Children's hearings training resource manual: volume 2

Volume 2 is a children's hearings handbook, focusing on the problems that some children face, the environment in which they live, their needs and their rights.

6 Children and Society


Housing Tenure

The last 50 years have seen a substantial change in housing tenure in Scotland. Historically, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of owner-occupier households, from a quarter in 1961 to around two thirds in recent years. This was mirrored in the decline of the private and social rented sector, which in 1961 accounted for 34% and 41% of households respectively.

The more recent Scottish Household Survey data, from 2005 through to 2011, give some indication that the rising trend in relation to owner-occupation may be levelling out to some extent, possibly in part due to increasing pressure in the housing market. While the private rented sector has shown small but consistent growth from 5% in 1999 to 11% in 2011, this has been mirrored through a decline in the social rented sector (32% to 22%).

The decline in social housing has been accompanied by substantial changes in the profile of its tenants. Data from the Scottish Census show that in 1981, the profile of social sector tenants was similar to the profile of households in society generally in terms of their size, composition, and social and economic characteristics. This is no longer the case and tenure patterns show marked differences by household type, reflecting differences in life stage and household circumstances.

There is a strong geographic component to the changing profile of the social housing sector and a link with deprivation. The 15% most deprived areas are characterised by high concentrations of social housing, with over half (56%) of households in the social rented sector, compared to 23% overall. More generally, there is a consistent and marked link between levels of social sector renting and deprivation.

Source: Scottish Household Survey 2012


The Scottish Government is committed to the target that all households assessed as unintentionally homeless by local authorities will be entitled to settled accommodation by 2012.

  • An estimated 55,227 applications under the Homeless Persons legislation were made to local authorities in 2010-11, a decrease of 3.3% compared to the 57,122 applications made the previous year.
  • The majority (63%) of households who presented as homeless were single-person households. Most of these were single male households. Single parent households, predominantly female, accounted for the next largest group (23%).
  • Some 47% of applications were made by applicants who were living with friends or family before applying for assistance. A further 35% were by applicants who owned or rented their accommodation before applying.
  • Disputes within the household / relationship breakdown led to 28% of homelessness applications. An additional 26% gave the reason that they were asked to leave their previous accommodation.

Over half (51%) of single female applicants are aged under 25. Single males have a slightly older age profile with approximately half (48%) being aged under 30.

Source: Operation of the homeless persons legislation in Scotland: 2010-11: National Statistics publication

Up to half of all young people who are now homeless have previously been looked after i.e. they have been subject to a compulsory supervision order that may have included residential care.


The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, ratified by the British Government in 1991 includes:

'the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development'.

The Convention makes it clear that in order not to be poor, a child has to experience a standard of living that enables her or him to participate in society. Child poverty implies exclusion from mainstream society and a denial of opportunities that are available to other children.

Definitions of poverty

Absolute poverty

This refers to the attempt to define a level of income that will support basic minimum needs for food, fuel, housing and clothing. Most people accept that what is regarded as 'the minimum' inevitably changes over time.

Relative poverty

This looks at how poor people are in relation to the society to which they belong. The quotes from Professor Peter Townsend and the EC Council of Ministers shown below illustrate relative definitions of poverty:

'Individuals ... can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary ... in the societies to which they belong'. (Professor Peter Townsend)

'The poor shall be taken to mean persons, families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the member state to which they belong'

(European Council of Ministers, 1984)

Relative definitions address the problems that lack of income entails: a lack of adequate diet and housing lead to social isolation and exclusion from activities that are accepted in a particular society.

Unlike many other European countries Britain has no official definition of poverty, or for that matter a definition for a minimum standard of living. However measurements, which are commonly used to identify poverty, are:

  • having an income which is less than 60% of the national average (excluding the wealthiest members of society). On this measure, the proportion of the UK population defined as in poverty is roughly one in five.
  • those dependent on Income Support.

The successive Breadline Britain surveys have been attempts to get a consensual agreement about what it means to be poor. Those conducting the survey (for the whole of the UK) presented a cross section of the public with a list of items, and asked them what they considered to be necessities. Forty-four items were suggested and those named by 50% of those taking part in the survey were considered to be necessities. Anyone who lacked three of the necessary items could then be defined as 'poor'.

