NEW Scottish Government statistics - published just hours before Nicola Sturgeon’s final First Minister’s Questions - estimate that a quarter of all Scotland’s children are living in relative poverty.

The grim figures reveal there has been “little recent change” in child poverty levels. 

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Social justice secretary Shona Robison admitted levels of poverty had “fallen less than we would have hoped,” but she said progress has been hindered by the pandemic and the “devastating impact of the UK Government’s decade of austerity and its welfare cuts for many Scottish families.”

Labour called the statistics “devastating.”

Save The Children said the figures likely “disguise even higher rates of poverty for some families.”

They said the grim statistics should be a “wake-up call” for whoever replaces Ms Sturgeon as first minister.  

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Two sets of figures were released by the government, the first on poverty and income inequality in Scotland 2019-22, estimates that 21% of Scots lived in relative poverty - where household income is less than 60% of the median - after housing costs in 2019-2, while 19% were n poverty before housing costs are taken into consideration.

They estimate that 17% of the population was living in absolute poverty - where households are below 60% of the inflation-adjusted UK median income in 2010/11.

This comes after a “long decline” since the mid-nineties. Absolute poverty rates, the document says, “have stagnated in the last decade.”

The Scottish Government has set a target to bring relative poverty below 10% by 2030, and absolute poverty down below 5%.

On child poverty, the estimate from the government statistician is that 24% of children, around 250,000 each year, were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-22. 

Before housing costs, it is estimated that 22% of children were in relative poverty.

After falling between the late nineties and 2010-13, the before-housing costs measure continues to rise slightly.

They also estimate that in 2019-22, 69% of children in relative poverty after housing costs were living in working households.

The paper revealed that adults under 25 are more likely to be in poverty than older adults, while minority ethnic households are more likely to be in poverty compared to white British households. 

Single adults, especially single parents, and those who are divorced or separated are more likely to be in poverty compared to married, cohabiting and widowed adults. 

People living in households with disabled household members are also more likely to be in poverty than those with no disabled household members.

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The second publication looked at persistent poverty and revealed that between 2017 and 2021, 12% of people in Scotland were in persistent poverty after housing costs, between 2010 and 2014.

Rates for persistent poverty -  those in relative income poverty for three years - were highest for children, 18%, and lower for working-age adults, 10% and pensioners, 10%.

Ms Robison said the Scottish Government recognised that "too many people are living in poverty which is why we are committed to break the cycle of poverty in Scotland within the scope of our powers and budget."

She added: “Levels of poverty have fallen less than we would have hoped, given the Scottish Government’s significant investment.

"However these figures cover the period when the Covid-19 pandemic was having a significant economic impact and progress has also been hindered by the devastating impact of the UK Government’s decade of austerity and its welfare cuts for many Scottish families.

“In this financial year, we have allocated almost £3 billion to a range of measures which will help mitigate the impacts of the cost of living crisis on households with £1 billion of this only available in Scotland.

“As well as the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, we support families in variety of ways including free child care, free bus travel for under 22s, free school meals to around 145,000 pupils, and we have made significant increases to both our fuel and food insecurity funds and have also made £2.5 million available to local authorities to boost the Scottish Welfare Fund.

“We will continue to use all the powers and resources available to us to provide immediate support to families and to tackle the underlying causes of poverty whilst seeking more powers so we can use all the levers we need to enable us to truly tackle poverty.”

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Scottish Labour Social Justice spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy said the figures were a result of the SNP’s failure to tackle poverty.

She said: "A single person in poverty is one too many and a single day spent in poverty is a day too many  – but the SNP seem content to let things stall at these devastating levels. 

“It’s clear both of our governments have failed miserably to protect people from the cost of living crisis, squandering the legacy of the last Labour government.

“The next First Minister must make poverty a priority, before another generation is lost as a result of this Scottish Government’s failure to act.”

Claire Telfer, Head of Save the Children Scotland, said that despite "significant action, a quarter of a million children are waking up in poverty across Scotland. We mustn’t allow this to continue." 

She added: "Today’s figures don’t reflect the full impact of the cost-of-living crisis. We already know that too many families in Scotland are struggling to afford even the basics.

"Families we work with are cutting back on food, falling behind on their bills and taking on unmanageable debt just to make ends meet. Parents tell us they’re worried about the lasting scars these experiences could have on their children." 

The charity called on the government to "boost the value of the Scottish Child Payment to at least £40 a week."

IPPR Scotland said the Scottish Government needed to set out immediately how it will meet its legally binding target. 

Director Philip Whyte said: “We’re barely making a dent in our persistently high child poverty rate and although important, targets almost a decade away mean little when a quarter of a million children are locked in poverty right now and progress has stagnated.

“Scotland has taken important steps to tackle poverty in recent years and shown what can be possible with political will and investment – including the introduction of, and successive increases to, the Scottish Child Payment which will have a positive impact. But these figures should be a warning that we need to go further, faster with all the tools at our disposal.

“That should mean further increases through social security and a universal guarantee of financial security, scaling up employment support, and making short-term progress towards long-term commitments like the development of a new minimum income guarantee.”

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said there was a responsibility on both the Scottish and UK Governments to act: “This disturbing data shows that the pandemic and cost of living crisis have dealt a devastating double blow to those on the lowest incomes.  

“The UK Government must act, but the next First Minister must do so too. They should acknowledge that tackling poverty requires greater action to narrow the yawning gap between rich and poor and use all of the powers at their disposal to do more than just tweak tax: instead, they should introduce bold, progressive taxation, including targeting wealth. Only then will they end the deep injustice of poverty for good and build a fairer future for all of us.”