Child Poverty

This section collates content from a range of sources to enable us to begin considering child poverty, how it inequitably affects the health of the children and families living in Scotland that we work with and the role that the Early Years workforce throughout Scotland can play in addressing child poverty in the pursuit of health equity.

Meet our contributors to this section:

  • Laura Martin, Senior Health Promotion Officer NHS Health Scotland

Laura has worked on improving outcomes for children and young people since 2004 and is currently working within NHS Health Scotland on developing a programme of work to contribute to the reduction of the impact of child poverty in Scotland. 

  • Mark Willis, Welfare Rights Worker, Child Poverty Action Group Scotland

Mark has worked in welfare rights since 1991 and is currently a welfare rights worker with CPAG in Scotland’s tax credits project. He is an author of the Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook.

Don’t hesitate to contact Laura or Mark if you would like to converse on what you’ve read within this section- perhaps some peer reflection or specific project considerations.

(Please note the content for this section was originally shared as a ‘Spotlight on Child Poverty’ in the august 2015 Maternal and Early Years Newsletter and will be updated in due course.)”


What is child poverty?

‘Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack resources to obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged and approved, in the societies in which they belong’.[i] In the UK, around one in four children are living below the poverty line, set at 60% of the median household income.[ii]

People may be in poverty for many reasons, including disability or illness, caring responsibilities, bereavement, unemployment or low pay. Many people in low-paid work are entitled to benefits to supplement their wage because it is not enough to live on.  Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Two-thirds (66%) of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works.

Benefit levels are set at the minimum a person needs to live on, and are inadequate to lift families out of poverty. High expenditure for housing, fuel and childcare costs can also leave people in poverty[iii].

Child poverty blights childhoods. Growing up in poverty has long-lasting effects on a child’s health, development, education and lifetime opportunities.[iv] Many parents often go without for themselves, or get into debt in order to ensure their children have sufficient food, clothing, toys or treats, storing up long-term problems for families and the health of parents. Low income may often go together with living in poor housing in deprived areas with lack of transport links, amenities and play areas.

‘Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how expensive it is to be poor’.[v]

Being a parent can be expensive; media and peer pressure on parents may lead people to take loans to buy expensive equipment and toys, trapping families into long term poverty and the stress of dealing with debt. People on low incomes are often unable to access the best deals online or get reductions on utilities by paying by direct debit, or lack transport to shop around for bargains or bulk shopping.

The mechanisms influencing the relationship between poverty and health outcomes are complex. The impact of child poverty and socio-economic disadvantage on adult outcomes occurs through the accumulation and interaction of multiple factors over time.  Such as family ability to pay for goods and services; differential environmental exposures; or through impact on the skills and resources, including emotional and nurturing resources, that parents have available for effective and positive parenting. In most cases, it is the accumulation of individual risks and protective factors and the developing child’s response to these which will impact on adult health.[vi]

As Bezruchka suggests ‘If low socioeconomic status is the pre-eminent condition impacting health, then perhaps poverty should be considered a disease or at least a risk factor to be treated with income. Treating the disease of poverty with income or some kind of financial support is a political economy “medicine”[vii].

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Financial Inclusion

Financial inclusion is a broad term which includes routine enquiry and referral to money advice services; debt management; access to grants; budgeting skills; onward referral to employability pathways; mitigation of fuel and food poverty.  There are a range of statutory and non-statutory approaches to financial inclusion in Scotland, including services developed in the NHS[viii]

A number of studies do present evidence of positive impact of financial inclusion services on health of adults including reducing stress and anxiety, better sleeping patterns, reversal of weight loss, changes in medication, reduced contact with primary care team, reduction or cessation of smoking, improved diet and physical activity [ix]

Financial inclusion and inequalities sensitive practice in universal services which takes into account the social issues and structural inequalities facing families in the early years is one example of what can be done to help mitigate against the effects of child poverty. 

Example of a local financial inclusion project

Healthier Wealthier Children[x]  is a Children and Families Financial Inclusion initiative.   It is mainstreamed in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde partnerships between Local Authorities and Money Advice Services after seedcorn funding in 2010-12 from the Scottish Government.  It fits with a broader approach to child poverty. Since 2010, there has been 8,882 referrals and £9,043,782  financial gain.   

The key principles of Healthier Wealthier Children are:

  • NHS staff are trained in routine enquiry money worries and make referrals to money advice services
  • Local referral pathways to money advice services are in place (
  • Financial inclusion is mainstreamed into patient and staff education programmes
  • Money Advice staff receive specialist training on child poverty issues and have flexible approaches (e.g. telephone, evening appointments)
  • A full assessment is carried out covering unclaimed welfare benefits, debt, grants available and employability options
  • Strategic partnerships are in place a Health Board and local CH(C)P level
  • NHS Health Improvement staff have lead roles in facilitating partnerships, organising training and ensuring monitoring
  • NHS provides funding to money advice services

Outcomes reported include: reduced stress for families; prevention of financial crisis and major stress as clients are seen ‘earlier’ by money advice services; improved budgeting; increased uptake of unclaimed welfare benefits (e.g. Healthy Start; Tax Credits; Child Disability Living Allowance);  grants for white goods (e.g. cookers, fridges); referral to employability pathways; evidence addressing fuel and food poverty and patient feedback that this intervention can make a huge difference to health and social functioning. 

