The TV licence is criminalising the poor and the vulnerable

The [man] was at my door… I actually said to him “I can’t give you what I’ve not got.” I can’t do it’.

(Mary, lone parent with a disabled son)


  ‘a society that is constructed in a way that in effect forces some people to break the law in order to lead a materially decent life is especially incompetent or unjust’ 

Wolff and De Shalit (2007: 47)

The research

In collaboration with the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland (CPAG), I have undertaken a six year study of twelve families in Scotland that explores how welfare reform and austerity measures are affecting them. Although the research is a joint project, this blog is the outcome of my analysis of the data, these views are my own, and do not represent the position of CPAG.

TV licence evasion

The television licence is a particular problem as you can be prosecuted, fined and even go to prison for non-payment. In England and Wales, prosecutions for non-payment of the TV licence currently account for around one in 10 of all criminal cases in the magistrates’ courts.[1]

Criminalising women in poverty

It is also a highly gendered debt with women being particularly disadvantaged. Females accounted for 72% of all prosecutions for television licence evasion in England and Wales in 2017.[2] Furthermore, and even more worryingly, television licence evasion remains the most common offence for which females are prosecuted, at 30% of all prosecutions for women in 2017 in England and Wales.[3] The fact that almost a third of all female prosecutions are for non-payment of the television licence is criminalising poverty and women in poverty in particular. In Scotland, the data are not as easy to come by. A Freedom of Information request to the BBC about TV licence convictions in Scotland resulted in the startling admission that the BBC do not collate its own information on TV licence evasion.[4]

Who enforces the TV licence?

On 1 April 1991, the BBC took over the administration of television licensing in the UK, assuming the responsibility of licence fee collection and enforcement. In July 2002, the BBC awarded Capita, an outsourcing firm, the contract to manage the TV Licensing system, replacing the Post Office. In January 2006, the Office of National Statistics classified the licence fee as a tax.[5] Previously, this payment had been designated a service charge. That everyone pays the same tax to the BBC, irrespective of income, is regressive and means that, proportionate to their income, the poor are paying more.

Capita has a £58 million contract with the BBC to enforce payment of the TV licence.[6] Under its incentive scheme its TV Licensing Enquiry Officers are reportedly told to catch more than 28 licence fee evaders each week[7] with each additional person caught bringing a bonus of between £20 and £25.[8] TV Licensing Enquiry Officers are said to be able to earn up to £15,000 through the incentive scheme per annum. [9] This incentivised mode of enforcement of the TV licence has implications for the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

Targeting the poor and the vulnerable

With 30% of all female prosecutions being for non-payment of the TV licence, it is worth considering how much it costs in court time to prosecute non-payment of the TV licence. I imagine it would go a long way to cover the cost of the TV licences in the first place. We must also think about the personal impact on those who, through their poverty, may be forced into the criminal justice system, like Mary below.[10]

Mary’s story

As a woman and the lone mother of a disabled son, Mary has an ongoing struggle to pay her television licence. She is in debt because her income has been reduced due to changes in the benefits system and she cannot cover her essential bills each week. She is behind on her TV licence. This debt only increases when she is fined for non-payment of the licence and, in trying to pay the fine, she cannot pay the licence itself. The TV licensing authorities do not take this into consideration. In year four of the study, Mary says:

‘And I got a fine for my TV licence, an £80 fine. Plus, they wanted me to pay it at £10 a week. So I‘ve to pay £10 a week fine, £10 a week for my TV licence, but I couldn’t pay both, so I was paying a fine obviously because I didn’t want to end up in jail or go to court or something, and I couldn’t pay [the licence itself], so again, I fell into arrears. I tried to explain to them I can’t pay both… But they were having none of it. They were saying that I could go to jail for it. So I fell behind again. The [man] was at my door… I actually said to him “I can’t give you what I’ve not got.” I can’t do it’.

When next we meet in year five of the study, Mary is still struggling with the television licensing authorities who are continuing to fine her and continuing to threaten her with prosecution, making her frightened and forcing her into an unending cycle of debt. This time she says:

‘I’ve not paid it in months. Not paid it in months. They had offered me to pay it…quarterly? Through direct debit, but because I was behind in it, I’ve still got to pay it. But I can’t seem to find that 6 pounds a week. And they were like, “we can’t reduce it anymore, and you’re going to end up getting another fine.” I said, “well if you give me another fine, it’s going to put me down even more.”… But they’re just not listening. Even when you go to Citizen’s Advice or that, they’ll tell you “there’s nothing we can do to help you with a TV licence, it must be paid”. But I’m honest with them when they phone, or come to the door. I’m like, “I can’t pay you.”’

