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.”