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Poverty in Scotland at worst level for 30 years

LEVELS of poverty in Scotland are worse than they have been for 30 years, according to a new report, which claims 29% of Scots lack three or more of the necessities for basic living.

The Breadline Britain Poverty and Social Exclusion report is the largest and most authoritative study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK, according to researchers.

Speaking to 2700 people in Scotland and more than 14,000 across the UK, a team including urban studies experts at Glasgow and Heriot-Watt universities, identified a list of the essentials members of the public thought everyone should be able to afford and which no-one should have to go without, such as money for a winter coat and shoes, a warm dry home, or the ability to eat an adequate diet.

From a list of 22 such necessities, 29% of people in Scotland were unable to afford three or more, which the study's authors said highlighted the gaps between a commonly accepted minimum standard of living, and the financial conditions people are actually facing.

Similar Breadline Britain surveys have been carried out in 1983, 1990, 1999 and 2012 – with the latest figures the worst in the 30 years the research has been under way.

In 1983, 14% of the British population suffered from multiple deprivation as defined by the public, today it is 29% in Scotland and 33% for the whole of the UK.

The report was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out by the Scottish universities in collaboration with Queens University Belfast, York Univer and Bristol University.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow University said: "For a significant and growing proportion of the population, living conditions and opportunities have been going backwards. Housing and heating conditions in particular have deteriorated rapidly."

The report found 8% of Scots could not afford to heat the living areas of their homes, and 16% of children in Scotland live in a home which is either damp or inadequately heated – compared with 10% across the UK.

It also revealed one in 20 children and one in 14 adults has to go without essential clothing, and one in 20 Scots is unable to afford an adequate diet.

Nick Bailey, senior urban studies lecturer at Glasgow University, said "These findings paint a very bleak picture of life for large numbers of people living in low- income households in Scotland today."

The report's overall figure for multiple deprivation in Scotland is lower than that for the whole of the UK, but Mr Bailey said that was not reassuring.

"There is little comfort in the fact levels of deprivation appear to be even worse in the rest of the UK. The absolute numbers in Scotland are still shocking," he said.

The study highlights deteriorating standards across the UK by comparison with figures from past reports. In relation to children, it highlights the fact the families of increasing numbers of young people cannot afford items the public rate as essential for a stimulating environment and for social participation and development.

For example, the proportion of school-age children across the UK who are unable to go on school trips at least once a term has risen from 2% in 1999 to 8% today.

Professor Glen Bramley, of Heriot-Watt University, said identifying the number of people falling below a publicly defined minimum standard of living was a research method widely accepted by the UK Government and a growing number of rich and developing countries.

The fact the UK trends are going in the wrong direction is worrying, he said. "The situation is already serious, but it is set to get worse as benefit levels fall in real terms, as real wages continue a three year decline and as living standards are further squeezed," he said.

"The decline in living standards and the high level of financial insecurity pose an enormous challenge for both the Scottish and Westminster governments."

Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said the Coalition Government's welfare reforms will add to many of the problems Scottish families are facing. "Concerns about having enough to eat, being able to adequately heat a home, or not being able to take part in social activities are ones that are common among the people we work with. At the heart of these problems lie continuing inadequate incomes, both for those who have a job and those who don't," he said.

"There is time, even at the 11th hour, for the UK Government to reconsider the changes they are introducing next week, including the 1% limit on benefit increases."

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