Why women in particular?

The BBC and the TV Licensing Authority recognised that there was a gender disparity in prosecutions for failing to pay the television licence. A review into this gender disparity, undertaken by the BBC itself, found that there is ‘no evidence to suggest that enforcement activity is unfairly and intentionally targeted at women’ and that ‘there is no evidence of any discriminatory enforcement practices on the part of TV licensing’.[11] One of the reasons the BBC gave for the gender disparity was that a female was more likely to ‘engage positively’ with a TV Licensing Enquiry Officer. Let’s explore this a bit further:

  1. If TV Licensing Enquiry Officers target women because they are more likely to engage, often through fear of prosecution and fear that such prosecution might result in losing their children, then this is It is a clear source of bias and discrimination and the intention is irrelevant. It suggests that TV Licensing Enquiry Officers (perhaps unintentionally) pursue female-headed households as they are a soft target for television licence enforcement. Unintended bias is still bias.
  2. Women are at greater risk of non-payment because they are more likely to be on low incomes, whether in or out of work. This interaction with poverty compounds their likelihood of being targeted by TV Licensing Enquiry Officers.
  3. Given that TV Licensing Enquiry Officers are incentivised then there is the potential for unconscious bias in their desire to achieve their targets and receive a bonus.

This is not acceptable. The current model of funding our public sector broadcasting, which results in so many prosecutions of the poor, and of women in particular, is no longer fit for purpose and needs to change. And never has the time been so right for change.

Towards a new funding model

The TV licence was first introduced on 1 June 1946 when a television was a luxury item and only the wealthy could afford one. Therefore, only the rich paid the television licence. Now, having a television is considered an essential part of participating in society.[12] There is almost universal television coverage in the UK and everyone pays the same television licence fee under the age of 75, with the exception of those who are registered blind (but not partially blind), who pay 50% of the annual fee.[13]

After 2020, the UK government will withdraw its funding that gives the over 75s a free TV licence.[14] If the BBC decide not to cover the costs of these free licences itself, it risks pushing the most vulnerable elderly into debt and facing criminal prosecutions, such is the present case with women on low incomes. This is the perfect time to think about a new funding model.

What would a new model look like?

Given that the TV licence is officially a tax, it would make sense for it to come out of general taxation, even if that means a small (e.g. a fraction of a percentage point) increase in income tax, so that it would be made fairer. This would mean that those earning the least in society, for example those on the National Living Wage, would pay a very small percentage of their income to the TV licence. It would mean that pensioners who rely on the state pension would not pay, nor would those on disability benefits, nor lone parents with young children or those on out of work benefits. Instead, it would only be those who are earn the most, and wealthy pensioners, who would pay. This would still be a small proportion of overall salary. It would make the question of what will happen to the over 75s post-2020 redundant and would take 30% of criminal prosecutions for women out of the criminal justice system. It would cease to penalise and criminalise poverty. And it would remove the costs associated with prosecuting those who cannot afford to pay.

At the present time the mode of watching TV is changing, for example, to on-demand providers. This is a change that sees the younger generation watching on-demand services more than they do BBC services,[15] which is a change that will continue to gather pace. A fair question that will be asked in future is ‘why should we pay the BBC when we don’t watch its programmes’? This will potentially lead to a funding crisis that can be averted with sensible action now.

There is a role for a public service broadcaster in the UK, one whose funding is fairer than the present system. That is why I would not advocate a subscription service for the BBC. But the current method of funding it, one that leads to discrimination against women and the economically disadvantaged, and criminalises them, has to change. Otherwise, as the change in the way we watch television continues, and there is more dissent over the regressive and unfair nature of the TV licence fee tax, support for the BBC will continue to decline. We would risk no longer having a public service broadcaster.




[2]Ministry of Justice, 2018 ‘Women and the criminal justice system 2017’

[3] Ministry of Justice, 2018 ‘Women and the criminal justice system 2017’


[5] “Further Issues for BBC Charter Review” House of Lords Session Report. The Stationery Office Limited. 3 March 2006.


[7] ibid


[9] ibid


[11] BBC, 2017 Gender disparity report: TV licensing

[12] EU, Material Deprivation Indicators 2018




WOLFF, J. & DE-SHALIT, A. 2007. Disadvantage, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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Poverty and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

**This was first published on Children First’s blogsite on 27th September 2018**

Poverty is a structural problem with a lack of income at its core. Poverty is dynamic – those people living in poverty this year are not necessarily the same group of people who will be living in poverty next year. The drivers of poverty in Scotland comprise a wide range of structural, household and individual-level factors including:

  • macro-economic and political conditions
  • the housing and labour markets
  • the cost of living
  • social security system,
  • education and skills.

