One quarter of all children in Scotland are living in poverty. That is nearly 250,000 children. As I write this today, there are 10,000 more children in Scotland living in poverty than there were last year. If nothing changes in the next 12 months that figure is projected to rise by at least the same again. Even more worryingly, research published recently by Dr Morag Treanor of Heriot Watt University, and commissioned by Aberlour, highlighted that young people from our poorest communities are 3 times more likely to die before they are 25. This is the stark reality of the worst effects of poverty on Scotland’s children and young people. Despite the important changes and developments in legislation and policy in recent years, child poverty figures are rising and we can now show that young people are dying because of poverty. This tells me we all need to do more. Much more.
Last week I visited our Family Service in Dumfries and Galloway and was blown away by the work the team there have been doing over the course of this year to help and support families in the area who are struggling financially. Parents we work with locally told us what would help them most and in response the service has started a community larder with fridges and freezers where families can get fresh, healthy food for making and cooking meals. They also have a lending library for books, clothes and children’s toys, free to use for families and free laundry facilities – open to the whole community. We wish we didn’t have to do any of this but sadly this is the type of direct action, so long as it is done by working alongside families in communities, that can offer practical help and address the day to day effects of poverty on families.
In addition, Aberlour’s Urgent Assistance Fund continues to provide small grants to families across Scotland for essential items, such as white goods, beds, bedding and children’s clothing. This year we have given out more money and have managed to reach and provide financial assistance to more families than ever before. We could have spent it 3 times over. It is so important that as an organisation we continue to do what we can, but we know we are only applying a sticking plaster to treat the consequences of poverty, not addressing the root causes. To make real and lasting change and turn the tide we must focus all our efforts, as a country, on the issues that perpetuate poverty. Issues like uncertain and low paid work, an inadequate benefit system, poor housing and closed opportunities for children and their families.
We know that by putting more money in families’ pockets, we can begin to alleviate the damaging toxic stress and anxiety that financial hardship creates and instead help families to thrive, not just survive. The Scottish Child Payment is a small first step on a much longer journey – a journey that we all need to take together as a country and which needs to reach every child living in poverty.
Last month Aberlour launched a new fundraising campaign ‘A Bad Start Shouldn’t Mean a Bad End’. Our campaign is a direct appeal to Aberlour donors and the general public for people to give so that we can do more direct work with families earlier, to prevent many of the issues and crises we know that families we work with experience, often directly us a result of poverty. Our campaign asks for 3 key commitments of the Scottish Government, MSPs, local authorities and the business community that we believe can begin to address many of the issues that enable poverty and inequality in Scotland to endure:
- We want a national transitional fund that will allow local authorities to work with families affected by poverty and most in need much earlier;
- We want the business community to do more to provide well paid, secure employment and flexible, family friendly working;
- We want a new approach to economic planning and budget setting by public bodies nationally and locally that prioritises child well-being.
For me, it is this final ask on prioritising child well-being in how we plan economically as country that is most significant. I was heartened by the First Minister’s recent TED Talk where she argued that the objective of national economic policy should be a country’s collective well-being, and that Scotland should lead the World in putting well-being at the heart of everything we do. I applaud the First Minister for this radical vision. I say, let’s start with our children. By prioritising child well-being in our economic policy, by bold political decisions, we can begin to reduce both child poverty and the risk of childhood adversity.
Addressing poverty in Scotland is everyone’s concern and there is something all of us can do. At Aberlour, we are asking everyone, the whole of Scotland, to do more, from the Scottish Government to individual givers. We must take collective responsibility if we want to prioritise collective well-being, and the well-being of all Scotland’s children. Young people growing up in poverty in Scotland are too often paying the ultimate price for our failure as a country to effectively challenge poverty and our failure to embrace the bold political decisions we know make a real difference. We must do more, we must support those bold decisions and we must do it now. That is my challenge to all of us for #ChallengePoverty Week 2019.