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Child Poverty in Social Inclusion Partnerships - Research Findings

DescriptionThe report draws on quantitative & qualitative research to establish incidence & characteristics of child poverty to compare poverty in SIPs in Scotland & to examine SIPs role in tackling the problem.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateOctober 23, 2002



    Development Department Research ProgrammeResearch Findings No. 147

    Child Poverty in Social Inclusion Partnerships

    Peter A Kemp (University of York)
    Jo Dean and Daniel Mackay (University of Glasgow)

    This document is also available in pdf format (92k)

    Child poverty in Scotland has increased dramatically in recent decades and is very high compared with most other countries in the European Union. Defeating child poverty is one of the Scottish Executive's social justice milestones. The aims of the research reported here were to establish the incidence and characteristics of child income poverty, to compare child income poverty in Social Inclusion Partnerships with elsewhere in Scotland, and to examine the role of SIPs in tackling child poverty more generally.

    Main Findings
    • In 1999/2000, 29 per cent of children in Scotland were living in poverty, defined as disposable income, after housing costs, of less than 60 per cent of the median for Great Britain.
    • The rate of child income poverty was particularly high among workless households, adults with no educational qualifications, lone parents, families with three or more children, and tenants.
    • The rate of child income poverty was higher in urban than in rural Scotland.
    • Children in SIP areas were more likely than those elsewhere to be living in households that had characteristics associated with child poverty (such as those listed in the second bullet point above).
    • Half of all children in SIP areas were experiencing income poverty, compared with a quarter elsewhere in Scotland.
    • People working in SIPs had a much wider perspective on child poverty than simply insufficient income, but tackling child poverty was not one of their explicit objectives.
    • Child poverty was not being tackled in a strategic manner within SIPs. But a wide range of initiatives that had been introduced to address other issues was also helping to reduce child poverty in these areas.

    Child poverty in Scotland, and in Britain more generally, is very high in comparison with other countries in the European Union. However, in 1999 the Prime Minister committed the UK Government to halve child poverty over the next ten years and abolish it within a generation. Meanwhile, as part of its social justice agenda, the Scottish Executive has also pledged to defeat child poverty and set milestones for doing so.

    A range of measures has been introduced at both local and national level in order to tackle child poverty. In Scotland, many of these initiatives are located in and funded through the Social Inclusion Partnerships (SIPs) set up by the Scottish Executive. SIPs are multi-agency partnership bodies made up of representatives from the statutory sector (such as local authorities and health boards), the voluntary sector, community representatives, and the private sector. Their task is to co-ordinate activities to promote social inclusion, prevent social exclusion, develop innovative models of working and fund local projects that fit local priorities. SIPs themselves have relatively modest budgets, which are regarded as a lever to pull down funding from other sources, including the mainstream budgets of public service partners.

    The Growth of Child Poverty

    Income inequality in Britain has risen since the late 1970s, particularly among families with children. Between 1968 and 1995/96, child poverty in Britain trebled: over this period, the proportion of children living in poor households rose from one in 10 to one in three. In Scotland, the percentage of children living in households below 60 per cent of median income peaked at 34 per cent in 1996/97, since when it has reduced somewhat.

    The most important reason for the rise in child income poverty has been the growth in worklessness - households in which no adults are in paid employment - in recent decades. In 2001, one in seven children in Scotland were living in a workless household. The growth in the proportion of children living in workless households reflects the high levels of unemployment experienced during the 1980s and 1990s; and the polarisation in employment among households with two resident parents, between those with both partners in work and those with none. Further, the tax burden faced by families with children has risen in recent decades. Since the early 1980s, social security benefits have been increased in line with prices rather than earnings and, as a result, the income of benefit recipients has fallen as a proportion of average earnings.

    Child income poverty has also increased among children living in households where someone is in employment. Two of the most important causes of this growth in child poverty among working households are increased wage inequality and growth in part-time work. Demographic trends such as the rise in lone parenthood have also contributed to the growth of child poverty.

    Apart from the immediate financial effects, the evidence suggests that the outcomes of poverty for children may be far-reaching and continue into adulthood. The evidence suggests that income poverty in childhood affects, for example, educational attainment, health, income and employment later in life.

    Child Poverty in Scotland

    In 1999/2000, 29 per cent of children in Scotland were living in poor households with an income that was less than 60 per cent of the GB median. The rate of child income poverty was especially high among:

    • adults with no educational qualifications
    • workless households
    • lone parents
    • families with three or more children
    • parents under 25, and
    • tenants in social and private housing.

    The rate of child poverty was particularly high among workless households: three quarters of all children in workless households were living in poverty.

    The rate of child poverty was higher in urban Scotland (31%) than in rural Scotland (25%). Glasgow accounted for a larger proportion of children in poverty than its share of all children in Scotland. Residential areas characterised as 'disadvantaged council estates' and 'families in council flats' also accounted for a large amount of children in poverty. Thus, child poverty is not evenly spread across Scotland but is disproportionately concentrated in certain types of area.

    The odds of children in Scotland being poor varied according to family or household type, even when other factors were held constant. By far the most important determinant of child poverty was the employment status of adults in the household. When other factors were controlled for, children living with lone parents in work had lower odds of being poor than either lone parents not in work or couples where only one partner was in work. Thus, employment status was more important than family type in determining whether children were living in income poverty. These results confirm that work is the surest route out of poverty, even if - in 1999/2000 - it was not always a sufficient one.