In-work poverty is an increasing problem in Scotland as two thirds of children living in poverty live in a family where at least one adult works. For some people poverty is fleeting and transient, for others it can be severe and persistent. Many children living in poverty will not go on to live in poverty in adulthood; the intergenerational transmission of poverty is not automatic. However, for others, there is a risk of poverty following them into adulthood and blighting their futures.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful events that occur in childhood which can a have lifelong impact on health and behaviour. ACEs include:

  • domestic violence
  • parental abandonment through separation or divorce
  • a parent with a mental health condition
  • being the victim of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional)
  • being the victim of neglect (physical and emotional)
  • having a member of the household in prison
  • growing up in a household in which there are adults experiencing alcohol and drug use problems.

Those who experience multiple ACEs (four or more) in childhood are more likely to have poor physical and mental health (including type 2 diabetes and heart disease) and to engage is health-harming behaviours such drinking, smoking or taking drugs. They are less likely to be able to acquire the confidence and self-efficacy required in adulthood to engage in education or employment. They are more likely to experience severe poverty and destitution, to use food banks, and to experience homelessness. Research has found that having a relationship with one trusted adult during childhood can mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs and that when mothers have a high level of social connectedness child wellbeing increases, even for those living in persistent poverty.

Poverty is not another ACE

At this juncture it is important to note two things: (1) poverty is not another ACE. Often poverty is described as another adverse childhood experience, whereas poverty is a structural issue governed mainly by political and economic factors. It is important for policy and practice not to conflate the two; and (2) although people living in poverty and in the most deprived areas are at greater risk, ACEs do occur across the socioeconomic spectrum. Better-off families often have sufficient material resources and social, emotional or practical support to counter the negative effects of ACEs. This is another reason why poverty should not be confused with ACEs.

With that in mind, while the majority of children living in poverty are not affected by multiple ACEs there is a significant proportion of families with multiple ACEs who experience poverty. And when poverty and ACEs coincide they become more than the sum of their parts. When a child lives with ACEs, and also lives in poverty, the conditions are ripe for long-lasting trauma, or toxic stress, which is devastating to children in childhood, and which continues on into adulthood. The trauma associated with the combination of ACEs and poverty makes it more likely for children to experience deeper and more prolonged levels of poverty throughout their lives and on into future generations.

Families living in poverty affected by ACEs are more likely to come to the attention of schools, statutory and voluntary services as they are unlikely to have the resources, confidence, skills, knowledge, experiences, or the social, emotional or practical support to mitigate the traumatic effects of ACEs. When poverty and ACEs combine children and their families require dedicated service intervention and engagement with multiple services including health, housing, financial and family support workers.

The multi-agency support that these children and families need can be housed where all parents go, for example schools and health services. There is a growing number of money advice workers operating in schools and other hubs, which is highly valuable and which will continue to increase with the boosted funding available under the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. This will help to alleviate child poverty in Scotland. However, families affected by poverty and multiple ACEs are not likely to be able to benefit fully from poverty-reduction policies due to wider trauma and greater need in their lives.

A holistic view

We need to look at all the pieces on the chessboard and not just focus on each piece in isolation. We cannot improve the lives of all children in Scotland without also addressing the needs of their families. What is required are money advice workers who are also family support workers, or who are trained to recognise the need for, and signpost onto, family support workers. Children 1st operate one such model called the ‘Edinburgh Family Support Team’ which now delivers integrated benefit, debt and money advice within the wider framework of its trauma-informed family support service for families.

The EFST service has been highly successful in supporting families with evictions, homelessness, disability benefits, sanctions, sequestrations, mental health debt write-offs, bankruptcies and accessing emergency funds. It believes its success is in part due to the fact that its money advice worker is also a trained family support worker and skilled in dealing with family trauma. Such integrated support is valuable because although adverse childhood experiences and poverty do not necessarily coincide, when they do, the resulting trauma can lead to the most intractable and enduring experiences of poverty

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Submission to Education Committee on the Poverty of Aspirations

At the invitation of the convenor of the Education committee of the Scottish parliament the following research evidence was submitted today, 1 February 2018, for their consideration.