The last such survey was conducted in 1999 and the study produced the following statistics for the UK as a whole:

  • Some four million do not eat adequately by today's standards, i.e. they cannot afford to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, or two meals a day.
  • Around 9.5 million people cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated, free from damp or in a decent state of decoration.
  • Some eight million people cannot afford one or more essential household item such as a refrigerator or carpets for the living area of their homes.
  • Approximately 10 million adults cannot afford regular savings of £10 a month.
  • Almost 6.5 million adults go without essential clothing due to lack of money.
  • Nearly 7.5 million people are too poor to engage in social activities considered necessary, such as visiting friends and family, attending weddings and funerals or having celebrations on special occasions.

The impact of such deprivation on children was also illustrated by the study. It found that more than two million children go without two or more necessities and around four million (or 34 percent) lack at least one essential item, including such things as adequate clothing, a healthy diet, items to help their educational development, an annual week's holiday away from home or social activities.

As many as one in 50 children go without new properly-fitting shoes, a warm waterproof coat and daily fresh fruit and vegetables. Child poverty was highest in homes where: no adult had any work at all or worked part-time; lone parent households; large families; households where someone was chronically sick or disabled and in families with ethnic-minority backgrounds.


Poverty and poor social circumstances damage health and life expectancy.

Life expectancy

  • There are marked differences in life expectancy between people born and living just short distances apart over much of Scotland.

Pregnancy and birth issues relating to low income families

  • mothers who grew up socially disadvantaged are more likely to smoke during pregnancy and less likely to breast feed
  • average birth weight of 200 g is lower in newborn than those in high income groups
  • double the risk of very pre-term births (before 32 weeks) for infants born in the most deprived areas than for those in the least deprived areas
  • very pre-term babies have an increased risk of dying in the first month of life, or if they survive, of having major health problems in childhood and later life.

Children from disadvantaged families face greater health risks

  • 10 times more likely to die suddenly in infancy.
  • 2 1/2 times more likely to suffer chronic illness as toddlers.
  • 2 times more likely to have cerebral palsy.
  • 3+ times more likely to suffer mental disorders.
  • Children of families in receipt of income support during their early childhood are 3 times more likely to have medically diagnosed asthma in their fourth year than those in families not in receipt of income support .

( UK Millennium cohort study of 18,000 children).

Impact of childhood poverty on adult health

  • 50% more likely to have chronic illnesses that limit ability to live a normal life.
  • More likely to be overweight and obese.
  • Those born with low birth weight are 4+ times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes and 25% more likely to die prematurely from heart disease.
  • Increased risk of mental illness, in particular anxiety and depression.

The World Health Organisation Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2007) considered the issue of why poorer children are less healthy. They identified:

  • proximal causes - those immediately responsible for illness
  • distal causes - those that promote the proximal causes.

"The causes of causes"

  • Evidence is increasing that an accumulation of socially related risk factors in childhood exert a negative effect on health in childhood itself and on into adulthood.
  • Poor social circumstances promote poor behaviours which exert a negative influence on the health of the adult and on the health of their children.

Flow Chart

There are some known relationships between deprivation and risk behaviours:

  • Social disadvantage experienced in childhood is associated with disadvantage at the time a female becomes pregnant.
  • Smoking in pregnancy is known to be more prevalent among disadvantaged women.
  • Smoking in pregnancy is associated with low birth weight.
  • There is increasing evidence that socially related risk factors accumulate in childhood into adulthood and combine to exert a negative effect on health in childhood and beyond.
  • Reducing child poverty is likely to have long term benefits for the children concerned and also for the health and well being of the whole community.

Acknowledgement: This information is extracted from an article published in 'Children in Scotland', January 2010 by Nick Spencer, Emeritus Professor of Child Health at the University of Warwick and author of the Health Consequences of Poverty for Children report for the End Child Poverty campaign group.


The poorest families in the UK are likely to pay higher prices than better-off families for basic necessities like gas, electricity, and banking. In their most recent report on the subject - The UK Poverty Rip-Off, the poverty premium 2010 - Save the Children UK estimate that the costs that poorer families bear in acquiring cash and credit, and in purchasing goods and services, can amount to a poverty premium of about £1,280 each year, an increase of £280 since their first report on the subject in 2007:

Typical costs

Costs to low-income families


Basic household item: cooker




Loan for £500




Cost to cash 3 x £200 cheques




Annual electricity and gas bill combined




Home contents insurance




Car insurance




Total Poverty Premium:


Many low income households choose to manage their budget in cash to ensure they have control over their total spending which is a rational, safe approach that limits risk and minimizes exposure to unexpected costs and outgoings. The downside to this strategy is that many of these households do not have access to a bank account, or other banking facility that would allow them to pay a range of bills by direct debit, which is often the cheapest payment option for products and services. Some low-income families have a poor credit history, which means that they have no access to affordable low or no-interest credit. The credit they can access (rent to buy, catalogues, and doorstep lenders) is therefore charged at the highest interest rates in the market. A basic household cooker can cost a family without access to credit a total of £669, more than two and a half times the cost of the same cooker bought outright.

