CAMPAIGNERS have warned the economic shock of coronavirus could impoverish thousands of Scots after new figures showed almost one in five already living in relative poverty before the outbreak.

The family resources survey found 19 per cent of Scots, or 1.02m people, in relative poverty after housing costs from 2016 to 2019.

The figure for children was even higher, at 24% or 230,000 children.

The Scottish Government’s target is to reduce relative child poverty to 18%  by 2024 and 10% by 2031.

The number of individuals in absolute poverty after housing costs was 910,000 (17%)  and the number of children in absolute poverty was 210,000, or 21%.

The survey said absolute poverty had “stagnated” since the last economic crisis in 2009.

Although not rising, the figures were little changed on the previous survey period.

Relative poverty is defined as less than 60% of the median income in a given year, while absolute poverty is less than 60% of the inflation-adjusted median income in 2010/11, and shows if the poorest household incomes are rising in real terms.

Other Scottish figures showed 13% of people in “persistent poverty”, meaning in poverty for three of four years, between 2014 and 2018, up from 12% for 2013-17.

The data also showed 17% of children in persistent poverty in 2014-18, up from 15% for 2013-17. 

Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said: “The figures paint a shocking picture of poverty in Scotland even before Covid-19 hit.

“In coming months, thousands more risk being plunged into poverty as unemployment rises. 

"In just nine days, the DWP has already reported almost 500,000 new applications for Universal Credit. This is a huge concern when its inbuilt five-week delay pulls so many into debt and deeper poverty.”

Claire Telfer, head of Save the Children in Scotland, said: “The figures remind us many families in Scotland were struggling before Coronavirus.  We are concerned these numbers could soar further as a result of the crisis, plunging families into desperate situations.”

“We urge the Scottish Government to use all of its powers to put money directly into the pockets of families.

“This should include cash payments for free school meals and topping up benefits that support low-income families.

“If we don’t act now, we risk even more families being locked in poverty.”

Urging a £10 a week rise in child benefit, John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “Without action now, this week’s laid-off workers and their children will be adding to next year’s poverty statistics.

“Every tool in the Holyrood toolbox needs to be used to protect already struggling families from the impact of Covid-19.

“Ministers must look at top-up powers and social security payments at their disposal to provide the financial security that families so urgently need to stop them going under as jobs are lost and wages cut.”

Alison Watson, of Shelter Scotland said: “We must ensure that people already living hand to mouth are not pushed further into poverty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, now or in the months to come.” 

Green MSP Alison Johnstone added “The severe economic impact of Covid-19 will mean that even more families will now be struggling.

"That’s why we need to make support easy to access and available to everyone who needs it. We need to ensure all families affected are encouraged to apply for the Scottish and UK benefits that are due to them, and to the emergency support schemes in place.

“This crisis has shown how vulnerable so many families are in Scotland, and made the case for a guaranteed basic income that would provide a real safety net.”