Poverty of Aspirations


It is important to note that schools do not hold all the levers to improve the lives of children living in poverty. It is important to note too that what affects families’ socio-economic circumstances, namely the labour market and the social security system (among other areas), as controlled by UK central government and, to a lesser extent, the Scottish government, are outwith the control of educators. However, with a stronger understanding and appreciation of how these impact on families living in poverty, and how they serve to present difficulties and barriers to children living in poverty fully participating in education, educators can do much to support the education and aspirations of children living in poverty.

Research on poverty of aspirations

A recent briefing paper I wrote called “Can we put the ‘poverty of aspiration’ myth to bed now?” discusses how aspirations have become a key educational policy driver in Scotland and the rest of the UK and are seen as critical levers for closing the attainment gap between children and young people of high and low socioeconomic backgrounds.
The paper uses approximately 3,500 responses from Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) data. Parents’ responses to questions on the aspirations they hold for their children and their confidence in their ability to influence their children’s schooling were analysed. Children’s experiences of education in relation to enjoyment of learning, and of school itself, for different lengths of time lived in poverty, were also explored.

Research results

For children there were no statistically significant differences in their enjoyment of learning or of school by the length of time they had lived poverty. This means that children at this age (7/8 years old) do not experience different enjoyment of school based on their socioeconomic background. That is not to say that their ability to participate fully in school, or their ability to make equal use of what is available to them, or indeed their response to or conduct in school will be the same. Rather it shows that in spite of differences perceived by teachers or felt by children in the classroom, children in poverty value school as much as their better off peers.

For parents, there were statistically significant differences in the types of aspirations parents hold for their children according to their experience of poverty. However, there was no ‘lack’ of aspiration per se. The evidence shows that poorer parents are more likely to aspire to apprenticeships/training/further education and less likely to aspire to higher education for their children. Parents’ aspirations may differ by poverty experience, but can only be thought of as ‘high’ aspirations.

So what does influence aspirations?

Aspirations are a construct of parents’ own knowledge, understanding and experience. Each of us is a creation of our past and present experiences as well as our acquired skills, knowledge and education. Those of us with no experience of sailing in the Mediterranean do not aspire to yacht ownership on the Côte d’Azur. That does not make us deficient in aspiration; rather, we aspire to what we have experience of, what we know we can influence, and what we believe we can achieve.

So what is happening with aspirations if not a ‘lack of’?

Previous evidence shows that children do not start off with low expectations. When they are younger they have the same hopes and dreams as all children, however, their confidence in their ability to attain their aspirations becomes diminished over time. Aspirations, even in communities struggling with poverty, are very high – the missing element is the knowledge of how to make these aspirations real and obtainable.

Parents living in poverty also have high aspirations for their children but feel unable to engage with their child’s learning in the home and feel inadequate in their knowledge and experience to help their children. There is no crisis in aspirations but rather difficulty for poor parents ‘to sustain those aspirations over time or turn them into reality’. Yet, it is not only politicians that suggest parents have low aspirations for their children. Teachers too cite low aspirations on the part of parents for children’s poorer educational attainment. This has an effect on how teachers and school staff engage with children and parents living in poverty.

Previous research shows that education staff lack knowledge about the causes and consequences of poverty, often conflating the two. Education staff often see the diminishing of aspirations, the difficulty in expressing an aspiration, the lack of knowledge and lack of confidence, and mistake it as an absence of aspirations per se.

As a former teacher myself, and with 17 years’ or work with people living in poverty, I have never come across parents without aspirations for their children, but I did come across acute and chronic shortages of knowledge and confidence.

So how does this affect what happens in schools?

1. Educators are not familiar with the difference between the causes and consequences of poverty and so can sometimes hold inaccurate, and even pejorative, views of poor parents.
2. This affects what is done in schools. It can adversely affect relationships with parents living in poverty. More importantly, it can negatively affect relationships with children living in poverty. With children living in poverty often feeling ashamed and stigmatised, sometimes looked down upon, and often out-of-place in the school environment, they cannot begin to engage effectively or participate fully in their education.
3. While educators believe in the poverty of aspirations they will try to fix the wrong thing. Rather than work with children and parents to develop, understand, support and maintain aspirations, they are assuming deficiency and, therefore, risk the non-engagement of parents and pupils.

So what can be done?

1. To close the attainment gap, schools should improve and enhance the everyday experience of school for children living in poverty.
2. This would begin by educating teachers and other school staff on the risks, causes and consequences of poverty (as per Edinburgh’s 1 in 5 project), which are often conflated and misconstrued. There is also a gap in the initial teacher education in the area of poverty which could be rectified.
3. The attainment gap will be neither narrowed nor closed so long as policy focuses on children’s educational outcomes rather than the factors that affect their outcomes: value, respect, dignity, understanding, inclusion, appreciation, and participation within school.
4. Schools should make careful use of the Pupil Equity Fund, for example for Home/School development/support staff.