A prepayment meter is a system that requires cash to be paid before energy can be consumed. The tariffs charged for prepayment meters are more expensive than direct debit or online tariffs. In spite of this, more than half of households on prepayment meters receive a means tested benefit or benefits for disability. In 36% of cases in 2007, prepayment meters were put in place to recover debt. Some families who have tried to change from a prepayment meter to an alternative cheaper payment method have found their plans effectively blocked because the energy companies charge them a deposit of £250, an additional cost which would prohibit many low income families from switching.

Source: The UK Poverty Rip-Off, the poverty premium 2010 - Save the Children UK


The benefits system is extremely complicated. Because entitlements vary according to individual circumstances, it is not possible here to give really meaningful figures in cash terms - those shown below are indicative only.

Child benefit

The child benefit system is under review (2012), with plans to introduce an element of means testing.

This is currently a universal non-means-tested benefit payable to anyone responsible for children up to the age of sixteen (or eighteen if they remain in full-time education). The 2011/12 level was £20.35 per week for the first child and £13.40 for subsequent children.

The benefit is normally paid every 4 weeks, but may be paid weekly if the claimant is also receiving a range of other supports, or is a single parent.

Income support

Income Support is extra money to help people on a low income. It is for people who don't have to sign on as unemployed, have a low income and work less than 16 hours per week. Eligibility depends upon personal circumstances.

Working Tax Credit / Child Tax Credit

This is a means-tested benefit which is available to low paid workers and non-workers with children. Applicants must work over sixteen hours per week and it is awarded for twenty-six weeks at a time. Some claimants may be only marginally better off in work than unemployed, owing to the withdrawal of housing benefit and council tax benefit as their incomes increase.

The loss of other benefits, such as free school meals, may also reduce their actual disposable income.

There are currently plans (2012) to raise the threshold of eligibility from 16 hours worked per week to 24 hours.

The Child Support Agency

The Agency was introduced in 1993 to implement the Child Support Act. It determines the level of child maintenance for parents who live apart. Lone parents claiming various types of benefit are obliged to authorise the Child Support Agency to pursue their absent partners for maintenance as a condition of receiving benefit. If payments are not regular, this can cause increased insecurity for the family. There is also evidence of greater tension between former partners. Fathers required to pay higher levels of maintenance may no longer able to afford to visit their children as often as before and lose contact with them.

A new, simplified, method of child maintenance calculation came into effect in 2003. Fixed percentages of the non-residential parent's income are taken, depending on the number of children. Allowances are made if the non-residential parent has children living in their current family.

There are proposals (2012) to introduce charges for the use of the CSA, with the aim of encouraging families to come to their own agreed child support arrangements.

The Social Fund

The aim of the Social Fund is similar to that of the previous single payments scheme and aims to provide support for some people on low incomes to meet unexpected expenditure that could not be accommodated from their benefit payments

The Social Fund comprises of two parts: the regulated Fund and the discretionary Fund. The regulated Fund includes Sure Start Maternity Grants, Cold Weather Payments and Funeral Grants. For each of the awards certain groups would have an entitlement. However, the discretionary Social Fund does not entitle anyone to support as of right. There are three parts to the discretionary Social Fund; Community Care Grants, Budgeting Loans and Crisis Loans. Two thirds of payments are dispensed in the form of repayable loans.

Young people

Every young person who is eligible to leave compulsory education and who is making a transition to further learning, training or employment within the Senior Phase should receive an offer of post-16 learning. This may include staying in school; attending college or university; taking part in a National Training Programme; learning in a community learning and development or third sector setting, including with an Activity Agreement; volunteering and employment. For those young people with Additional Support Needs, options may include supported work placements with an employer. The large numbers of this age group without employment have no automatic entitlement to benefit and will receive support only in cases of extreme hardship. Many of them have no financial means of support apart from family or friends. One in seven young people just disappear from the system. They are sometimes referred to as "Neets" (Not in employment, education or training)

Those in the eighteen to twenty-four age group are entitled to reduced levels of benefit.


