Child poverty in Scotland: what we know and what the public's views are

Booklet setting out what we know about child poverty compared to what the public think.

4 Why are children in poverty?

Unemployment and low pay

Many jobs don’t provide decent pay, prospects or security, and some people can’t work as many hours as they’d like to. Low levels of skills or education can make it hard to get a job, especially one with security, prospects and decent pay.

7 in 10 children in poverty live in a household where at least one person is in work.

In households where…

… at least one person works full-time - 12% of children are in poverty

… people are in work, but only part-time - 35% of children are in poverty

… no-one is in work - 61% of children are in poverty

Family characteristics

Combining childcare responsibilities with paid employment can be more challenging for lone parents, and for families with several children. Parents who have a disability or long-term illness, or who are caring for someone else who does, can also find it difficult to earn enough from paid employment to keep them out of poverty.

"Caring responsibilities have always been a big issue, as I’m a lone parent to four children."

"It’s easy to say ‘get a job’. Not that simple."

Social security

For some people – either in low paid work, looking for work, or not able to work because of health or care issues – the amount of social security money they receive isn’t enough to avoid poverty. And not all families in poverty are eligible for social security payments.

"I work part time, two jobs and my husband works full time. We struggle to make ends meet because we’re not entitled to any benefits or reductions (school uniform grant, cheaper child care etc)."


Some areas don’t have enough jobs, or have concentrations of jobs that don’t provide decent pay, prospects or security. Public transport to get you to work, and the availability of affordable childcare and housing, can also vary depending on where you live.

What the public think are the reasons why children are in poverty

What the public think are the reasons why children are in poverty

Members of the public were asked to choose, from a list of 15 options, all the reasons they think might best explain why children are in poverty in Scotland. People selected seven reasons on average, which shows they recognise that child poverty is a complex problem with no single, straightforward cause.

They were then asked to choose, from the same list, which they think is the main reason why children are in poverty in Scotland. Two of the top four reasons chosen by the public were: ‘their parents suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse or other addictions’ and ‘their parents do not want to work’. This shows a mismatch between what people think and the reality. In reality, problem substance use affects only a small number of families in poverty, most children in poverty live in a household with at least one person who is in work, and unemployed people who want to work can face a range of barriers to doing so.

The remaining two most commonly chosen main reasons were ‘inequalities in society’ and ‘their parents’ work doesn’t pay enough’. This shows that many people do recognise that there are wider, structural reasons for child poverty, which families in poverty have little or no control over.


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