LEVELS of poverty in Scotland are growing and “deepening”, according to a state of the nation report set to be published next week.

The report by a range of influential organisations including the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, the Open University in Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Poverty Alliance, finds that more than one in five children now live in poverty and the number is climbing.

Forecasts by the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggest that by 2020 the figure will have risen by a further 50%. By then, according to these projections, the income of families towards the bottom of the financial scale will have actually gone down – a shift “without precedent” in modern times.

The report, titled Poverty In Scotland 2016, highlights the need for action before the situation worsens. Its authors are calling on all parties to “put poverty at the heart” of their campaigns in the Holyrood elections. Among the tools suggested by these experts are a commitment to a living wage, promotion of “fair work”, changes to the property tax system, free school meals for all ages, a childcare subsidy for up to 50 hours a week with a sliding scale of fees to ensure those on low incomes can access it, and the creation of at least 12,000 affordable homes each year.

It paints a bleak portrait of poverty in today’s Scotland: where those on a low income are enjoying less healthy lives than wealthier people, with a fifth of men in the lowest income household reporting “bad or very bad health” by comparison with just 2% in the highest income households; where numbers of the "working poor" are rising as more and more people are in insecure and precarious forms of paid employment; where foodbanks see more and more people in “acute income crisis”, and where for those who experience it, poverty has become more "severe".

The official government definition of poverty puts a single person in poverty if they are living on less than £155 per week. A lone parent family with two children is living in poverty if they are surviving on less than £278 per week. A couple with two children are living in poverty if they are living on less than £355 a week. Those particularly at risk of poverty include lone parents, people affected by disability and people from some minority ethnic groups.

The report summary outlines the lives and struggles of those in poverty: “A lack of money leads to the threat of falling into debt, choosing between necessities, going without basics, frequently being caught up in a cycle of ‘dead-end’ jobs, and being unable to save. For children it means, for example, having less access to safe play space, and being less likely to participate in arts and drama, sports or other outdoor activities.”

These low income households it notes, are less likely to have the means to fully participate in society. “For example around half still having no home internet access and over half having no car available to them… They are far more likely to be living in fuel poverty, spending a disproportionate level of already inadequate income on basic energy bills.”

There is also an impact on mental health: “Women in the lowest 20% of household incomes are twice as likely, and men over twice as likely, to have a ‘possible psychological disorder’, than those in the highest 20%.”

Poverty In Scotland 2016 comes in the wake of last week’s budget, one which, according to Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) director and report editor John Dickie, makes the task of ending poverty in Scotland “even harder”. He said: "Eye watering cuts to disability benefits and a complete failure to invest in support for children mean yet again it is those most vulnerable to poverty that are being hardest hit.”

However, despite the "challenging circumstances” the authors of Poverty in Scotland 2016 believe “that government, employers and civil society in Scotland have significant levers that can be used to transform Scotland toward a poverty free country.”

"Powers to create more progressive taxes," said Dickie, "to enhance social security, to pay a living wage and provide decent jobs, to focus our health service on tackling inequalities and to ensure housing is affordable must all be used in the next five years with a drive and ambition the likes of which we have never seen before.”

Gerry Mooney of the Open University in Scotland, also a lead editor on the report, said: "Despite the challenges at UK level, it is clear that policies in Scotland do matter. Poverty, and the social harm it causes can, and must, be prevented by action at every level. The challenge now is to shift the spotlight onto those processes that work to generate such widespread poverty at the same time as they enable others to accumulate such extreme wealth.”

One of the key messages of the report is that government policies can make a profound difference. Poverty is reducible. According to Hannah McCulloch of CPAG one of the key factors that led to a reduction in child poverty in the period leading up to 2010, was the previous Labour government’s investment in child benefit and tax credits. She writes: “During the period of New Labour governments between 1997 and 2010, there were significant reductions in particular dimensions of poverty, not least child poverty. Government policies directly affect the levels and extent of poverty and related problems. This recognition helps to counter claims that little can be done to tackle poverty.”

Already the Scottish government, she notes, has had some impact, using its own limited powers, in “mitigating the impacts of UK government welfare reforms”. The Scotland Bill promises, she continues, “even greater opportunities for meaningful change for children and families in Scotland”, including the “potential to top up child and other family benefits” as well as the opportunity to enhance and improve the delivery of carers, disability and maternity benefits in ways that promote, rather than undermine the dignity of claimants.