Policy implications:

1. Policy will be strengthened if policy makers have a more sophisticated understanding of how their own views of aspirations and those of others are shaped by their socio-economic circumstances.
2. It is important to promote policies which open up knowledge of the whole range of opportunities available to parents and children in poverty including routes into higher education.
3. Parents and children need knowledge of both the opportunities and the route to achieving their aspirations.

Practice recommendations:

1. Support parents and children to understand the opportunities available to them and give them the knowledge necessary to achieve them.
2. Focus on the mechanisms by which aspirations can diminish over time for young people.
3. Focus on keeping young people’s aspirations on track rather than just ‘inspiring’ them.
4. Dismantle the local and structural barriers to high aspirations.

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Can we put the ‘poverty of aspiration’ myth to bed now?

Children’s less successful progress in education is often blamed on their, and/or their parents’, poor aspirations. This has become known as the ‘poverty of aspiration’. Aspirations have become a key educational policy driver in Scotland and the rest of the UK and are seen as critical levers for closing the attainment gap between children and young people of high and low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Yet children living in poverty do have high aspirations for themselves. Children and young people do not start off with low expectations. When they are younger they have the same hopes and dreams as all children, however, their confidence in their ability to attain their aspirations becomes diminished over time. Aspirations, even in communities struggling with poverty, are very high—the missing element is the knowledge of how to make these aspirations real and obtainable.

Parents living in poverty also have high aspirations for their children but feel unable to engage with their child’s learning in the home and feel inadequate in their knowledge and experience to help their children. There is no crisis in aspirations but rather difficulty for poor parents ‘to sustain those aspirations over time or turn them into reality‘. Yet, it is not only politicians that charges parents with having low aspirations for their children. Teachers too cite low aspirations on the part of parents for children’s poorer educational attainment. This has an effect on how teachers and school staff engage with children and parents living in poverty.

The analysis in my recently published briefing paper ‘Can we put the poverty of aspirations myth to bed now?‘ finds that parents living in poverty do not lack aspirations for their children but their aspirations are a construct of what is familiar and known to them. Each of us is a creation of our past and present experiences as well as our acquired skills, knowledge and education. Those of us with no experience of sailing in the Mediterranean do not aspire to yacht ownership on the Côte d’Azur. This does not make us deficient in aspiration; rather, we aspire to what we have experience of, what we know we can influence, and what we believe we can achieve. While the poverty of aspiration myth is allowed to perpetuate, even gain in momentum, it will continue to distract from the ways in which children living in poverty are failed by the education system.







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Why we need to use data to progress children’s rights in Scotland

When it comes to children’s rights, it is often the qualitative aspects of children’s lives that we think about. How far children are free to have and to enjoy their rights is something we tend to measure in terms of stories and narratives, preferably told by children themselves. For many, there is the belief, or perhaps the concern, that these qualitative aspects of life cannot be quantified, cannot be translated into, or represented by, statistical forms of data. I would argue that such people are probably correct insofar as how they understand and interpret what is trying to be measured. A statistical indicator cannot hope to encapsulate the breadth and depth of qualitative experience, or of thoughts and feelings. However, I would argue that a statistical indicator can complement qualitative information, that it can highlight qualitative information, that it can extend qualitative information by asking such questions as ‘how many?’, ‘how often?’ and ‘to what extent?’.

Indicators can give a representative and generalisable overview, a robust and valid account, a reliable explanation, and can help, perhaps, direct problems towards solutions.  I would argue that we need indicators to track change and improvement in the implementation, realisation and enjoyment of rights for children. We need these especially to monitor the rights of those groups that face more challenging circumstances and discrimination. Indicators also allow us to assess and support the efforts of public bodies and civil society to implement children’s rights and meet their rights obligations. It is important to understand that collecting qualitative and quantitative data needn’t be an either/or, it can be a ‘let’s have both!’ When used in combination, quantitative and qualitative data can reveal a wider, deeper, more nuanced picture than they can individually.

