Tackling child poverty: first year progress report (2018 to 2019)

The first annual progress report for 'Every child, every chance: tackling child poverty delivery plan 2018-2022'.

2. Assessing Progress Against The Targets


This section outlines the Scottish Government’s approach to assessing progress towards the child poverty targets, presenting the most recent data for the four targets and the main drivers of poverty reduction. This includes the most recent child poverty data for the six priority families identified in ‘Every Child, Every Chance’.

The latest available statistics predate the Delivery Plan’s first year (i.e. the activity outlined in this report). However, it is clear that we will need to make strong progress, particularly given the ongoing UK Government cuts to social security, and that to achieve the targets will require considerable investment, on top of the significant sums the Scottish Government already spends to help children and families, set out in the previous section.

Our approach to assessing impact

There are three main elements to our approach to assessing impact as set out in the figure below.

In addition, across all three elements, there is a need to consider impacts for the six priority groups – family types that are at a higher than average risk of child poverty.

This section describes each of these elements in turn. It provides baseline data and historical trends for the four child poverty targets and for the drivers of child poverty (employment, costs of living and social security). It also presents baseline data on child poverty among the six priority groups identified in ‘Every Child, Every Chance’.

Pyramid Chart

Monitoring child poverty

We will report annually on the four child poverty targets. The most recent child poverty statistics available describe the situation in 2017-18, which covers the period before publication of the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. These statistics provide the baseline for future progress. Statistics covering 2018-19 will be published in spring 2020.

The most recent child poverty statistics show the scale of the challenge we face in meeting the targets:

  • in 2017-18, 24% of children were in relative poverty, against a 2030 target of 10%;
  • in 2017-18, 22% of children were in absolute poverty, against a 2030 target of 5%;
  • in 2017-18, 14% of children were in combined low income and material deprivation, against a 2030 target of 5%; and
  • in 2013-17, 17% of children were in persistent poverty, against a 2030 target of 5%.

Looking at historical trends over time in the following charts, while relative and absolute poverty rates had been falling for many years, there has been a slow increase in relative child poverty in recent years, whereas absolute poverty appears to be fairly stable. Persistent child poverty and the combined low income and material deprivation rate for children both fluctuated in recent years, showing no clear trend.

Relative Poverty

Absolute Poverty

Combined low income and
material deprivation

Monitoring the drivers of child poverty

The Scottish Government has developed a new Child Poverty Measurement Framework to monitor how the various issues we know influence child poverty levels – for example, parental employment and housing costs – are changing over time. Checking which of the poverty drivers are moving in the right direction, and which are not, will give us a better understanding of why levels of poverty are or aren’t reducing, and where we might need to change approach or do more.

As with the headline poverty statistics, the most recent data on the drivers of child poverty relate to the period predating the publication of the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, and therefore provide a baseline for future progress. Annex B presents the baseline figures, along with the historical trends over time.

Annex B also shows that key employment indicators (participation, pay, hours worked and underemployment) are all stable or moving very slowly in the right direction. But we need to see much bigger moves in order to progress towards the interim targets. Likewise, skills measures show that, the attainment gap between school leavers in the most and least deprived areas has narrowed considerably, however, there are still too many parents with degrees who are in low or medium skilled occupations.

Availability of flexible childcare is improving slowly, but we know more needs to be done to ensure the offer is flexible enough to enable parents to increase their income from employment. Stakeholder feedback suggests the need to address wider barriers (e.g. transport) to accessing childcare.

Annex B shows there have been reductions in the numbers of families in unmanageable debt or lacking savings. However, Brexit forecasts suggest future rises to food and fuel costs, so it will be important to continue to monitor movement in cost of living indicators for low income households.

UK Government welfare reforms have continued, with the indicators in Annex B showing reduced values of payments for families, particularly for working families.

In summary, Annex B presents a mixed picture. On employment, skills and cost of living measures, there has been broad stability, with some positive movement. The value of social security payments reserved to the UK Government has been falling. As delivery plan actions are implemented and become visible in the data, we will need to see much more decisive positive movements to be optimistic that we are making progress towards the child poverty targets.

Assessing the impact of policies and external factors on poverty and its drivers

Monitoring the drivers will tell us how they have changed over time, but not necessarily why they have changed. Poverty and its drivers are influenced by many different factors, only some of which can be influenced by public policy in Scotland.

One way of attempting to account for the impact of UK-wide factors is to compare trends over time in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Baseline data show that, on all four measures, rates of child poverty are lower in Scotland than in the UK as a whole.

