23rd February 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

340 isles bairns living in poverty

4 comments, , by , in News

Shetland has the lowest rate of child poverty in Scotland, with seven per cent of youngsters living in households below the poverty line, according to research released this summer.

The report, published by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), claims there are 340 children living in poverty in Shetland. That comp­ares to 327 children, or eight per cent, in Orkney, and a national UK average of 27 per cent.

The definition of poverty used in the report covers those children growing up in households earning 60 per cent or less of the median UK household income. Currently the poverty line is set at an income of £220 per week, after the deduction of “household costs” (rent or mort­gage payments, water rates, service charges and structural insurance premiums). This figure is adjusted, depending on the number of children and whether one or two parents live in the household.

The CPAG report also emphasises the cost to the taxpayer of child poverty, through increased spending on schools and the NHS, reduced tax income, and benefit payments. In Shetland, the cost is estimated to be £4 million a year. Nationally that figure is thought to be as much as £29 billion.

What is not taken into account in these statistics is the additional costs associated with life in remote areas. Between 36 and 53 per cent of islanders in Shetland, for instance, are thought to be living in “fuel poverty”, spending more than ten per cent of their income on fuel.

The high price of heating and transport are likely to mean, there­fore, that seven per cent is an under­estimate of the number of households with children brought up below the poverty line.

Over the coming years, CPAG warns, rates of child poverty in Scot­land are likely to increase, due to changes made by the government in Westminster.

“Children in poverty miss out on experiences that most of us regard as normal and just part of growing up. They don’t go on school trips; can’t invite friends round for tea; and can’t afford a holiday away from home.

“Troublingly, children in low-income families are being hit hard by the government’s tax and benefits changes. The Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that between 2010 and 2020, rather than ending child poverty, the government’s welfare reform programme will mean that some 1.1 million more children live in poverty.

“And local authorities will have to bear the brunt of many of these reforms; from having to directly implement some poverty producing policies (like council tax benefit reforms) to picking up the pieces where things go wrong (through managing a localised social fund replacement scheme). Local author­ities are going to be critical in supporting families through the genuine hardship to come.

“At the same time however, shrink­ing settlements and decreasing tax revenues are placing extra pres­sure on many local authorities’ capacity to help families. This means that too many local authorities are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to meeting the needs of families in their community.”  

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4 comments

  1. Malcolm Henry Johnson

    Whilst I would certainly agree that the number of children living in poverty is bound to increase as a direct result of welfare reforms introduced by the Liberal-Conservative government in London and supported by the English Labour Party ( ……. “The Labour Party does not agree with the reforms but we cannot promise that we would reverse them” ……….. ) I would like to challenge one of the basic assumptions made by the Child Poverty Action Group and by others who have carried out previous studies into poverty and social exclusion in Shetland and elsewhere.

    The methodology implies that there is a perfect correlation between the level of family income and the number of children living in poverty. Whilst it would be extremely foolish to argue that the two are unconnected, the correlation is often much weaker than that implied in the article by Malachy Tallack and in many previous reports in “The Shetland Times” and elsewhere.

    In reality, there is an endless variety of ways in which income is distributed within family units. It may be that the family income is spent in such a way as to benefit all member of that family equally. (This is the assumption made by the Child Poverty Action Group and by other local and national studies.) It may be the case that one or more of the parents spend all the money on themselves and enjoy a fairly comfortable living whilst their children live in poverty. It may equally be the case, as I have seen so often, that the children have everything they need and have a great life but only because the parent(s) voluntarily spend nothing on themselves in which case the children often reach a fair age before they are even aware that they are living in a low income family.

    Whilst I applaud the work of the Child Poverty Action Group and the genuinely ground-breaking work done locally into poverty and social exclusion, these studies will never give us the true picture on child poverty until the authors are brave enough to examine the distribution of wealth within families as well as the distribution of wealth between families. Ironically, it is one of Margaret Thatcher’s lasting legacies that we are all so reluctant to do this, for it is she who introduced us to the mantra “Parents Always Know What’s Best For Their Children” as part of her dogmatic campaign to undermine the work of local government education and social work departments. Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead but her ideas are still everywhere!

    Of course, many parents do know what’s best for their children but this is not necessarily the case. In itself, being a parent may only prove that there was at least one occasion when that individual got drunk enough to get pregnant or to get someone else pregnant. Parenthood is a biological statement, not a qualification. It is, therefore, illogical to assume that the number of children who experience poverty can be accurately deduced from figures on overall family income in the simple way suggested by this and other similar studies.

    There is no single policy which can guarantee that all children will be kept out of poverty but a huge step can be made in this direction by maintaining and strengthening policies like free school meals, subsidised public transport, the provision of social housing, free NHS prescriptions and other measures which benefit children regardless of how their own family finances are (mis)managed. As policies like these have now been completely abandoned by all the major national (U.K.) political parties, I look with despair on what the future holds for millions of children. At least in an independent Scotland there may still be a chance to turn things around as we could well end up with a government which is not so quick to wash their hands of all responsibility and instead promotes the sort of policies which guarantees some measure of equality within as well as between families.

    Reply
  2. John Tulloch

    You rightly highlight fuel poverty as a serious and growing problem. If up to 53% of supposedly relatively affluent Shetland families may be in “fuel poverty”, what will be the level in the poorest parts of Scotland.

    However the Scottish Government has a statutory duty to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016. According to Energy Action Scotland’s website:

    “The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 set a statutory duty on the Scottish Government to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland, ……. by November 2016”.

    Yet on 24th June 2009 the Scottish Parliament UNANIMOUSLY passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act so ensuring that the 2016 fuel poverty eradication requirement would not just be missed, it would probably never be achieved.

    1. The Scottish “climate change” legislation ensured that renewable energy produced at twice and three times the cost of conventional electricity would be forced on electricity supply companies who would pass the cost directly on to consumers, inflating bills accordingly.

    2. The wonderful strategy to overcome this is to “make homes more energy efficient” and this will happen by forcing initiatives like ECO (Energy Companies Obligation) on to supply companies who then pass the cost of it on to their customers, again, meaning even larger bills.

    Our Holyrood politicians passed the “climate change” legislation “unanimously”.

    Little wonder it is said “fools seldom differ.”

    Reply
  3. Brian Campbell

    The children of Shetland have been denied by the uk government and should take the uk government to European courts!

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Maybe the ‘children of Shetland’ suffering fuel poverty should also take the Scottish government to the European courts over the electricity price?

      Perhaps, while they’re at it, the EU court may be willing to consider Stuart Hill’s claim that Scotland’s annexation of the Northern Isles was – and is – illegal?

      Just think, all those oil billions flowing south and Shetland kids in poverty!

      Reply

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