Meanwhile, David Eiser of the University of Stirling sees promise in the new powers the Scottish government will have to control income tax. “Through the 2015 Scotland Bill," he writes, "the Scottish government will gain almost full control over income tax, which will open the possibility of a more progressive rate system in Scotland.”

Other proposed measures include free school meals for all. “Hunger and poor nutrition cannot be allowed to mar the school experiences of any pupil or student,” writes Andrea Bradley, of the teachers union the EIS, “nor can the stigma of collecting a free meal in the school canteen while classmates pay for theirs.” In housing, Shelter Scotland’s Paul Bradley recommends the Scottish government should “make the most of limited administrative devolution of support with housing costs to abolish the bedroom tax, reinstate pre-2011 rates of housing allowance for private renters and ensure direct payment of housing costs to tenants under universal credit does not increase pressure on tenant’s finances.”

"By publishing Poverty in Scotland," editor John Dickie said, "we want to lay down a challenge to Scotland’s politicians, but also to its voters. What will you do to challenge the social, economic and political decisions that generate and sustain poverty? What will you do to ensure that all our children grow up in families with the resources needed for a decent start in life?"

He adds: "All of us, but especially those elected to the next Scottish Parliament, must use all the powers at our disposal to tackle poverty with a drive and ambition the likes of which we have never seen before."

Life on the breadline: 'Every single day we have to watch our pennies'

Hazel Ratcliffe, 34 year old lone parent, Fife

I am a single mum with two sons, one nearly fifteen, one nearly thirteen. Their dad left when the boys were four and two. Before that he had a really good job, he was a civil engineer, so we had a nice lifestyle, the nice house, and then when he left he left me with nothing but a pile of debt, so I had to declare myself bankrupt and go and claim income support.

I had to move into a council house in an undesirable area, the boys got taunted and teased at the school about where they lived. It was just horrible. Going from a life where you could throw anything you liked in your Asda trolley and spend £100 a week, to then living on less than that a week for everything was very difficult. I decided I wasn’t going to be a single parents on benefits. I’d worked hard at school. I’ve got seven highers. I was going to make something of myself. But being a young single mum with two young boys that was very difficult, trying to get a job and pay childcare, or go to college. Also I suffered from really bad anxiety, panic attacks just through what had happened, which made it hard. Then I began volunteering for Fife Gingerbread, which supports single parents in Fife. I began to see that there were loads and loads of other mums and dads in the same situation as me.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be accepted for a paid role within Fife Gingerbread as a support worker. It was great, £25,000 a year salary. I moved house and we’re living in a private rented flat now. But I struggled with the work/life balance and the fact that I was dealing with really complex cases, involving domestic abuse and other issues. That then brought back the depression and anxiety, and unfortunately I had to leave after a year.

I’ve now got a job working as a home carer for the elderly. But it’s minimum wage, and I’m in debt because I wasn’t managing to pay my rent for a while. That happened because in my first month working there, housing benefit said they would pay £40 a week for me, but then the next month I’d done a few extra hours at work, and because of that my housing benefit got stopped or reduced, and that’s been the cycle for the last year.

I’ve had a notice to quit because if I don’t pay my rent arrears off they’re going to evict me. I’ve got to pay off £2000 now... I’m just going to get further and further into debt.

I get paid monthly and all my bills come off my wage. It’s all gone on them and I then live week to week on my tax credits and any maintenance I get from their dad – though he’s AWOL so I never know when I’m going to get money from him. I just try not to get stressed by it. I try to live day to day, week to week. I’ve got a wee car that I use for my work and it’s just not right at the moment and I’m dreading the day it falls apart. There’s nothing left to pay for anything like that. My son last night was saying to me, "I really need new trainers and I need new school shoes". I’ve had to say to him, you need to try and wear the ones you’re wearing till Easter. Then once it's the Easter holidays that gives me a few weeks to get the money together to get you a new pair.

We don’t go on holidays. We went away two years ago, to Spain, when I first got my job at Gingerbread. That‘s the first time I took the boys away on an aeroplane, and that was the second time I’d been away on a plane myself. But it was a nightmare. I hated it because we really struggled for spending money so every day we were watching our pennies.