SCOTLAND's levels of deprivation have risen over the past seven years with nearly one in five now classed as being in poverty.

A new flagship annual report card revealing the nature and scale of poverty across the UK and how it affects people, says that government now need to prioritise recovery for those in need as unemployment rises during the coronavirus pandemic.

And it warned that trying to work, care for children and stay healthy during the latest lockdown will "push many to the brink" when they have few resources left.

It also reveals that while levels of poverty in in Wales and Northern Ireland saw either no change or were improving, it was "worsening" in Scotland.

The  study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity which conducts and funds research aimed at solving poverty says Scotland's poverty rate is at 19.2% compared to 17.8% over the three years period from 2011/12 to 2013/14.

HeraldScotland:

The charity is warning that governments must make tackling poverty an economic priority in 2021 or they risk being "defined by a record of worsening hardship".

The analysis shows that the three-yearly poverty average is higher in Scotland than Northern Ireland (19%) but lower than England (22.3%) and Wales (22.8).

It also identifies the south of Scotland as among the areas of the UK that have suffered worst during the pandemic with the highest proportion of state benefit claimants per job vacancy.

The area is pinpointed alongside Northern Ireland, some coastal areas, central parts of cities and parts of Wales as among those who have more than 12 claimants per vacancy.

The JRF said it was crucial for government to continue to with financial support through the pandemic.

And it said that unless government "makes the right decisions now, there is a risk that families in poverty find it much harder to recover from the....economic shock” of the latest lockdown.

The SNP said it was urging the UK government to "act now" to prevent families across the UK being hit by a “triple financial blow” by strengthening welfare protections and filling the gaps in coronavirus support.

The JRF pointed out that the period since July 2020 has been marked by a gradual reduction of government support through the labour market and benefit system, with much of the support planned to be withdrawn by April 2021.

A JRF spokesman said: "This means relative poverty is likely to be higher than before the coronavirus outbreak, with families who are already struggling to stay afloat becoming even worse off financially.

READ MORE: Poverty crisis concern as number of Scots claiming benefits doubles during pandemic

"These increases in poverty will be mainly among working-age families as they will be affected by the negative labour market changes.

"The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing barriers to work as a route out of poverty, making it harder for groups who were already held back to enter and progress in the labour market.

HeraldScotland:

"Three of the key factors constraining low-income families’ options in the labour market include wanting to work more hours but being unable to find the work (underemployment), a lack of affordable and flexible childcare, and inadequate transport.

"The government needs to do the right thing and keep supporting people on low incomes. If it takes the lifeline away, people will be cut adrift and pulled deeper into poverty."

It comes after the Herald revealed new concerns over a poverty crisis in Scotland as the numbers claiming benefits has nearly doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic - despite government support schemes.

New Jobcentre Plus figures revealed that the claimant count in Scotland, which includes those on Universal Credit and Jobseeker's Allowance has soared from 111,280 in November, last year to 210,750 in November, 2020.

It means that even without the government's job retention scheme around six per cent of Scotland's working population is relying on state benefits.

And Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has said that their research has revealed that one in three of those who seek help from them about Universal Credit are actually in work.

A range of anti-poverty charities have warned that working people in Scotland will face an income shock if the £20 increase to Universal Credit is not made permanent.

The soaring reliance on state benefits has come despite the fact that the furlough scheme aimed at supporting workers temporarily laid off due to the coronavirus crisis has been extended to the end of April 2021, meaning some jobs will be subsidised by the taxpayer for over a year.

A UK Government spokesman said:  “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond to ensure that nobody is left behind. That’s why we’ve targeted our support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions. The UK Government has also provided an additional £8.6 billion in funding to the Scottish Government to tackle the pandemic in Scotland. "

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We continue to provide support to people who need it most and tackle poverty and inequality head on. In 2019-20 we invested nearly £2 billion in support for low income households and have committed over £500 million to support people and communities impacted by the COVID pandemic.

“We have committed strong action to support people to access employment and to create new green jobs, including by investing in a £100 million package of employment support measures and our £100 Green Jobs Fund.

“Scotland is also leading the way in the delivery of affordable housing across the UK. Since 2007, the Scottish Government has delivered almost 97,000 affordable homes with nearly 67,000 of these being for social rent.

“From next month we will commence payments of the new Scottish Child Payment for children from low income households under 6 – worth £10 per child per week."