Poverty in children and young people
It is estimated that 24% of children (240,000 children each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2017-20. Before housing costs, it is estimated that 21% of children (210,000 children each year) were in relative poverty. Children in this context refers to ‘dependent children’; a dependent child is a person either aged 0-15, or aged 16-19 and: not married nor in a Civil Partnership nor living with a partner, and living with their parents, and in full-time non-advanced education or in unwaged government training.
It is estimated that in 2017-20, 68% of children in relative poverty after housing costs (160,000 children each year) were living in working households.
Between 2018 and 2020, 30% of households in Scotland were financially vulnerable. A household is ‘financially vulnerable’ if there are not enough savings to cover less than one month of income at the poverty line. These costs include average costs of rent, food and fuel, such as gas and electricity. The groups of households that are most likely to be financially vulnerable (workless, young, with children, lone parents) are often small, so the bulk of financially vulnerable households is made up of households with different characteristics.
Households with disabled household members were more likely to be financially vulnerable compared to those with no disabled household members. 40% of households with disabled members were financially vulnerable in 2018-2020, compared to 25% of households with no disabled members.
It was also found that households with children were more likely to be financially vulnerable compared to those without. 37% of households with dependent children were financially vulnerable in 2018-2020, compared to 28% of households without any dependent children.
The significance of the poverty rate is key as the longer that children experience poverty, the greater the damage to their health, wellbeing and life chances. From birth, without support, children living in poverty are twice as likely to fall behind their peers in all aspects of their development.
Whilst minority ethnic households are similarly likely to be financially vulnerable compared to white British households, the Scottish Equal Opportunities Committee found that minority ethnic adults were, on average, more likely to be unemployed or in low-paid work than white adults, despite their overall better academic performance. This is significant as households with an inactive (but not retired) or unemployed household head were twice as likely to be financially vulnerable compared to households with an employed household head. 67% of households with an inactive/unemployed head were financially vulnerable in 2018-2020, compared to only 32% of households with an employed head.
The link between poverty and disability
Research has shown that poverty disproportionately affects those with a disability, with disabled people experiencing higher poverty rates than the rest of the population.
Scotland-wide, there are higher levels of child material deprivation in households which include a disabled person, at 20% compared to households without a disabled person (at 8%). There are higher rates of food insecurity among disabled people (18%) compared to non-disabled people (7%). There is a higher likelihood of living in relative poverty after housing costs with a disabled person in the household (23% of families with a disabled person compared to 17% of families with no disabled members). If disability benefits are not counted towards household income, this raises to 29%. ‘Family’ in these circumstances referred to the core family in a household, comprising one or two adults and children, if any.
Disability and unemployment/under-employment are positively correlated. 14% of ‘workless families’ (defined as families where parents are predominately out of work or have little connection to the labour market; who live in social rented accommodation and are reliant on benefits for their income) have one or more children with a disability or long-term illness.
A further 17% of ‘struggling to get by’ families (unemployed or working part-time, half of which are single-parent families) have one or more children with a disability or long-term illness.
Even where one or more parent in the household is in employment, within families with a disabled child, the same level of income secures a lower standard of living than it would for a household without someone with a disability or long-term health condition. This is because disabled people face higher costs than non-disabled people, such as the cost of specialist equipment, therapies and home adaptations to manage a condition. Travel costs too, may be higher as individuals have to afford the cost of taxis to and from hospital where it is not possible to use public transport (and/or public transport may not be available).
Research conducted by the Papworth Trust showed that the annual cost of bringing up a disabled child is three times greater than for a non-disabled child.
Poverty amongst disabled people is likely to be exacerbated in light of the COVID-19 crisis. In the United Nations policy brief on disability-inclusive response to COVID-19, the report makes connections between the pandemic and poverty, with disabled people likely to be disproportionately impacted.
Cost of living
The Scottish House Condition Survey data (December 2019) indicates that around 613,000 households (24.6%) in Scotland live in fuel poverty, with 311,000 (12.4%) living in extreme fuel poverty. 16% of households in fuel poverty are families with children. This is likely to only have worsened as a result of the cost of living crisis. For example, MS Society Scotland says that on average, people living with the condition face additional costs of between £600 and £1,000 a month, and that people are "already having to make impossible choices". Research from Citizens Advice Scotland also shows that disabled people are more likely to be in fuel poverty, which they say causes knock-on effects for those on prepayment meters such as not being able to keep a fridge on to store medicine.
Households with a disabled family member are disproportionately over-represented within fuel poverty statistics, with approximately 34% of fuel poor households containing someone with a disability. Fuel poverty, as defined in the Scottish Fuel Poverty Statement, is when a household has to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel costs, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime. The World Health Organisation (WHO) have defined this as 21oC in the living room and 18oC in other rooms, for 16 hours in every 24, unless the household is classified as “vulnerable”, such as when at least one resident has a long term sickness or disability. In these instances, the heating regime required is 23oC in the living room and 18oC in other rooms, for 16 hours per day. In light of this guidance, the Scottish Fuel Poverty Definition Review Panel recommended in 2017 that for ‘vulnerable households’, including those of disabled people, the living room temperature recommendation should be 23oC and other rooms 20oC.
Unfortunately in spite of the WHO recommendations, research shows that vulnerable households often struggle to afford adequate energy consumption to meet their needs, resulting in having to choose between ‘heating or eating’.
By identifying the individuals likely to be impacted by the policy and summarising the evidence base, we are best able to make an assessment of the scale of impact this policy will have as well as helping us recognise the groups of individuals that would be most severely impacted.
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