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More ambitious action needed to tackle rising poverty

A think tank has warned that more action and ambition are required.

Poverty: More action required warns think tank.
Poverty: More action required warns think tank. &iStock

More action and ambition are required for Scotland to meet its targets for tackling poverty - with the problem rising from an "already unacceptably high level", a think tank has said.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said a "focused commitment" from employers, housing providers and public services at both a local and national level is needed.

The latest figures show just over one million Scots struggling with poverty, including 240,000 children and 640,000 working age adults, as well as 150,000 pensioners.

The foundation's Poverty in Scotland 2019 report - published at the start of Challenge Poverty Week - warned the problem is increasing.

Figures for the period 2015 to 2018 show poverty levels were lower than they were at the start of devolution, in 1999 to 2002. But the think tank added poverty rates then "started to shift upwards".

The report said: "Action is needed on all fronts and must be enough to rewrite the rules of the game for people living in poverty in Scotland.

"Poverty is at the root of many of society's deepest set issues, from the attainment gap in schools to severe health inequalities and even declining life expectancy. This is simply unacceptable.

"As a society we can choose to make different decisions that will change people's lives unequivocally."

The announcement of the Scottish Child Payment - a £10 a week payment for low income families with children - shows the Scottish Government is taking the problem "seriously", JRF said.

But the think tank added: "To make a Scotland without poverty for all a reality, we need a number of ambitious solutions across work, housing and social security.

"Scotland's existing and recently devolved powers on social security do have the potential to boost incomes for people on a low income, but clearly more ambition and actions are needed for Scotland to achieve its goals across all areas of government and with key partners.

"This will require focused commitment from employers, housing providers and public services - both national and local. Actions will need to be bold to make the difference required."

The Scottish Government has set the target of having less than 10% of youngsters living in poverty by 2030 - compared to the current rate of 24%.

Jim McCormick, associate director for Scotland at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned previous successes in tackling poverty are "showing signs of unravelling".

One in five Scots (20%) are in poverty after housing costs have been taken into account - a rate that is lower than the 22% across the UK.

Lower housing costs in Scotland, particularly for council and housing association properties, are said to be the main reason for this.

Mr McCormick said: "Over the last two decades, cheaper rents and a larger social rented sector in Scotland have been key to unlocking opportunities for families to achieve a decent life. But this success is showing signs of unravelling and cannot be taken for granted.

"The recent announcement of the Scottish Child Payment shows what can be achieved when we are bolder in our thinking and accept that only large-scale action will ease the pressure facing families trapped in poverty. "While this new payment will start to turn the tide, it will not by itself be enough to enable every child to break free from poverty.

"As we mark Challenge Poverty Week, it is vital that ministers in Holyrood match their ambitious targets to solve poverty with the scale of action on housing, work and social security needed to make this a reality."

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