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Council / Work ongoing to ‘counteract’ child poverty, SIC education and families chairman says

SHETLAND Islands Council has been “working hard” on the issue of child poverty, according to the chairman of its education and families committee.

Councillor George Smith also praised the movement towards a focus on early intervention – “trying to get in there before the issue becomes a problem”.

It comes after new research showed that the estimated number of children in Shetland living in child poverty rose by 2.5 per cent between 2015 and 2020.

The overall percentage rose to 15.8 per cent, which was one of the lowest rates in Scotland.

Smith said it is “clearly concerning” to see the rise in child poverty both in Shetland and wider across Scotland.

Councillor George Smith.

With the figures not covering the coronavirus pandemic, he said there is likely to be additional burden on families.

“We’ve been working quite hard with Shetland Partnership and through children’s services to try and make sure we’ve got work in place to try and counteract some of this,” Smith said.

Examples of this include the multi-agency Anchor project, which works with families on early intervention and prevention, as well as the promotion of free school meals and clothing awards.

Smith feels that increasing child benefits, meanwhile, could be one way to alleviate the problem.

“That would make a big odds, if we could just get money directly to families.”

But it is a topic which is multi-layered, and without a quick fix. Stigma, for instance, is another element in the mix which may initially discourage people from seeking help, while there are some hidden pockets of poverty.

With a significant proportion of Shetland households thought to be in fuel poverty – where the cost of heating their home is high compared to their income – and extra costs too associated with living on an island, Smith highlighted that rural areas face extra pressure.

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“We’ve continually tried to impress on both governments the issue around the cost of living,” he said.

“That poverty measurement [in the new research] is looking at income levels.

“We’ll have probably higher income levels than some parts of the mainland, but our cost of living is that much higher.”

The councillor also praised the work of the in-demand local food bank and Citizens’ Advice Bureau, while he said there is also a focus on employability work – ensuring young folk leaving school have a positive destination.

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