Public Health Scotland (PHS) once more stands with our partners in supporting Challenge Poverty Week, the campaign led by The Poverty Alliance to highlight that poverty in Scotland is a problem that can be solved. By joining the unified voice against poverty, we can raise awareness and support for actions which will reduce health inequalities, increase healthy life expectancy, close the attainment gap and deliver an inclusive economy.
PHS work routinely highlights the burden of ill health and social inequalities placed upon people on the lowest incomes. Over the last year life has been particularly challenging, and we recognise the economic consequences of COVID-19 for many people.
Families with children are some of the people most affected. More than one in four children already live in relative poverty in Scotland, and many families will have lost jobs and income during the pandemic. We know that for people in some types of work new job opportunities remain scarce and competitive, and don’t necessarily meet the conditions associated with good work. The national furlough scheme has ended and risks increasing levels of unemployment again. The uplift to universal credit is set to expire this month, despite it having been proven to have reduced poverty and support working-age adults’ capacity to find and keep employment. This is a significant and serious concern.
Public health evidence tells us that the experience of living with the stress of financial insecurity impacts on children’s health outcomes before birth, and takes its toll on mental and physical health throughout the lifespan. For children living in poverty the disadvantage they experience undermines their opportunities to eat well, afford basic necessities and participate in school and society.
Claire Sweeney, Director of Place and Wellbeing at PHS said:
“There is no doubt that poverty is a significant long-term problem for people’s health. There is also no doubt that this can be fixed, with long-term, sustained action at a national and local level. PHS is committed to investing in Scotland’s health. That’s why poverty and children are a particular focus for us – we want to help to reduce poverty to improve child health, give children the best start in life and reduce the risk of poorer health and social outcomes in adulthood.
“To do this we need to boost incomes and increase the value of benefits, which the Scottish Child Payment is helping towards. We know that getting people into work alone won’t reduce poverty and improve health, especially when jobs are of low quality and insecure. Simply put, additional income can be the difference in being warm and fed or not.
“The impact of lifting low-income families above the poverty line can improve health now as well as invest in the health of children for decades. Tackling child poverty requires commitment and organised action between national and local government, the NHS and other public services, private organisations, the third sector and communities. Investing in reducing poverty is in all our interests as it will help us meet long-term challenges like closing the attainment gap, sustaining the economy, climate change and managing future pandemics”.
PHS has recently published two reports that focus on some of those most at risk and with least resource. The lone-parent families briefing paper and the larger families briefing paper are intended to help local authorities, health boards and partners plan activities to reduce child poverty to make the biggest impact based on local populations. Later this year, we will publish a new briefing on child poverty and families where someone has a disability.
Read the Child Poverty in Scotland: health impact and health inequalities report (external website) for more information about how poverty can impact on children’s health, education and development, and how this creates inequalities in Scotland.