Calls for action after figures show one million Scots living in poverty

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Campaigners have demanded action after “shocking” figures revealed one million Scots are living in poverty after they have paid their rent or mortgage bills.

Scottish Government statistics showed that in 2016-17 there were 1,020,000 people suffering from relative poverty after housing costs had been taken into consideration.

Over the three-year rolling period 2014 to 2017, the figure was 1,000,000 a year – a rise from 970,000 in the previous three years and the highest total since 2002 to 2005.

Almost one in five (19%) of Scots are now in relative poverty after paying for housing, according to the data

Communities and Equalities Secretary Angela Constance criticised the “damaging impact” of the UK Government’s austerity agenda, saying this meant Holyrood ministers “are fighting poverty with one hand tied behind our back”.

The figures also showed 230,000 children in relative poverty after housing costs in 2016-17 – down from 260,000 the previous year.

However, the data for the 2014 to 2017 period showed 24% of youngsters affected, compared to 23% in 2013 to 2016 and 21% in 2011 to 2014.

Meanwhile, there were 160,000 pensioners in relative poverty in 2016-17 after housing costs, up from 140,000 in 2015-16.

People are regarded as being in relative poverty if they receive less than 60% of the UK median income – with the threshold for this varying depending on how many adults and children are in each household.

A single adult with an income of less than £9,700 a year before housing costs are met is classed as being in relative poverty, with the threshold rising to £22,200 a year for a family with two adults and two children.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “It cannot be right that one million people are now living in poverty in Scotland and that ever more people are having their choices restricted, their opportunities limited and their efforts to get by made even more difficult.

“Low pay, rising living costs and unstable work mean that, for many, choices between whether to heat their home or pay their rent have become commonplace.”

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said: “Instead of eradicating pensioner poverty, we’re dismayed to see that figures are moving in the opposite direction.

“It’s shocking to think that around 170,000 Scots are spending their later lives worrying about how to pay their next fuel bill or put food on the table.”

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said 66% of children in poverty were living in working families, adding that “all the evidence suggests that eye-watering cuts to UK benefits for families both in and out of work are the key drivers of this upward trend”.

He said: “Behind these statistics are thousands of children going hungry, missing out on school trips, unable to enjoy the activities and educational opportunities their better-off peers take for granted.”

Mark Ballard, Scottish head of Save the Children, said: “These worrying figures should be the catalyst for clear action to create a fair start for every child in Scotland, which will reduce the devastating blow poverty delivers to children and their futures.”

Ms Constance said the Government was “absolutely committed to reducing poverty” and stressed Scotland is “the only part of the UK with targets to eradicate child poverty”.

She added: “We know that in the face of UK Government cuts and continuing austerity, which are having a damaging impact on thousands of Scottish households, our actions mean we are fighting poverty with one hand tied behind our back.”

Conservative equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “The fact is that child poverty has now been rising for several years, which demonstrates the failure of SNP policies to understand and address the complex causes of child poverty.”

Labour inequalities spokeswoman Elaine Smith said: “With 1,000,0000 people in Scotland living in poverty, we cannot afford to continue to tinker around the edges. The SNP reconsidering its alliance with the Tories to oppose Labour’s plan for a £5-a-week child benefit top-up would be a good place to start.”

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