Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland

Our vision is for a Scotland where no children are disadvantaged by poverty.

2. Key principles

2.1 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.

The 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 the Scottish Government's commitment to eradicating child poverty, and reducing the impacts of disadvantage on children, in Scotland.

2.2 Three key principles

There are three key principles to the Scottish Government's 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 already in place to tackle child poverty.

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 a 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.

2.2.1 Early intervention and prevention

It is clear that Scotland's long standing and entrenched problems of poverty, poor health, poor educational attainment, unemployment and levels of substance misuse and crime are passed from generation to generation and concentrated, for the most part, in our deprived communities. It is also clear that these problems have become embedded over many years and that there are no single, simple or quick solutions.

The Scottish Government has, therefore, taken a long-term and integrated policy approach with its three major social policy frameworks which are aimed at supporting the early years (The Early Years Framework), tackling poverty (Achieving Our Potential) and health inequalities (Equally Well). These frameworks have been developed jointly with key partners, and are aimed at tackling the long term drivers of deprivation from different but complementary perspectives.

The principles of early intervention and prevention are at the heart of these frameworks, and our approach to tackling child poverty. 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 - often involving both cultural and structural change - and which require a long-term approach. The Scottish Government advocate early intervention, moving from crisis management to prevention and breaking cycles of poor outcomes in people's lives. These frameworks are based on both the wealth of expertise and experience we have in Scotland and the wide range of national and international research, for example on the importance of the early years and the benefits from early intervention at all stages in a child or young person's life.

There is increasing interest in preventive action and preventive spend in Scotland as a means of improving key social outcomes in the medium to long term. Notably, the recently concluded Finance Committee Inquiry into Preventative Spend was established "to consider and report on how public spending can best be focussed over the longer term on trying to prevent, rather than deal with, negative social outcomes". They report that 'considerable and sustained planning and investment will be required over the long term to ensure that the transition to a more preventative approach can be achieved' 7.

The Scottish Government has welcomed the insights provided on early years support, early intervention and prevention, and on unlocking the resource and potential of Scotland's people through assets approaches in Professor Susan Deacon's report 'Joining the Dots'. The studies undertaken by Frank Field MP and Graham Allen MP are also welcomed; while many of their recommendations reflect different legal, policy and financial environments in England, there is a great deal of common purpose and common ground.

The Scottish Government leads, funds and supports a considerable body of work on 'early' or 'preventative' intervention across many policy areas. These include services, approaches and interventions that could be described as primary prevention (measures taken to prevent negative social outcomes) but there is also a range of secondary prevention activity across portfolios (which seek to prevent or halt an escalation of negative outcomes). These require a clear commitment to effective partnership working across the Scottish public sector and with third sector partners.

Evidence suggests that effective preventative intervention help to break recurring cycles of poor social outcomes, and prevent extensive and expensive responses from public services at a later stage. The aim is to shift priorities and resources from damage limitation to prevention and early intervention. It is fully accepted that this is a long-term endeavour.

In addition to the benefits for children and families from support in the early years, there is international and, now, bespoke Scottish evidence 8 to show that significant savings can be made to the public purse from effective early years interventions. 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.

While the critical importance of the early years is clear, Scotland's 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 the Scottish Government's approach to social policy, across the whole spectrum of issues affecting families.

2.2.2 Assets-based approach

We believe that sustainable improvements in people's life chances are most likely to be achieved by identifying and supporting the development of their own capabilities to manage their way out of poverty. Therefore, while 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, or assume that people lack the capacity for more than passive acceptance of the circumstances in which they live. Individuals, families and communities have assets and capabilities and these need to be supported and developed if they are to achieve sustained improvements in their wellbeing.

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 their transition from welfare to wellbeing, and from dependency to self determination. This requires a shift in the traditional relationship between vulnerable individuals and the state, which has tended to do things to 'fix' people in a way which often engenders a passive dependency in individuals. Assets approaches invite individuals and communities to take control of managing positive changes to their circumstances by co-producing the interventions by which they can be supported out of poverty. An assets-based approach relies on the ability of professionals to recognise that individuals and communities can move from being consumers of services to being a 'resource' which co-designs services.

The principles of assets-based approaches include:

  • Emphasising and supporting 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;
  • Building networks, friendships, self esteem and feelings of personal and collective effectiveness and connectedness which promote health and wellbeing, enable people to make sense of their environment, and so help them take control of their lives; and
  • Individuals and communities working with service providers to co-produce interventions and self-manage programmes of change.

The scientific case for chronically raised levels of stress associated with deprived socio-economic circumstances is robust. There is evidence to suggest that supporting individuals to understand their social environment and take control of it is an important mechanism for reducing stress. This in turn suggests that increasing the resilience of those who are struggling with their socio-economic environment by building their assets and bringing a sense of coherence to their surroundings, both internally and within their families and communities, can enable them to manage their own circumstances more effectively and lead to long-lasting improvements in their life chances.