In today’s seminar, I show the analysis of some data. I present a table from the child-completed section of the Growing Up in Scotland survey data from sweep 7 in 2012 when 94% of the children were 7 years old and 6% were 8 years old. The question asks children to respond to the following statement ‘My parents smack me when I have done something wrong’ and gives the following four possible responses: 1) Never, 2) Sometimes, 3) Often, and 4) Always. Additionally, the gender variable (girl/boy) is used as is the binary poverty measure of being below 60% median equivalised income (poverty/no poverty). Any number of socioeconomic variables could have been used, such as education or social class, poverty was chosen for the simplicity of the two categories.

This question is very timely in Scotland. A new consultation has been announced on a proposed Bill on equal protection from assault for children and young people. The Bill aims to remove the legal defence of “justifiable assault” for the smacking of children, bringing Scotland in line with UNCRC recommendations and with most other European countries[1]. To shed light on this issue, and to show what we can learn if we collect the right data, the table below gives percentages of children aged 7/8 years old who report being ‘smacked’ by their parents, broken down by gender and poverty:

My parents smack me when I have done something wrong Boys Girls
No poverty Poverty No poverty Poverty
Never 45.7 41.8 49.5 41.1
Sometimes 33.5 33.1 37.3 37.7
Often 9.0 9.7 6.2 8.5
Always 11.8 15.4 7.2 12.7

Source: Growing Up in Scotland (2012 – sweep 7, n= 3,353)

The most striking point of note to me is that over half of all children report being smacked. This is in a climate where smacking is reported to have decreased in prevalence. Both the gender element and the poverty element are statistically significant (analyses not shown) meaning that boys are smacked more than girls and poorer boys and girls are smacked more than wealthier girls, especially. Wealthier boys, however, are still smacked ‘always’ at 1.6 the rate of wealthier girls. I don’t think this is acceptable and I hope to show today that this indicator complements the known qualitative data on how children feel when they are smacked.


[1] (accessed 31 May 2017)

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Consultation response to the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Bill for Scotland consultation

Overall statement:

I welcome the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to tackling child poverty and appreciate the attention to the existing evidence base that this consultation shows. The principal reason that any government is concerned to tackle child poverty is because of its negative effects on children’s future outcomes, e.g. cognitive development, psychosocial well-being, educational attainment, physical and mental health, completed schooling, future employment prospects and earning power, to name but a few. It is heartening to see that the impact of living in poverty in childhood itself is also considered in this consultation. The evidence shows that income is the dimension of poverty that has the most significant, adverse impact on children’s outcomes. Therefore, having income as the primary focus of this proposed new Child Poverty Bill for Scotland is very welcome.

However, my concern arises when the Scottish Government itself notes that ‘tackling child poverty is increasingly difficult in the face of UK Government welfare cuts and austerity measures’; ‘we do not hold many of the necessary levers for change under the current constitutional settlement’ and ‘Legislation cannot achieve all of this alone’. While I appreciate that due to these constraints the Scottish Government only has an ‘ambition’ to eradicate child poverty, I feel that setting highly ambitious targets (possibly using the after housing costs measure, within a tight timeframe) while acknowledging that you do not possess the full powers to achieve these targets, and so tempering the wording of the bill with words such as ‘ambition’ and ‘strive to’, has a potential to leave us with a less effective piece of legislation. My fear is that setting highly ambitious targets and only striving to achieve them, will result in a good-looking piece of legislation that cannot achieve its ambition. In other words, it will be all fur coat and no knickers, to coin a common Scottish expression.

I recommend that you should relax the timeframe for the Child Poverty Bill for Scotland, set interim targets, use before and after housing costs measures, include new income measures (see question 5), get rid of some of the so-called measures in the measurement framework and replace them with more rigorous data (see question 10). Most importantly, you should strengthen its language so that the bill has a stronger statement of intent. In conclusion, there is a risk of setting overly ambitious targets that are unachievable but there will be no accountability because there is not a stated strong intention to eradicate child poverty, only an ambition to.


Do you agree with the Scottish Government including in statute an ambition to eradicate child poverty?

I agree with the Scottish Government including in statute a plan, strategy, or programme to eradicate child poverty. I am concerned with the language used in this consultation. The word ‘ambition’ is used throughout as are the words ‘strive to eradicate’. I believe that the words ‘ambition’ and ‘strive’ are vague, indefinite and do not result in any statutory obligation to eradicate child poverty. Using words such as these could mean that the government had succeeded in its ambition to strive to eradicate child poverty even if there was little material change in the incidence and prevalence of child poverty. Logically, the government could not fail to succeed in having an ambition, or in striving, so long as it could demonstrate its efforts. I would like to see a stronger statement of intent.


What are your views on making income targets statutory?