The 'Looked After Children (Scotland) regulations 2009' place a duty on local authorities and courts to consider the religion, race, culture and language of children when making arrangements for their care.

These legal duties reflect the importance of recognising the diversity of the Scottish population. The following information is aimed at providing an understanding of some of the areas which may affect a child and when discussing the placement of ethnic minority children.

Religious persuasion

This refers to the child's religious persuasion not the parents'. It refers to the system of beliefs and faith that a child is brought up with or adopts.

Racial origin

This can be the child's own country or area or that of their parents, grandparents or ancestors, their culture, their language etc. The more usual term is 'ethnic origin'.


This term means the language of common use within the family. For some children in Scotland, English is not their first language.


This refers to the shared habits and beliefs including values and social norms as well as family structure, ceremonies, dress, diet, music etc.

Racial identity

It is important for all children to develop a positive self-image and, for children from ethnic minorities this includes a positive racial identity. It can be undermined by negative messages from the white society about, for example, being 'black':

  • research has shown that children as young as two are aware of racial difference
  • it is important to acknowledge that the child's needs will be different
  • children may also face racism within the 'care environment'
  • many carers of ethnic minority children are white.


This is the term used to describe prejudice and discrimination towards people on the basis of their skin colour, culture, language and religion. Racism exists in Scotland today and takes many forms - graffiti, verbal and physical attacks, bullying and harassment.


Sectarianism stems from strongly held views about religion and can take the same forms as racism. Traditionally in Scotland it is associated with divisions between Catholic and Protestants. It is also present in anti-Semitism and in divisions between the various Asian communities.

The Scottish Government is committed to a number of anti-sectarianism initiatives, in particular in relation to football and behaviour at football matches.

Implications for hearings

It is important that those involved in the children's hearings system remember that in treating every child as an individual they must consider the child in the context of his or her family, race, gender, class, culture religion, language and ability when making decisions. The 'Looked After Children (Scotland) regulations 2009' which includes children on placed on compulsory supervision orders, state that if such a child is being placed away from home these factors must be considered.

At any review of a looked after child, the following issues that should be explored include:

  • has the child been able to discover/express views about ethnic/cultural background?
  • is the child in touch with his or her background?
  • if not what steps are being taken?
  • can the child practise his or her religion?
  • are the staff working with the child aware of these needs and how to address them?

When making decisions about children with racial, religious, cultural and linguistic needs, appropriate information should be contained in reports. The child, family and others involved with the child should be able to address the issues or provide additional support to ensure they can be implemented.


The One Scotland - Many Cultures campaign initiated by the Scottish Government aims to raise awareness of racist attitudes and behaviour and highlight the ongoing impact this has on individuals and communities. It highlights positive views of diversity as well as tackling negative behaviour. Margaret Curran, Minister for Social Justice at the time, is quoted as saying

"…… we are stating clearly and loudly that there is no place for racism in Scotland. Unless we rid ourselves of prejudice and discrimination our pursuit of social justice, equality of opportunity, and economic prosperity will be seriously compromised".

Further details are given in the Scottish Government's One Scotland - Many Cultures information pages on the Government's website ( ).

Role of the Panel Member

Given that these inequalities exist and that increasingly panel members are faced with minority ethnic families at hearings or, in other cases, young people who have committed racially motivated offences, what can the panel member do to facilitate the best outcome for the child?

The following list of do and don't statements have been suggested by professionals working in the racial awareness field:

  • Be prepared to check the precise meaning of words for family relations such as "uncle" and "aunt" as they may mean something other than what you think.
  • Avoid terms such as "half-caste" and "coloured" as they may cause offence.
  • Be sensitive to the difficulties of using slang and jargon.
  • Appreciate how cultural differences in body language can contribute to misunderstandings.
  • Be aware that in some communities it may not be the custom to shake hands.
  • Be aware that using terms of endearment may cause offence.
  • Be aware that in some communities a woman may feel uncomfortable or may not wish to be in a room with a man who is not a relative.
  • Don't ask someone for their "Christian" name - ask for their 'personal' name and 'family' name.
  • Don't assume that just because someone responds to questions in English that they fully understand.
  • Don't underestimate the influence of your own cultural background and the way it may affect your perception and behaviour towards others.
  • Don't make assumptions - ask questions, explaining that you want to be sure you understand.

Finally panel members should be aware that different ethnic groups will have different perspectives and attitudes. That is not to excuse behaviour that is clearly not in the best interest of any child but, as is the case for all families, what is the norm for one can be unacceptable for another.


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