In 2015/16, NHS Health Scotland are developing a national approach for the delivery of financial inclusion services to pregnant women and families with young children using the learning from Healthier Wealthier Children and other financial inclusion services [xi]. This will identify what needs to be in place at a national level that will support financial inclusion initiatives in early years at a local level and will initially focus on maternity, health visiting and specialist children’s services in Scotland.

If you are interested in learning more about this work or would like to let us know about a project you are working on please contact:  Laura Martin NHS Health Scotland

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What does welfare reform mean for families in Scotland?

The latest Welfare Reform and Work Bill currently going through Parliament, includes a number of changes that will have an impact on the incomes of working families throughout the UK. 

From April 2016:

  • the disregard for increases in income (the amount annual income can change without affecting tax credits) will be reduced from £5,000 to £2,500;
  • From Autumn 2016, the benefit cap (the maximum a family can receive, including child tax credit, child benefit, housing benefit and adult benefits) is to be reduced from £26,000 a year to £20,000 for couples or lone parents outside London, equal to £385 a week.

The change to the income disregard is a return to the first few years of tax credits, when overpayments were running at around £2 billion a year, partly because so many people were caught by an increase in income of £2,500 a year which meant that their tax credits had to be reduced, but this only came to light at the end of the tax year. The lower disregard means that working people will have to think carefully before increasing hours or income, and HMRC will need to be kept informed of an accurate up to date estimate for the whole tax year, and its administration will have to improve considerably to avoid more overpayments.

The reduction in the benefit cap means a lot more families will be affected. For example, in Glasgow, a lone parent with three young children, in 3- bedroom private rented accommodation, would be affected, losing around £43 a week from housing benefit. In Edinburgh, a couple with a boy and a girl aged over 10, in 3- bedroom private rented accommodation, would be affected, losing around £67.55 a week from housing benefit. Large areas of the UK will become unaffordable for low income families without full-time work.

From April 2017:

  • the child element of tax credits will no longer be awarded for third and subsequent children born on or after 6 April 2017;
  • the family element in tax credits (£545 a year) will no longer be awarded to new claimants;

These proposals see the introduction of a new ‘two child policy’ in future for lower income families in the UK, with additional children seen as a luxury. This will also be a feature of universal credit. There is promised protection for families who are already have larger families, and for multiple births and other exceptional cases. However, the measures are clearly directed at an age-old stereotype that poorer people have larger families to claim more benefits, but it remains to be seen whether social security policy is an effective method of family planning or if it will simply mean there will still be larger families but they will be trapped in severe poverty.

For more information, read CPAG’s response to the Budget and briefing for MPs.

How Child Poverty Action Scotland can help you

If you are part of the early years workforce, whether in the NHS, education, childcare or voluntary sector, we can give you information and support on poverty and financial matters to assist you to help families. We understand that early years workers deal with a lot of other issues and do not expect you to take on complex cases. But you may be the only professional that family is in contact with, and often in a very close, trusted position. A basic awareness of what a family should be entitled to can help make sure they do not miss out on vital support. We can assist you to identify problems and whether it can be resolved quickly with a phone call to the right agency, or needs to be referred for specialist advice. As an early years worker, you can contact us if you want to know more about benefits, tax credits, maternity grants, healthy start vouchers, etc., and make use of our free resources:

  • Our advice line 0141 552 0552 is open Monday to Thursday 10.00 to 4.00 and Friday 10.00 to 12.00 for any questions about the current system or future changes.
    Please note this is not for general public use.
  • You can also e-mail with enquiries on behalf of families you are working with.
  • See our range of factsheets on various aspects of social security, including financial help on the early years, help for disabled children and in specific circumstances such as fleeing domestic violence.
  • Try our free online elearning. We also have a range of paid-for training courses available.

How you can help Child Poverty Action Scotland

As someone working closely with families in the early years, you are likely to see first-hand the effects of welfare reform and child poverty on children’s wellbeing and development, and we would like to hear from you. If you sign up to our Early Warning System (link to article 3) you can tell us about some of the cases you come across where families are affected by changes to benefits and tax credits, keeping details anonymous and contributing to our policy and campaigning work.

