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How do you break free from a cycle of poverty when you grow up in a home that makes you ill and reduces your chance of going to and finishing school?

More than one in five children in Scotland – 220,000 to be exact – currently experience relative poverty after housing costs are taken into account. Not taking into account housing costs, roughly 17 per cent (or 160,000) of children in Scotland lived in relative poverty in 2014/15. Housing costs alone, therefore, drove an additional 60,000 children into poverty in 2014/15.

Over 5,200 children in Scotland were living in temporary accommodation in March 2016. In addition, many more children in Scotland currently live in sub-standard, overcrowded housing. Children need a stable environment to prosper and be able to take full advantage of the educational opportunities provided to them. Research has also demonstrated that children growing up in bad housing are more likely to become sick, not finish school and live in poverty as adults.[1] Child poverty often turns into adult poverty, and subsequently leads to child poverty for the next generation. It is a cycle that far too many people do not manage to break free from.

Back in 1999, there was cross-party support for the UK Government’s commitment to end child poverty by 2020. After all, who would be against ending child poverty? The Child Poverty Act 2010 included specific child poverty income targets in legislation and required the UK Government, as well as the Scottish and Northern Irish Ministers, to publish and report on child poverty strategies.

However, the UK Government announced its plan to scrap child poverty income targets last year. It argued that the targets paint a false picture and that it is more important to focus on unemployment and education. While employment and education are vital tools to fight poverty, 67 per cent of children in poverty in Scotland live in working households – clearly employment does not necessarily protect you from poverty.

At Shelter Scotland, we are therefore glad to see that the Scottish Government has decided to set its own income targets as part of a Scottish Child Poverty Bill. Yet, it is vital that these income targets also adequately represent the scale of child poverty in Scotland. We worry that this is not the case.

Take the weekly housing costs allocated to a couple with two children for 2014/15 – £42, which includes any housing benefit the household might receive. Yet, the average standard weekly rent for a local authority property in Scotland in September 2015 was £65.96. The weekly average in Edinburgh was over £92 – more than double of the amount allocated for a couple with two children. In addition, an increasing number of households containing children live in the private rented sector, where rents tend to be much higher than local authority rents. Income targets therefore do not adequately represent the amount of income a household containing children spends on housing.

Moreover, income targets do not tell us other vital information that is needed to properly assess child poverty in Scotland, such as the above-mentioned housing conditions children live in or the amount of children experiencing homelessness. The Scottish Government has included some of these indicators as part of their measurement framework, which we believe should be further expanded to include additional measures of child poverty.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that child poverty in the UK will increase significantly over the next 5 years. We therefore need to do a lot more to tackle the vicious cycle of child poverty – and housing needs to be at the centre of any strategy that is trying to do this.

[1] Shelter (2006), Chance of a Lifetime: the impact of bad housing on children’s lives.

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