journeys to workplaces, education, shops or services.[336]

Although a relatively new approach within the UK, early evidence suggests demand-responsive transport systems appear helpful in improving transport links in rural areas. Both the UK and Welsh Government have introduced demand-responsive schemes since 2020 to support the improvement of transport links in rural areas, although these have not yet been fully evaluated.[337] The Tees Valley Mayoral Combined Authority have recently trialled a demand-responsive bus service in rural areas. The aim was to improve transport links and provide an option for those with irregular working hours. Early evaluation findings showed it has directly helped to tackle these issues by providing an app which directs passengers to nearby pick-up and drop-off points and enables shared trips at a time that works for them. It seems to have been particularly effective in remote areas where public transport is limited to bus services that do not run frequently enough and therefore act as a barrier to irregular working patterns such as shift work.[338] Conversely, similar demand-responsive schemes, such as PickMeUp in Oxford, were ineffective, in part due to a lack of funding from the public sector. Initial research noted that proper investment is a key factor to be successful, although a full evaluation has not been undertaken to assess a wider range of factors that could have contributed to its success.[339]

What works? Linking transport to employment and other services.

Transport, or the lack of, can be a key barrier to employment or access to services.[340] International evidence demonstrates the importance of proximity to bus or rail stations, to ensure that areas can access services or employment.[341] [342]

Multiple studies have highlighted that transport policies can tackle wider inequalities.[343] [344] In Dumfries and Galloway, for example, a transport intervention was designed around access to health and social security services as part of their anti-poverty strategy. The taxi-card scheme assisted just over 2,000 individuals each year to travel to medical appointments and attend meetings with the Department of Work and Pensions, housing providers and other agencies.[345]

Particularly where transport schemes are designed to link to employment they should do so in a way which recognises the needs of employees working different patterns. This includes shift work and part-time employment – which is often more precarious and low-paid. Evidence suggests that transport policies which are part of larger-scale initiatives that cover other policy areas such as skills, education and employment can be more effective in reducing inequalities. Examples of how to achieve this include support for travel costs and access to peripheral transport sites, although ensuring appropriate infrastructure to reach these sites and at times that work for people, is key and so systems should be designed with an awareness of local need.[346]


Good quality, affordable childcare is crucial in supporting some parents to enter and maintain employment, and can therefore be an important facilitator in increasing household income and helping to lift families out of poverty. Evidence highlights that policies that increase subsidies from part time to full time childcare are the ones most likely to have a positive impact on increased income from employment for parents.[347] (Further details in Chapter 3 – What works? Flexible, affordable childcare)

Free or subsidised childcare can help reduce living costs, but only for families who already use it and for whom childcare already accounts for a significant proportion of the family's budget. The family types more likely to struggle to cover childcare costs are those who have three or more children and lone parent families. For families more likely to be in in-work poverty, such as minority ethnic families, reducing the cost of childcare can be an important lever out of poverty. Although childcare provision can support parents to enter or progress in employment, it may not do so equitably. Evidence from Germany suggests that parents with higher socio-economic status are more likely to take up childcare places for children under three, which could further entrench inequalities in the workplace and have a knock-on effect on child poverty rates.[348]

What works? Legal entitlement to a highly affordable childcare place.

A review of the childcare system in the UK and comparisons with other European countries found that, in terms of what works to improve childcare affordability, the best-practice examples were in countries which offer a legal entitlement to a childcare place at a highly affordable price with highly subsidised costs. Often, this included capped and/or reduced fees for children in low income families and/or subsequent children. In successful examples, this affordable childcare was also provided directly after maternity/paternity leave.[349] In Scotland however, the entitlement to funded childcare currently starts from three years old, or for some eligible families from the age of two.

What works? Targeting financial support to low income families.