The current child poverty measure of income that the Scottish Government aims to keep, combining both 60% median equivalised income and material deprivation (a multidimensional concept), was reached after a period of extensive consultation using research evidence. Not only has the 60% median equivalised income measure succeeded in capturing the effects of complex economic situations, it is also the official child poverty measure of the EU, OECD and UNICEF, and is now used by other governments. I think it is important to keep this measure and to make income targets statutory. If we were to lose this, we would lose not only a rigorous, well tested and evidence-based measure of child poverty, we would lose the ability to compare ourselves against other nations within the UK, EU and OECD.


How do you think the role of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Child Poverty can be developed to ensure that they play a key role in developing the legislation?

I think the Ministerial Advisory Group on Child Poverty should contain more academic expertise in the field of child poverty. Academics currently working in the field of child poverty would bring an overview of the research evidence and a comparative overview of the situation in other countries.


How can links between the national strategy and local implementation be improved? What could local partners do to contribute to meeting these national goals? This might include reporting and sharing best practice or developing new strategic approaches.

I am mindful of placing any further administrative and reporting burdens on local authorities, particularly if it does not come with ring-fenced funding attached; however, I think this should be a statutory requirement on local authorities to take steps to prevent and reduce child poverty at the local level. Any additional statutory requirement on local authorities should work within the existing legislation of the Community Empowerment Act, the Education (Scotland) Act and the Children and Young People Act to minimise any additional reporting burden.

There is much good work happening at the local level, on a piecemeal basis, with each local body undertaking a range of innovative and successful initiatives to support families living in poverty. My concern is that, due to understandable resource constraints on local authorities, the learning is not being sufficiently shared, or centrally supported, to ensure that all families in Scotland have access to the same level of services to reduce and mitigate, eradicate and prevent child poverty. There are some excellent services around income maximisation, in particular the Healthier Wealthier Children initiative in Glasgow for new parents that I wrote about in relation to child well-being (, that should be rolled out across Scotland with support from the Scottish Government.

There are excellent initiatives being implemented to ‘poverty proof’ the school day, particularly in Glasgow (Cost of the School Day) and Edinburgh (1 in 5 project) – and I’m fortunate enough to work in both of these. A recent film using the Glasgow research by the EIS may be of value to the consultation ( It is my view that poverty proofing in schools should be rolled out across Scotland.

There are other initiatives operating in isolation in different local authorities that should be shared, to benefit children across Scotland. To do this, it would be most practical and cost-effective to have a central group within the Scottish Government, whose responsibility it is to collate and evaluate these initiatives, and to create resources for all of the authorities to enable them to implement the same initiatives. There is much time, effort, and money used (and arguably wasted) by each of the 32 local authorities trying their hardest to develop new initiatives to help local families. This could and should be centrally supported so that: (1) the people of Scotland have the same access to support in the face of child poverty no matter where they live in Scotland; and (2) economies of scale are made.


What are your views on the income-based measures of poverty proposed for Scottish child poverty targets? For example, are there any additional income-based measures you think we should also use (and if so, why)? Are there any alternative approaches to measuring income – for example, as used in other countries – that you think could apply in Scotland?

The government’s focus on income is welcome. While other aspects of income would be a welcome addition, and give a plurality to the measure of income poverty, any new aspects should not replace the current one. The government should continue to measure income as it is currently, that is:

  • absolute low income – measured at 60% of median average income for 1998/99 to measure any increase in the incomes of the poorest families in real terms against a fixed point;
  • relative low income – measured at 60% of contemporary equivalised median income, to measure any increase in the incomes of the poorest families against general rises in incomes in the population as a whole;
  • material deprivation and low income combined – measured at 70% of contemporary equivalised median income and including a measure of lack of material necessities, to compare living standards and material deprivation more broadly; and
  • persistent poverty – measured at less than 60% of median equivalised household income for at least 3 out of the previous 4 years.

These measures provide a quantifiable, comparable threshold against which to measure progress. They also allow for cross-country comparison. Any new measure should be in addition to these current measures.

There is one new measure that would make a welcome addition to these measures. Importantly, there is already a valid and reliable dataset that can deliver the data. This would be a measure of recurrent poverty. Recurrent poverty is when families go into and out of poverty repeatedly over time. The longitudinal dataset following the same families with children over time which is required to derive a measure of recurrent poverty is already available in the Growing up in Scotland (GUS) study. The work that I have undertaken using a measure of recurrent poverty in the GUS data suggests that this measure may be tapping into the idea of insecure or precarious employment. Furthermore, figure 1 below shows that, when recurrent poverty interacts with material deprivation, it is increasingly detrimental to child well-being.