Percentage of children in poverty after housing costs (Sources: Family Resources Survey, Understanding Society)

Scotland UK
Relative poverty 2017-18 24% 30%
Absolute poverty 2017-18 22% 26%
Low income + material deprivation 2017-18 14% 15%
Persistent poverty 2013-17 17% 20%

Children are less likely to be in relative poverty in Scotland (and Northern Ireland) than in Wales or any of the regions of England.

Percentage of children in relative poverty after housing costs, 2015-16-2017-18 (3 year average) (Source: Family Resources Survey)

UK 30%
Scotland 24%
Northern Ireland 24%
Wales 29%
England 31%
South East 25%
South West 25%
East 27%
East Midlands 28%
Yorkshire and the Humber 30%
North West 32%
West Midlands 34%
North East 35%
London 37%

A number of forecasts for future child poverty levels have been produced over the past couple of years, , . There is a degree of uncertainty about the rate of increase, but all of the projections indicate that there will be a rising trend in child poverty in the coming years, primarily resulting from the announced UK Government cuts to social security.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s assessment of changes to tax, social security and public spending up to the tax year 2021-22 found that these changes will have a greater negative impact on low income households in England than in Scotland. For example, by 2021-22, households on the lowest 10% of incomes in England are forecast to lose an average of around £1,300 per year, compared to around £900 for those on the lowest 10% of incomes in Scotland. This partly reflects policies introduced by the Scottish Government to mitigate the impact of the UK Government’s benefit and tax credit cuts.

In future progress reports, we will also evaluate the key actions in the Delivery Plan, to estimate the contribution they have made to changes in the drivers and targets. For example, we will consider whether they have been carried out as planned, how many low income families they have reached, and how families have benefitted. Initial evaluation efforts are focussed on the following key actions:

  • Fair Start Scotland
  • Expanded Early Learning and Childcare
  • Private Residential Tenancy
  • Financial Health Check
  • Best Start Grant

Other actions – including Parental Employment Support and the Scottish Child Payment – will also be evaluated when they come on stream.

The causes of child poverty are complex, involving a wide range of structural, household and individual-level factors. Therefore, there is no single ‘magic bullet’ to tackle child poverty in Scotland, and meeting the targets will require concerted action across a wide range of policy areas and organisations. We therefore intend to evaluate how well actions are working together, as a joined-up system.

‘Priority families’

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 requires that the annual progress reports describe the effect of delivery plan actions on the number of children living in single-parent households who are living in poverty, and on children living in households whose income is adversely affected, or expenditure is increased, because a member of the household has one or more protected characteristics.

‘Every Child, Every Chance’ identified the following six ‘priority families’ – family types that have a higher than average risk of child poverty:

  • Lone parent families, the large majority of which are headed by women
  • Families which include a disabled adult or child
  • Larger families
  • Minority ethnic families
  • Families with a child under one year old
  • Families where the mother is under 25 years of age

There are considerable links between the priority families and the protected characteristics.

Baseline data on child poverty rates among these priority groups are presented below, and will be updated in future progress reports to enable progress to be tracked.

Percentage of children in poverty after housing costs 2015-18 (Source: Family Resources Survey)

Relative poverty Absolute poverty Low income + material deprivation
Disabled person in household 30% 27% 20%
3+ children in household 32% 30% 20%
Baby aged under 1 in household 32% 31% 12%
Minority ethnic household 40% 37% 18%
Lone parent household 41% 36% 28%
Mother aged under 25 56% 51% 26%
All children 24% 22% 12%

Percentage of children in persistent poverty after housing costs 2013-17 (Source: Understanding Society)

Disabled adult in benefit unit 14%
3+ children in benefit unit 32%
Lone parent benefit unit 38%
All children 17%

Every household circumstance is different. There will be children living in families where many of these factors apply, yet they do not live in poverty. And there are some children experiencing poverty even though they are not in any of the priority family types. However, the six priority groups, taken together, do cover the majority of children in poverty in Scotland.

Number of children in poverty after housing costs 2015-18 (Source: Family Resources Survey)

Relative poverty Absolute poverty Low income + material deprivation
All children 240,000 220,000 120,000
Baby aged under 1 in household 30,000 30,000 10,000
Mother aged under 25 30,000 30,000 10,000
Disabled person in household 100,000 90,000 70,000
Minority ethnic household 30,000 20,000 10,000
Lone parent household 90,000 80,000 60,000
3+ children in household 80,000 70,000 50,000
None of the above 40,000 30,000 10,000

Annex C takes a more in-depth look at child poverty and its drivers among one of the priority groups: minority ethnic families. Subsequent annual reports will look in‑depth at other priority groups.

Evaluations of the key actions in the Delivery Plan will, where possible, collect information on the extent to which the actions are reaching and meeting the needs of the six priority groups.


Email: sjsu@gov.scot

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