Both universal and targeted approaches to providing subsided or free childcare can be effective. There are examples where hybrid models have been used in which there is universal provision but with more targeted support for specific groups/areas. The Thrive model for early years services being implemented in Greater Manchester, for example, uses a proportionate universalist approach to identify families who need more help and offer support locally.[350]

What works? Designing targeted childcare systems with local needs in mind.

An evaluation of Scotland's early learning and childcare expansion delivery trials highlighted that there was no single delivery model that could be identified as more effectively delivering high quality childcare. Instead, the evaluation concluded that delivery models reflected the needs of Scotland's diverse communities and geography which has played a role in making provision of funded childcare more effective.[351] Although an early evaluation of trials, which cannot yet capture full outcomes of the childcare expansion rollout, the research found that this tailoring was achieved through early learning and childcare providers and local authority staff working with parents/carers and local community members over time to develop models which met the needs of local communities, children and families.

What works? Raising awareness and take-up through targeted communication.

Evidence shows that across the UK, including in Scotland, there is a lack of understanding around the range of available childcare offers, with lower levels of understanding generally found in lower income households.[352] Effective signposting and raising awareness of schemes can help improve accessibility and potentially take-up. A review of early learning and childcare by Audit Scotland found a range of efficient measures to increase uptake. These included writing to parents (particularly of younger children) who may be eligible, working across services with various professionals such as health visitors, social workers, family support workers and jobcentre staff to promote uptake, and raising awareness through posters, local news and social media.[353] The evaluation of Scotland's early learning and childcare delivery trials found similar measures worked to increase take-up, also noting that non-stigmatising language was key, as well as involving parents by giving them ownership around design of services to create a sense of involvement and providing help with completing application forms.[354]

What works? Flexible childcare options that support non-standard working hours.

Childcare support needs to work around family's needs and be provided flexibly, recognising that not all parents, particularly those in lower paying jobs, will work typical office hours and might need childcare support at varying times. Wraparound formal care is important in providing flexible childcare but support can also come from informal forms of childcare, such as that provided by friends and relatives. Childminders have also been found to be an important element of the childcare sector in Scotland and can be a way of increasing flexibility of support. It is, however, worth noting that not all childminders deliver funded hours, so currently this can be another barrier to low income households accessing the more flexible support they can offer.[355] Ensuring that funded wraparound support reaches low income households and those target groups most in need is key to ensuring families can benefit from the employment benefits that flexible childcare provides.

Currently, despite the Scottish Government providing additional funded hours, workshops to explore parents' experiences highlight that these funded hours are not always flexible enough for some, particularly in the case of those working non-standard hours. In addition, the lack of funded hours for parents with children under the age of two can sometimes make it difficult for parents to return to work.[356]

Prior to the expansion to 1140 hours, parents discussed difficulties with being unable to use local authority nurseries unless they had access to informal childcare, or could pay for private provision as wraparound, facing barriers with a lack of information/understanding on how different providers deal with funded hours and other difficulties such as paying fees upfront or additional costs.[357] Private providers have, however, been found to offer more flexibility for funded early learning and childcare in Scotland than local authority providers and improving access to these for lower income households could increase access to funded spaces. [358] Some councils also cap places by restricting the number of children they are willing to fund in partner organisations which can create barriers for parents.[359] See Chapter 3 for further discussion of paid work and childcare.

What works? Considering access across the whole of Scotland – including rural areas.

Accessibility issues can also result from a lack of childcare facilities in the places that people need it. Some parents in research with low income families discussed the fact that they didn't use formal childcare because it was not available in their area.[360] In rural areas particularly this can be a challenge with evidence highlighting a lack of rural childcare in Scotland which is exacerbated by limited public transport to access services.[361] This research found that transport provision and funding to compensate for low numbers accessing rural services was seen as important in helping to enable successful additional provision in rural areas.

What works? Raising cultural and social awareness of specific needs and barriers for low income households.

