Households where the mother is aged 25 or under are one of the six priority family groups highlighted as being at a higher risk of poverty. Over half (55%) of children in households with a mother aged under 25 were in relative poverty in 2015-18, compared to 24% of children overall. This is notably higher than for any of our other priority family groups, all of whom are also at higher risk of poverty.
From a policy perspective, it is relevant to question what type of support mothers under 25 would need. Primarily this will be around boosting their income, either through employment or using other tools like social security to ensure that they are able to live with dignity while they continue to build their skills, qualifications and work experience alongside supporting their child(ren).
The ability to raise income from employment is limited for many mothers under 25. For a start, they have had less time to build experience and progress in their career before becoming a parent, but importantly, the National Living Wage is not enforced until the employee is at least 23 years old. This then is reflected in lower paid jobs and more volatile incomes. The younger the mother, the more likely they are to be in a disadvantaged position when compared to their older peers.
Furthermore, the generosity of some social security benefits for under 25s is lower than for older age groups (for example, standard Universal Credit allowance and rates for Local Housing Allowance). Even when they qualify for certain benefits, young people can face barriers to accessing income from social security as they have less experience navigating complex social security systems.
Gaining skills and qualifications can be key to finding and maintaining well-paid work. Supporting mothers under 25 to continue with, or take up, educational opportunities can therefore be an important way of improving outcomes both for them and for their child in the long term.
Supporting further education or improved job prospects needs to be on the basis of high quality, flexible and affordable services such as childcare. Free or subsidised childcare helps reduce the cost of living for those who already use it, but some research has found that the early learning and childcare (ELC) hours funded by the Scottish offer is not compatible with certain jobs, such as shift work, and is not flexible enough for some parents. This could have a particular impact on mothers under 25 given the type of employment they are more likely to be in.
Generally, low income households, including those with mothers under 25, spend a greater share of their income on essential costs, such as food, housing, fuel or transport. Furthermore, young people are often more financially vulnerable than older people. They have had less time to learn and develop experience in managing finances.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-ranging impacts for all families across Scotland, but the pandemic appears to have had a more negative impact on young people and women, particularly around paid and unpaid work. This is likely to exacerbate gender and age inequalities that already existed prior to the pandemic.
While there is no one single policy or action that can support mothers under 25 out of poverty, evidence points towards removing the root causes of poverty through increasing their income. This may include increasing hourly pay and social security benefits. It is also necessary to acknowledge the impact of poverty on the child by supporting mothers through the drivers of poverty, but also through focusing on inequalities for children.
When considering policies that support mothers aged under 25, it is necessary to also consider the range of factors which contribute to poverty, and wellbeing of the child. That is, the context in which a child is raised, the importance of the home environment and relationships, alongside factors including education and income. A holistic approach is necessary to tackle the root causes of poverty.
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