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Community / Child poverty on the rise, new research reaffirms

Photo: Save the Children

NEW figures highlight that estimated child poverty in Shetland has risen over the last five years – and that is not including the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking after the research was revealed on Wednesday, Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess said “we must go further” in tackling the national issue.

New data from the End Child Poverty coalition shows that between 2015 and 2019/2020 – before the pandemic struck – the percentage of children thought to be living in poverty in Shetland rose by 2.5 per cent to 663.

This was around 16 per cent of Shetland children.

This is based on a family having below 60 per cent of median income after housing costs.

In Orkney 22.7 per cent of children are said to be living in poverty, while in the Glasgow City area that figure rises to 32.2 per cent.

Shetland’s figure is one of the lowest in Scotland.

The research by Loughborough University, on behalf of the End Child Poverty, shows that even before the pandemic levels of child poverty was continuing to rise across every council area in Scotland.

More children and their families in Shetland have been receiving support from Shetland Foodbank during the pandemic – with staff highlighting a “dramatic rise” in demand.

In the six months to November 2020 children accounted for one third of all clients.

Meanwhile in 2019 Shetland Islands Council’s first child poverty report was approved.

Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess.

That report noted that Shetland has a relatively high cost of living compared to the rest of the country, meaning that “many more of our children and young people may be in financial hardship than is indicated by the national figures”.

Recently elected Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess has said: “Scotland was already on track to miss child poverty targets before the pandemic arrived, a crisis that has inflicted additional hardship on those who were already struggling to get by.

“Measures like free bus travel for young people, pandemic relief payments, and free school meals for all primary school children, already won by Green MSPs as part of a budget agreement, will be of huge benefit to families across the Shetland Islands.

“But we must go further. There was cross party agreement during the recent election campaign that the Scottish Child Payment should be doubled.

“All parties agreed that tackling child poverty was a priority. So, let us now get on with the work required to deliver that uplift as soon as practicably possible.”

Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland John Dickie said the “new data is a stark reminder that child poverty was still rising in every part of Scotland, even before the pandemic struck”.

“The challenge now is for government at all levels to use every power they have to boost family incomes and reduce the costs that struggling parents face.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that “while child poverty levels remain lower than in England and Wales, we are not complacent and are doing all we can to tackle and reduce child poverty in Scotland”.

They highlighted that “even before the pandemic began, the challenge of negotiating the UK’s welfare system has left many people in desperate need of help”.