Generally, the training and skill level of staff is important to provide high quality childcare.[362] When tackling child poverty, it is particularly important to understand social and cultural norms of all priority families, and unique barriers they may face. In workshops to discuss parents' experiences of the Scottish Government's funded early learning and childcare provision, parents with a disabled child reported issues in finding settings where staff were trained to meet their needs. In some cases, they felt care would be more suitably provided at home, but this was not possible as funded hours cannot be used in a child's own home even if provided by a trained child carer following the early years curriculum.[363] Research suggests that the childcare provided in maintained, public facilities perform better, especially for vulnerable children, because it has to meet stricter guidelines around staff pay, qualification and skill levels. In voluntary and commercial settings evidence from the UK highlights that there is a significant wealth gradient, with facilities in poorer areas performing worse.[364]

What works? Using childcare settings as a stepping stone to other support.

Approaches that provide a more focused, targeted and holistic support to specific target groups can be effective in linking childcare up with broader services to support families. For example, the 'Stepping Stones for Families, Family Wellbeing Service' in Glasgow has been designed to deliver holistic support to parents of pre-school children attending nurseries, with parents referred for support through nursery staff and family wellbeing workers on a range of issues including poverty, social isolation, poor mental and physical health, addictions and parenting. An evaluation of the service found that the referrals made to various services had helped address barriers where previously parents had been reluctant to access these types of community support and provided clothes and necessary baby equipment which otherwise parents would not have been able to afford as well as leading to improvements in parental wellbeing and mental health. It found that the informal engagement approach used was successful in reducing stigma and improving accessibility, and trusted relationships with nursery and stepping stone staff were important in the scheme's success.[365]


Education is very broad in scope, therefore, for the purpose of this report, the review focused merely on policies or interventions that can potentially impact on achieving the child poverty targets. That is, policies that aim to either reduce the cost of education or support families to increase their income (through paid work or benefits) as opposed to other long-term benefits such as achieving equity in education by reducing the poverty related attainment gap.

What works? Providing support towards the cost of the school day.

The cost of the school day includes areas such as: uniform, school meals, transport, activities, days out or access to technology. The Cost of the School Day project has been found to improve staff awareness of causes of poverty, improve benefit uptake among families and support children's educational outcomes.[366] As such, it has been included as a recommended intervention for equity in the pupil equity funding operational guidance. For example, in Glasgow, the evaluation of their cost of the school day project showed that the activity resulted in practice changes at school level, policy changes at local authority level and changes to awareness, understanding and attitudes towards poverty.[367] Another example can be found in the 1 in 5 project from Edinburgh City Council. This project explored in detail how to support families with the cost of the school day while increasing staff awareness of children's contexts and backgrounds and ensuring a culture of inclusion and participation.[368] They produced a leaflet with specific tips for schools to help them acknowledge and reduce the cost of the school day.

However, while these projects have been labelled as both successful and influential, there is little evidence as to how widespread and consistent this practice is across Scotland.

What works? Supporting families outside of the academic year.

The success of the cost of the school day project highlights how there has been an increased awareness of the financial burden faced by many families to support the basic needs of children's education. Less evidence is available around interventions to support families during the school holidays or more recently through home learning periods as a result of the pandemic control measures.

Holiday periods are marked by increases in family bills around food, energy, and additional childcare to support working patterns, among others. A review in Glasgow identified specific barriers for families and identified actions that could be taken to better support low income families over holiday periods. This included; food provision, flexible booking and payment options, addressing transport costs and diversity of options (including improved offer for additional support needs).[369]