The child poverty discussion paper outlined our commitment to assets-based approaches which harness and develop the assets within individuals, families and communities rather than focusing on their deficiencies and seeking to 'fix' them. These approaches have the potential to deliver sustainable improvements to children's life chances and long-term support to families in poverty in a way which avoids creating a relationship of dependency.

Assets approaches are not new and there is much activity across Scotland which embodies this way of working. We want to help develop assets approaches by supporting the organic growth of this local work.

We have begun doing this through the inception of an assets alliance, a loose network of practitioners of assets approaches or those interested in developing and promoting them. The alliance will agitate and advocate for such approaches, and help generate conversations and debates across Scotland about assets and the shift in thinking about individuals, families and communities which assets approaches entail. A report on the inception of this alliance can be found at:

Scottish Government will support development of the evidence base on assets approaches, and work with partners to research into the existing use of assets based approaches across Scotland. This work will be of interest to a wide range of stakeholders and will help to underpin the further development of such approaches in Scotland.

It is recognised that an assets-based approach also requires addressing attitudes towards people living in poverty. Stigma at individual, neighbourhood and community level, and in media representations of people in poverty - continues to dominate widespread attitudes and has a destructive impact on those people that are on the receiving end. The Tackling Poverty Board acknowledged this challenge and included the following recommendation in the Board Statement: " Dignity, rights and respect around entitlement must be the hallmark of engaging with public services in Scotland. We should avoid the language that stereotypes people or the reasons for their poverty or need for services"9.

Scottish Ministers have given their support to the Poverty Alliance 'Stick Your Labels' campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of the stigma and discrimination experienced by people in poverty 10. Making this a reality involves action and responsiveness across all sectors. Organisations such as the Poverty Alliance, One Parent Families Scotland, Save the Children and the Child Poverty Action Group promote awareness of poverty and the effects of stigma, and provide training to professionals working in and with deprived communities. Engaging with individuals, families and communities that have experience of poverty is critical in understanding the barriers to accessing services and staff should be trained and supported in the significant impact of poverty on a range of outcomes.

2.2.3 A child-centred approach

We have made clear our commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) and to promoting and supporting the rights of all children in Scotland as a key strand of our activity to improve outcomes for all.

In 2009 we published " Do the Right Thing", our response to the 2008 concluding observations from the UNCRC. As part of our response, we committed to take forward a number of actions designed to build momentum on tackling the issue of child poverty. We have made a clear commitment to report on progress in implementing "Do the Right Thing" over the course of 2011-12.

Through "Working Together, Achieving More" we have committed to working collaboratively with the other administrations within the UK in response to the UNCRC and have identified tackling child poverty as one of our priority areas for action.

We believe that we can best achieve implementation of the UNCRC by changing the cultures and practice that will make the most significant improvements in supporting, promoting and respecting children's rights. Our priority is therefore to ensure that "Getting it Right for Every Child" ( GIRFEC) is fully implemented across Scotland. We are clear that the integration of children's rights into every aspect of delivery of children's services is key to ensuring that children get the best start in life and that their rights are respected.

The child-centred and multi-agency approach set out in GIRFEC is the means by which the Scottish Government hope local partners will deliver the Early Years Framework and wider children's services.

GIRFEC 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.


  • 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 GIRFEC 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.

There is growing evidence 11 from those already implementing GIRFEC in pathfinder and learning partner areas that tangible benefits are being achieved for both children and agencies. The evaluation of the Highland GIRFEC pathfinder showed improved outcomes through more joined up, holistic and timely support for children and families, and improved trust and understanding of children's needs. It also showed efficiency savings for agencies through identifying need for intervention at an earlier stage, redesigning and streamlining of services for children, reducing bureaucracy and increasing sharing of resources.

As a result the Scottish Government has initiated further development of GIRFEC. We are working further with Community Planning Partnerships to help promote learning between CPP groupings, professional groupings and geographical areas and help to develop solutions to cross-boundary issues and barriers to implementation.

Key measures in this section: to reduce levels of child poverty and minimise the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on children

  • Promoting and embedding an early intervention and prevention approach, including preventative action and preventative spend
  • Develop and grow assets approaches through the inception of the Assets Alliance, and through further exploration of the evidence base on assets approaches
  • Working with partners to tackle stigma and discrimination against people living in poverty
  • Ensuring that Getting It Right for Every Child is implemented across Scotland

While we intend to make significant progress on these measures, and the others set out in this document during the three year life span of this strategy, our overall approach is a long-term one. As the Early Years Framework makes clear, "it will take a concerted and long-term effort across a range of policies and services to achieve a transformation in outcomes."

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