In Scotland, more than 870,000 individuals are classed as living in relative poverty, with almost 20 per cent of Scots children living below the breadline.
The most recent annual report from the Scottish Government on the Child Poverty Strategy predicts that 50,000 more children will be living in poverty by the year 2020.
It is a major problem in our society and will continue to be an issue so long as our economy remains stagnant, public services are cut, benefits are squeezed and household incomes continue to drop. The inequality gap is becoming cavernous – a recent Oxfam Scotland report suggests the top 10 per cent of wealthy households in Scotland are, on average, 273 times better off than the bottom 10 per cent.
These are the very reasons that Children in Scotland is proud to be a supporter of the first Challenge Poverty Week Scotland.
Co-ordinated by the Poverty Alliance, and with the support of a host of charities, we hope the week will go some way to identifying solutions and tackling the stigma associated with poverty – addressing perceptions of those in poverty as “scroungers” and “cheats” by sharing the stories of parents struggling to juggle employment with the cost of childcare or rising living costs-made worse by rising energy costs.
We know the long-term impact of poverty can be felt as children growing up below the breadline experience significantly worse outcomes than their peers in terms of health and education. Children from less economically challenged backgrounds perform better academically, socially and – generally speaking – keep better health. Tackling poverty now is a long-term investment in the economy and health of Scotland. We need to prioritise funding to help these children and their families, not just because it is a humanitarian issue, but also because it makes financial sense.
At the core of this week, is that change is possible. We want the public to get involved and we want politicians to engage with people who are experiencing poverty first-hand, understanding how policies made at national level are affecting families. Crucially, we want to identify – together – what could be done to make a difference. Poverty is not a lifestyle choice. It is a humanitarian disaster gripping Scotland and needs to be addressed.
Jackie Brock is chief executive of national charity Children in Scotland, www.childreninscotland.org.uk
For more information on Challenge Poverty Week, visit povertyalliance.org/challenge_poverty