During the summer break of 2021, the Get into Summer programme aimed at addressing the negative impacts associated with extended periods of isolation and lack of participation in normal activities during the pandemic. One of the objectives was to offer additional opportunities for children who had been disproportionally affected – i.e. low income households and those at higher risk of experiencing poverty. Although exact experiences varied between families and localities, there was evidence that taking part in the programme had benefited both children and parents' wellbeing in multiple ways. The evaluation found that removing the cost attached to participation in summer activities had helped many families. However, it remains the case that families at higher risk of poverty are likely to experience more barriers (beyond affordability) to attending holiday provision. The research highlighted areas that could support families further, including: ensuring appropriate staffing to enable participation of children with disabilities or additional support needs, ensuring transport barriers are considered and addressed, and continuing to develop local understanding of how to reach children from diverse ethnic backgrounds.[370] There was limited evidence as to how the summer of play programme impacted on child poverty specifically, although it showed that while efforts were made by partners to engage with children from low income families, actually families across all income groups benefited from the programme.[371]

What works? Supporting families through transition points.

Poverty is not a constant state of families' life. For many, it is a constant change in and out of that poverty threshold. Many of the difficulties families face are around transitioning out of poverty. Research has shown that families experiencing in-work poverty, especially those who have recently moved from receipt of out-of-work benefits, face the financial hurdle of not being entitled to passported benefits such as free school meals, school clothing grants, and initiatives such as schools' subsidies of activities and trips. The evidence also highlights the importance of tackling the stigma experienced by families in poverty and the lengths some parents and children go to, to avoid been seen as in poverty. The report suggests that addressing this stigma of poverty, can increase benefit take-up. [372]

What works? Long-term focus on outcomes.

While this review focuses on the costs of education, it is still relevant to acknowledge that improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children can have a long-term positive impact for their future. The evaluation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (the Scottish Government flagship policy to achieving equity in education) indicates that the poverty-related attainment gap is closing, but it remains a complex and long-term endeavour. Whilst there are positive indications of progress, there are also variations in the pace of that progress across the country, with COVID-19 likely to have placed further pressure on the gap. The review highlighted that in order to continue the positive progress, further work needs to build on the strong foundations already established. Important strengths of the Scottish approach include: a systemic change in terms of culture, ethos and leadership; a strengthened awareness of the barriers facing children and young people adversely affected by socio-economic disadvantage; and the significant role of local authorities in driving forward a strategic vision for equity at local level.[373] Evidence of progress over the first 5 years of the Scottish Attainment Challenge and the impact of COVID-19 informs the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge programme, from 2022/23. Backed by record investment of £1bn in this Parliament, the refreshed programme seeks to empower schools and local councils to drive education recovery, tackle variation and accelerate progress in tackling the poverty related attainment gap.

Financial stability and debts

In addition to the living costs covered in previous sections (such as childcare, transport, fuel/energy and housing) many families on low incomes often end up spending a poverty premium for essentials, meaning that they pay more for everyday goods and services. Research has shown that while some low income consumers consciously chose more costly payment options for reasons of flexibility and/or convenience, others did not feel there was another choice.[374]

Evidence on what works around addressing the poverty premium in financial services and access to credit is very limited and what was found covered ideas or recommendations on what should work. Some of these recommendations to help remove the poverty premium include: using technology and data to support automatic switching to better deals or automatic entitlement to grants and preferential tariffs, working with the industry to improve flexible or personalised payment schedules and strong advice services with targeted support.[375]

Some of these recommendations are outside Scottish Government's power and rely on the UK Government or national organisations such as the Financial Conduct Authority or Competitions and Market Authority to support regulation and fair market practices.

There is a role to play in providing advice and support to those in need. For that, the Scottish Government launched the Money Talk Team in November 2018, backed by £4.8 million investment over three years (2018 to 2021). The service is delivered through the Citizens Advice Scotland and offers personalised advice (via phone or face to face) to increase household incomes, reduce costs and tackle the poverty premium. Progress reports state that it is a successful, high-demand service delivering substantial outcomes for vulnerable people, thanks to the partnership approach at a local level. So far, it has reached 12,000 people and realised over £10 million in client financial gains.[376] It aims to target specifically families who are at higher risk of child poverty, that is those identified as priority families in the Child Poverty Delivery.

