Local child poverty action reports: year 4 review - 2021 to 2022

This research publication summarises key trends and actions undertaken by local areas to reduce child poverty over the period April 2021 to March 2022 so that key learnings can be shared and lessons learned.

Executive summary

This report analyses 16 Local Child Poverty Action Reports (LCPARs) for the financial year 2021/22. LCPARs describe actions related to child poverty reduction taken over a given year by a local authority as well as the actions it plans for the following year.

The overarching aim of the research is to summarise key actions undertaken by local areas to reduce child poverty over the period April 2021 to March 2022. The report highlights key actions that have taken place and examines how local efforts have been governed and structured.

To do this, a thematic analysis of the LCPARs has been carried out. This involves creating a coding framework into which the information in the different local reports can be grouped together and analysed across key themes.

The key findings from the research are as follows:

What is (not) working well in the national and local governance structures and support? Across most local areas collaboration at different levels of governance and between different partners and agencies was a key feature of how child poverty actions were organised and governed to develop local plans. This collaborative governance is happening in a range of ways but successful approaches seem to involve a range of partners and stakeholders from different areas. For example, involving third sector organisations and health services. Where governance structures worked most effectively there seemed to be clear frameworks and procedures in place for partners and stakeholder involved to influence decision making, often through clearly organised and structured governance boards. Although occurring less frequently, a few areas involved people with lived experience in their governance and decision making structures. Where this is occurring and being carried out in an accessible and meaningful way it can be a key mechanism to allow the experiences of those directly affected by poverty and inequality to shape local responses.

To what extent do local areas understand, engage, and further the national goal of tackling child poverty? The national mission and actions set out in the delivery plans have been taken forward by local authorities and health boards in their child poverty reduction efforts. Several of the key concepts associated with the Scottish Government's child poverty mission recurred in the LCPARs. For example, they have demonstrated that they understand the drivers of poverty as multifaceted problems which affect both the national and local child poverty situation. They are utilising the drivers as tools, tackling them as problems and exploring them as concepts. Reports often stressed the individual nature of local responses and emphasised the success that locally-developed and implemented child poverty measures have had.

To what extent do reports use data, analysis and knowledge of what works to drive policy? Data analysis was widespread and used most often to describe poverty within local areas. Data and evidence was used less effectively in a strategic context to inform the planning and delivery process of local areas. For example, there was limited evidence of local areas using information to identify local needs and select priorities. Where this did occur, some local areas used surveys to identify priority areas or involved those with lived experience in their planning structures. There was less evidence of local areas using empirical information on what works (and does not work) to inform actions to address local priorities. From the reports analysed it was not always clear whether or what sorts of existing evidence was being used to select actions which would be impactful. Similarly, the gathering of monitoring information and use of evidence to evaluate actions does not seem to be occurring consistently across all local areas. Where this did occur it was a useful way of sharing learning on what is working well/less well, improving how services are delivered and informing the roll-out and expansion of certain actions. There is little evidence of local areas evaluating their plans as a whole, rather than just in terms of individual actions.

Has the national mission encouraged collaboration? Is there greater collaboration within/across local areas? If so in what ways is this being encouraged? Collaboration was the most frequent aspect of the national mission present in LCPARs. This ranged from inter-departmental collaboration on a single service to collaboration between sectors and between local authorities on the governance level. Collaboration seems to work well when a wide range of relevant partners are involved and given the opportunity to contribute to actions being taken. This can involve ensuring that all relevant partners and stakeholders are involved in the provision of services, ensuring join-up between different services being provided, and, as previously discussed, collaboration at the governance stage when clear structures ensure that stakeholders can contribute to decision making and planning. Where collaboration was embedded throughout service design and delivery there seemed to be more effective moves towards holistic and joined-up service provision.

How have local interventions been targeted? To what extent have interventions been successful in reaching their intended target groups, including priority family groups? While most local areas included some mentions of priority families in their reports it was less clear whether actions were targeted towards groups at risk of child poverty. Sometimes, local areas used the six priority family lenses as a way of ensuring that their actions did reach those most at risk of poverty. Where targeting did occur the ways this was approached differed between areas and depended on the action being taken. In many cases local authorities and health boards developed their own localised targeting strategies, which focused on groups outside of the six priority family types based on their own assessments of local need and some even designed particular services to meet the needs of a single group.

To what extent have interventions achieved their short and medium-term outcomes? Interventions claimed to be contributing significantly to reductions in child poverty rates at the local level. Some reports did provide evidence of the effectiveness of certain interventions. There was evidence, too, of interventions contributing toward improved personal wellbeing as well as the drivers of poverty. Often this evidence came in the form of case studies highlighting particular users who had benefitted from local actions. Quantifiable evidence of reduced poverty rates was generally not provided or not available.

What types of local interventions are taking place? Here it is useful to categorise interventions across the three drivers of poverty. To support income from social security, boht cash-first and payments-in-kind approaches were well represented across the LCPARs, with evidence presented that both can play a significant role. To tackle low income from employment as a driver of poverty, a range of employability schemes were made available, often in collaboration with local colleges and funded by the Scottish Government, and there were several efforts to raise the number of Living Wage employers. When it came to addressing the cost of living, actions included a mix of: emergency payments; free provision of services like transport, food and childcare; and connection with advice or counselling services.

Based on these findings, some recommendations for local authorities and health boards going forward are:

Continue efforts to create governance structures which involve a range of partners and are collaborative. There were strong examples of local areas developing governance structures which worked collaboratively. This supported effective working across barriers, allowed a range of perspectives to feed into planning, made links between areas visible, and supported the delivery and holistic join-up of services on the ground. To support the sharing of learning across areas on effective governance, clearer and more detailed information could be provided in the LCPARs, so that local areas can better understand how other local systems are structured and organised.

Use data more strategically to identify local needs and priorities. While most reports used data to describe patterns of child poverty in their local area far fewer appeared to be using data and evidence in a strategic way to plan actions locally. Embedding processes where existing evidence from a wide range of sources is carried out at the start of the planning process and reviewed at key points throughout would support in identifying what the biggest issues are locally or where the biggest potential for impact is, and for actions to be directed accordingly.

Routinely use information on what works (and does not work) to inform actions to address local priorities. Where priority areas have been identified there was no evidence across the reports that actions were based on existing evidence of what works. Ensuring that evidence on what works (and does not work) to address the priority issues identified would help drive actions which are more likely to be impactful.

More consistently monitoring and measuring the impacts of actions. Some local areas had monitoring frameworks for assessing the impact of actions. However strong monitoring and evaluation did not occur consistently across areas. Should this be embedded in local practice, local areas would be better able to regularly track progress on actions and monitor changes. Evaluation and monitoring practices would be particularly important for actions which are new or innovative or which are a key priority locally. Including greater evidence of whether actions are working to improve intended outcomes, why, and for whom from evaluation evidence would also provide a useful source of learning for local authorities and health boards going forward to improve on delivery and add to the evidence base of what does and does not work.

Ensure that learning on what works to tackle child poverty is being shared widely within and between local areas. Across all reports analysed it was clear that partners and stakeholders locally are collaborating effectively to plan and deliver services. It was less clear how learning and reflections on what has been delivered was being shared within local areas, and more widely between areas so that other areas can benefit and improve their understandings of what works to tackle child poverty. Improving the sharing of learning between areas would support efforts to improve governance structures and the actions being taken to tackle child poverty locally based on evidence of what is working elsewhere.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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