    Child Poverty in SIPs

    The extent of child income poverty was not one of the explicit criteria used by the Scottish Executive to select bids for Social Inclusion Partnerships. Nevertheless, area-based SIPs contained a disproportionate share of the problem. In 1999/2000, SIPs accounted for 16 per cent of children in Scotland, but for 29 per cent of children experiencing income poverty. The rate of child income poverty within SIPs was much higher than in the rest of Scotland: half of all children in SIPs (51%) were poor, compared with a quarter of children elsewhere (25%).

    Not only was the incidence of child income poverty much higher in SIPs than in other parts of Scotland, its composition was different. Children experiencing income poverty within SIPs exhibited more socio-economic deprivation and other indicators of disadvantage than poor children living in the remainder of Scotland. For example, they were less likely than other children to be living in households that had a bank account or access to a car or to the internet. To that extent, children living in poverty within area-based SIPs were worse placed than those living elsewhere. These results provide some support for concentrating local anti-child poverty initiatives on SIPs and similarly deprived but non-designated areas.

    Tackling Child Poverty in SIPs

    SIPs aim to improve the lives of residents of designated areas, with a remit including, but not restricted to, economic change and urban regeneration. Despite the varying nature of the situations in which SIPs worked and their differing objectives, SIP managers and other respondents held a broadly similar perception of 'poverty'. But they worked with a range of definitions of 'children', in some cases because funders or statutory agencies themselves used different definitions.

    SIPs did not generally differentiate between the causes of poverty and its impacts on children. Nor did they differentiate between child poverty and the wider poverty of the neighbourhood in which they were working. Indeed, they argued that neighbourhood effects meant that children could be affected by poverty even where their own family's income was above poverty levels. SIP respondents understood child poverty in a much broader way than simply lack of income. They also pointed to a lack of opportunity, low aspirations, and social problems (such as drug misuse, domestic violence, and anti-social behaviour) as important components of the problem of child poverty.

    While SIP respondents considered tackling child poverty to be a fundamental part of the social inclusion agenda, few had explicitly identified it as a substantive theme of their work. The projects that they identified which helped to tackle child poverty did not necessarily have 'children' or 'poverty' as key objectives. In so far as these projects helped to prevent or alleviate child poverty, it was as a beneficial outcome of services developed for some other primary purpose.

    To the extent that child poverty is bound up with, or cannot be isolated from, wider aspects of social exclusion, this indirect approach has considerable merit. Tackling social exclusion and disadvantage in general will inevitably help to reduce child poverty (broadly conceived) or at least to reduce the impact of poverty. Nevertheless, it appears that SIPs are not at present giving strategic priority to tackling child poverty and that this may have implications for their contribution to defeating it.

    SIP managers identified a wide range of gaps in local services that could have an impact upon child poverty. The most frequently mentioned included a shortage of suitable, well-paid employment opportunities, deficiencies in childcare, inadequate public transport, and insufficient funding for mainstream health, education and social work services. The Scottish Executive has announced commitments to substantial increases in expenditure on health, education and transport, which should help to reduce many of the gaps identified.


    While the rate of child poverty was much higher in SIPs than elsewhere, the majority of poor children in Scotland were not living within the boundaries of an area-based SIP. Actions to tackle child poverty therefore need to reach poor children wherever they are living and not just those living in deprived areas. Nevertheless, the research suggests there may be considerable merit in focusing locally-based efforts to defeat child poverty on areas of acute social and economic deprivation such as SIPs. Not only is the rate of child poverty particularly high in SIPs (and probably in similarly deprived but undesignated areas), but poor children face a worse start in life there than do poor children elsewhere.

    Although SIPs were playing an important role in the battle against child poverty, it was not an explicit one. Instead, it was more of a positive by-product of the work they were doing to tackle socio-economic deprivation and disadvantage more generally. The Scottish Executive might therefore wish to consider whether SIPs should be given an explicit goal of targeting child poverty, broadly conceived, in order to make clearer and more co-ordinated progress towards the ambitious goal of defeating this problem within a generation. There is of course the danger that SIPs might suffer from goal overload - and local identification of priorities remains important - but there is equally the danger that, without such a goal, their contribution to defeating child poverty may be unfocused.

    The Scottish Executive could also consider how it might enable SIPs and mainstream public service providers to fill the gaps identified by SIPs. Particular attention could be given to gaps in provision that may be creating barriers to SIP residents taking up work opportunities - such as childcare (cost, quality and availability) and transport (again, cost, quality and availability). These efforts could focus especially on improving provision outside of 9 to 5 office hours and at weekends, when childcare and public transport may be difficult to access or be very limited in availability.

    Research Methods

    The research involved two main components. The first comprised analysis of data from two sources: (1) the Scottish Household Survey for 1999 and 2000, and (2) Households Below Average Income for 1999/00 (produced by the Department for Work and Pensions). Children were defined as experiencing income poverty if they were living in households with a disposable, equivalised income after housing costs that was below 60 per cent of the GB median. The second component of the research comprised a telephone survey of SIP managers followed by in-depth interviews with SIP managers and partners in four case study SIPs. Documentation on the case study SIPs and their associated projects was also collected and reviewed.

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