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Blight of poverty has a truly baleful influence

It is a damning indictment of a wealthy country to have a million people living in poverty, but news of Scotland's sharply rising poverty levels will come as no surprise to many; not to the staff of food banks, who have seen such a surge in demand for their services; nor to those who work in Citizens Advice Bureaux helping those in financial crisis; and nor teachers and social workers who witness the extent of poverty among families every day.

Above all, it will come to no surprise to the hundreds of thousands of people who have spent years struggling to eke out a contracting income in a world of spiralling costs.

There are different ways of defining poverty, but few would argue with the Scottish Government that someone living on less than 60% of average income is likely to face serious difficulties. A couple with no children are classed as being in relative poverty if their income is £13,800 or less (the equivalent of £264 a week) which is barely enough to cover essentials.

Child poverty levels are particuarly alarming. Advances made in the last decade to lift many thousands out of deprivation, a key goal of the former government of Gordon Brown, are being reversed, so that 220,000 children now live in poor households.

Many live in families that survive (just) on benefits but, perhaps more shockingly, 59% live in working households. The links between deprivation and a host of poor life indicators, such as ill health, low attainment and low life expectancy are very well known. Poverty simply blights a child's life chances. A significant portion of the blame rests with the UK Government. Campaigners and opposition parties have for years been warning of the damage caused by ill-considered welfare reforms. Benefits no longer keep pace with inflation, so those who depend on them are seeing their spending power steadily drop, tax credits are harder to secure and benefit sanctions have pushed some into crisis.

Though some austerity would have been necessary under any government, in order to cut the deficit, it has been particularly harsh under the Tory-led Coalition. Other factors contributing to the problem include job losses, and cuts in hours and real terms wages caused by the recession.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been quick to deflect blame entirely on to the Westminster Government, claiming that independence would allow the problem to be solved. Yet, after seven years in power, Scottish ministers must accept their share of the responsibility.

Campaigners highlight the need, not only for the UK Government to recognise the way that welfare reform is contributing to rising poverty, but also for Scottish ministers to do more to create jobs, particularly in areas of traditionally high unemployment, and to improve the provision of services that poor families rely on.

For many years, Westminster and Holyrood governments worked successfully to reduce child poverty, accepting that that noble aim would cost money. It would be a tragedy if the improvements they achieved were now lost.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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