How is Scotland Performing on Poverty?
Before I begin, it's worth offering some context on how Scotland has been performing over recent years on poverty. In many ways, it's a positive story. Despite austerity and recession, rates of relative poverty, before housing costs, speak of success of some kind: at 14% for all individuals in 2013/14; the same level for children and working age adults; and 15% for pensioners. These are, for the most part, better figures than for the UK as a whole, and low compared to recent years.
However, Scottish Government statisticians also publish relative poverty figures after housing costs ( AHC), and this is a more important way of looking at poverty. Everyone needs somewhere to live and most of us need to find some way of paying for it. So this paper focuses on the AHC measure - despite the fact that 'before housing costs' is the headline measure at UK level.
And once housing costs are taken into account, Scotland's poverty figures are consistently better than the UK's. For children, for example, there's a six percentage point positive difference between the Scottish figures and the UK ones. The bad news is that the Scottish AHC poverty figures are still too high, affecting 18% of all individuals in 2013/14; 22% of children; 19% of working age adults; and 12% of pensioners (who do better mainly because many of them have low housing costs). The fact that these figures have stayed relatively flat over recent years could in itself be considered a good result, bearing in mind the recent economic context. However, much more could be done.
The Scottish Government has already introduced a range of anti-poverty actions, particularly around welfare reform. It has fully mitigated the bedroom tax, plugged the gap in council tax reduction funding, set up a successful welfare fund providing crisis and community care grants, actively supported social housing, funded advice services, strengthened the educational maintenance allowance, and promoted the Living Wage. These policy decisions have been important in protecting people from poverty, or from a greater depth of poverty, and often they've had support across the political spectrum in Scotland. But at all levels of government more could be done, and this report offers some specific ideas.