You can also keep informed about the impact of welfare reform on children living in Scotland, by signing up to receive our policy bulletins. For more information see  

For more information, contact Mark Willis, Tax Credits and Early Years Project, CPAG in Scotland

Tel: 0141 552 3722  Email:


Twitter @CPAGScotland

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CPAG Scotland’s Early Warning System

Evidence is being collected by CPAG Scotland’s Early Warning System on how welfare reform and the increased use of sanctions and delays are affecting the health and wellbeing of children in Scotland. It is collecting information and anonymous case studies from 75 frontline workers including welfare rights officers, housing advisers and support workers across Scotland. Information on impact on children is specifically requested and reported using the SHANARRI indicators. Here are some examples:

  • The lone parent of a 5 year old child was sanctioned for 4 weeks for failing to keep an appointment with her careers adviser. This was despite the fact she was in the job centre for her first appointment but, due to being misdirected, did not hear them call her name. A new appointment was to be sent by post but the client never received this.
  • A client could not sign on because his children were left with him unexpectedly by the parent with care. He was sanctioned and, given that he was not classed as vulnerable, was unable to access hardship payments for 15 days.
  • Several cases illustrated how family relationships had been put under strain by the use of sanctions. One young girl whose father had been repeatedly sanctioned and could not afford to visit her had phoned to ask him why he didn’t love her any more.
  • Several of the cases related to families with children being forced to use food banks as a result of sanctioning. There is a concern that relying on use of food banks could have a detrimental impact on children’s health given the lack of availability of fruit, vegetables and fresh produce. A sharp reduction parental in income is also likely to have an impact on the families ability to pay for books, toys and other items and activities that contribute to the wellbeing and cognitive development of children. One advisor raised concerns about how the stress that comes with lack of income may affect children, particularly given the link between maternal stress and poor mental health amongst children.
  • Many statutory and voluntary services working with families are seeing a shift in their focus from prevention to crisis management i.e. dealing with the direct consequences of sanctions – no money/food/heat – rather than intervention e.g. parenting; self-esteem/confidence building; nutrition. Undermining ability to deliver services.
  • Families’ basic needs not being met
  • Impact on other services -  GP appointments/ prescribing; health visitors’ caseloads; social work/child protection; third sector agencies/charities.

If you would be interested in submitting case studies, please contact: Kirsty McKechnie ( or phone 0141 611 7091.

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Early Years Collaborative

The Early Years Collaborative has identified addressing child poverty as a key change area, that is a key area of interest where improvements will make a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of Scotlands children and young people.  

The recent Child Poverty Key change event held at the COSLA Building in Edinburgh on the 7th May 2015 brought together members from various agencies across Scotland. The aim of the event was to coordinate the various testing that is happening to Address Child Poverty and to identify any specific interventions that will help families.

There seemed to be agreement with attendees as to the areas of testing; with three primary areas thought to require the most support:

  • Income Maximisation - with two main areas of work, access to financial advice and the Healthy Start scheme.
  • Employment/ employability - this would focus on access to suitable nursery provision taking into consideration the recent changes to the 600 hours and the eligibility criteria for two year olds.
  • Cost of living - support with daily living costs looking at housing and fuel costs.

Each Community Planning Partnership (CPP) that is testing under other areas would continue to do so with the support of a Regional Improvement Advisors. Testing that fell into the areas identified above will become the main focus for the Key Change Improvement Advisor with the support from the group. It is hoped that these specific interventions can be developed and spread across Scotland having a major impact on the finances of families.

An example of how this may work is the testing in Highland. The Midwifery team and the Income Maximisation team are working together to improve information that is available to women during pregnancy. Together we will develop the core principles of this work and take this into North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh to test whether it can be replicated. If we are able to replicate this there is then a possibility that this work can be shared across Scotland. We can also ask questions as to the suitability of the ‘core principles for other professions, for example health visitors, nursery nurses, and teachers.

Next steps for this work are to identify the ‘core principles’ in collaboration with Highland, North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh. Bring together the team who will be testing these principles and start and develop a learning system that enables us to support the testers and share the learning across the CPPs. The group aims to present its learning at the next learning session in November 2015.

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Key Messages for early years professionals

• Be aware of the stigma of poverty, and that low-income families are less likely to take up services that are seen as just for the poor, or want used or second-hand clothes or equipment.

• Think about your contact with expectant parents and families and what resources you expect them to have and afford.

• Ensure messages about diet, play, health and safety are balanced with what is affordable, and make suggestions for free or low-cost alternatives.

• Don’t assume everyone can afford to pay for resources: for example, a few pounds for a parent/toddler group may put this out of reach for some families (but they may not tell you this is the reason).

• Don’t be judgemental – some people may appear to have expensive items but this does not necessarily mean they have an adequate income for their family. For example, having an expensive phone but no credit.

• Don’t assume everyone knows what services are free, and is already receiving everything they are entitled to – many families miss out.

• Be aware of hidden problems and poverty traps – for example: relying on fast food may be because people cannot afford to get their cooker repaired; reluctance to try new foods due to expense of wasting food.

• Don’t confuse poverty with other problems such as drug or alcohol dependency, crime or lack of parenting skills. These are separate issues that need to be addressed and do not explain the difficulties of the overwhelming majority of families in poverty.

Further reading

Briefing on Child Poverty (

CPAG Scotland Early Warning System (


[ii] Households Below Average Income study, Department for Work & Pensions


[v] James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (Dial Press, 1961)

[vii] Stephen Bezruchka International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies (2015) 6(2): 204–229

[xi] Supporting Community Planning Partnerships in maximising income for pregnant women and families with children under the age of 5

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