Food insecurity

Ensuring there is sufficient quality food to eat for the family can represent a significant proportion of households' budget. Indeed, households in poverty spend a much higher proportion of their income on food. These costs affect the risk of material deprivation, as families spending a greater percentage of their income on food will be less likely to afford other essential goods and services.

In Scotland, the independent working group on food poverty made a number of recommendations based on evidence and their own expertise to support policy development around food insecurity. These recommendations were founded on the principles of dignity, inclusion and a human rights approach to food. They recommended developing a detailed understanding of food insecurity across Scotland and implementing a range of policies that both prevent food insecurity in the first place and respond to ongoing needs. Practical actions that can make a difference have been further detailed by the A Menu for Change project.[377] [378]

The Scottish Government has set out an ambition to end the need for food banks as a primary response to hardship, as far as possible within the powers available.[379] Expert groups include in their suggestions a need to rethink social security so that it offers sufficient support at all times.[380] [377] [381] Latest data from the Trussell Trust indicate that Scotland is the only area in the UK to experience a marked decline in food bank usage between 2019 and 2021, suggesting that different policy choices in Scotland may have supported this drop.[382] However, the loss of key income supports such as the Universal Credit uplift and the increasing cost of living are likely to further pressure household food budgets.

What works? Moving to cash-first approaches alongside money advice.

Low income households have been disproportionally disadvantaged by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Emergency funding has been made available to local authorities to tackle food and financial insecurity. Learning from the Scottish Government showed that most local authorities shifted from heavily food- and fuel- based responses in the first six months to direct financial transfers and vouchers.[383] Many local authorities put in place discretionary hardship schemes to support groups ineligible for mainstream support or in need of immediate and direct assistance. Some local authorities put in place temporary preventative hardship schemes, for example East Renfrewshire's one off payment to those waiting for Universal Credit payments. The Flexible Food Fund schemes in place in Moray and Argyll and Bute provided multiple payments with wraparound money and employability advice to build financial resilience. More generally, the absence of local welfare assistance schemes outside Scotland has been linked to increased pressure on food banks to help people in crisis.[384] [385]

Evidence shows that direct payments were far more preferred by parents in Scotland for their flexibility, dignity, safety and convenience, whereas shopping cards and vouchers could be unsuitable (depending on area) and food parcels are often unable to meet a wide range of needs and preferences.[386]

In addition, the Independent Food Aid Network cash-first leaflet has been shown to help people access financial help and improve their financial situation.[387]

What works? Integrating food in to wider family support.

Food-based interventions can contribute to a range of policy outcomes, such as reducing the cost of living, contributing to a good diet and healthy weight, and enabling social and cultural participation.[388] For example, the Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC) has been used in some local authorities as a way of directly distributing food support. Some schools used the Young Scot NEC to provide free school breakfasts or by adding £1.50 of cashless catering credit. This had the added benefit of minimising the stigma attached to receiving support.[389]

The Scottish Government has committed to expanding free school meals to all pupils in primary and special schools, as well as introducing free year round breakfast and lunch provision to support eligible young people outside of the school term. This is based on the positive evaluation reports following the universal free meal provision for P1 to P3.[390] The evaluation found positive impacts not only for family's budgets but also nutritional benefits for children.

With both school meals and direct replacements, it is important to consider young people's preferences, cultural needs, dietary restrictions, and appropriate quantity and quality. [391] [392]

In the US, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme provides electronic cards to families which can be used to purchase items from grocery stores. It has been found to have a significant reduction effect on the child poverty rate in the US, and particularly the prevalence of extreme child poverty.[393] Closer to home, following the cash-first approach taken during the pandemic, Dumfries & Galloway's evaluation of emergency food provision concluded that a cash-first system should be continued. [394]

How to access background or source data

The data collected for this social research publication cannot be made available by the Scottish Government for further analysis as the Scottish Government is not the data controller. All evidence sources used are referenced with links directing to available websites.


Email: TCPU@gov.scot

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