Figure 1 – recurrent poverty, material deprivation and child well-being

md child wellbeing

I would be happy to discuss matters of recurrent poverty and impacts of low quality, insecure employment on families and children living in poverty.


What are your views on the Scottish Government’s proposals for the levels of child poverty that the targets will be set at?

The proposed child poverty targets of relative low income (<10%); absolute low income (<5%); material deprivation and low income combined (<5%); and persistent poverty (<5%) are ambitious, particularly in light of the caveats in the introduction that the Scottish Government does not hold all the levers to enable them to achieve these targets. They therefore need to be looked at in relation to the timescale and whether these measures are to be taken before housing costs or after housing costs. These current end targets seem unachievable on an after housing costs basis and extremely difficult to achieve on a before housing costs basis, unless radical changes to policy and legislation are made by the Scottish Government (specific question(s) answered below). My fear is that setting highly ambitious targets and only striving to achieve them, will result in a good-looking piece of legislation that cannot achieve its ambition. In other words, it will be all fur coat and no knickers, to coin a common Scottish expression. In other countries this has created a political backlash and led to those not in poverty blaming those in poverty for their continuing poverty. Both have weakened support for the maintenance of anti-poverty strategies.

While I welcome and admire how ambitious the Scottish Government is aiming to be in relation to child poverty, I would very much advocate a more pragmatic approach that uses data analysis and modelling to explore the differences between setting the targets on a before or after housing costs basis, and to explore the impact of percentage point decreases in the incidence and prevalence of child poverty over time and what can be achieved before 2030, 2035 et cetera. I would also strongly advocate the use of interim targets.


What are your views on the Scottish Government’s proposal to set targets on an after housing costs basis? For example, are there any disadvantages to this approach that we have not already considered?

I fully support using the after housing costs measure, as it is a more accurate reflection of living in poverty due to necessary housing costs, and I strongly advocate including and reporting on measures of child poverty on an after housing costs basis. However, I question what is to be gained by setting the targets on this measure only. I am concerned that the measure of child poverty would just absorb the cost of housing and that we would cease to be able to highlight the difference in the levels of child poverty before and after housing costs.

The cost of housing is such a pertinent issue, and one that the Scottish Government needs to address to make a real impact on child poverty, that I would not like to see it absorbed altogether but would prefer it to be reported on separately. There are interesting initiatives in other cities across Europe and beyond in relation to housing costs. One is to set rent controls in the private sector, which would help prevent the child poverty caused by the vastly inflated rents of cities like Edinburgh. Another is a restriction on short-term lets (e.g. AirBnB is now banned in several European cities) as these reduce the housing available for residents, increase area rents, decrease community cohesion and increase problems with noise et cetera. These are initiatives that would have a strong impact on the housing problem and are within the powers of the Scottish Government. I really do believe this is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to Be Bold.

Another problem with only using the after housing costs measure is that housing costs are driven by the area in which one lives and the impact of this would be hidden by that one measure alone. At present the child poverty measure is a household measure and not a geographical measure. By predicating the measure on an after housing costs basis it would also become a geographical measure. I think is important to report on both before and after housing costs.


What are your views on the Scottish Government’s proposal to set targets that are expected to be achieved by 2030?

I think 2030 is too soon, it will only be 13 years away when the legislation comes into effect, which is not nearly enough time to achieve the targets. I appreciate that the Scottish Government only has an ambition to strive to achieve the targets, but if it is serious about doing so, it needs to give itself time. It should also set out interim measures so that it can monitor success towards achieving the targets.


What are your views on the proposal that Scottish Ministers will be required by the Bill to produce a Child Poverty Delivery Plan every five years, and to report on this Plan annually?

The current requirement is that the Scottish ministers produce a child poverty strategy every three years and the proposal is to produce a child poverty delivery plan every five years. I think that every five years is too long: if it does not happen at the start of a parliament, it would overlap two parliaments, and possibly two administrations. This would not be good enough and would risk there being no accountability within a Parliamentary term. I think as a maximum it should be every four years.


Do you have any suggestions for how the measurement framework could usefully be improved? For example, are there any influencing factors that are not covered by the measurement framework? Or are there any additional indicators that could be added?

My academic area focuses on child poverty and data analysis. It is highly important that the correct data are collected and used in order to measure progress towards achieving the targets of the Child Poverty Bill. In your measurement framework, there are some measures that are not illuminating and some that are absent but would be illuminating. Using the government’s child poverty strategy framework I would recommend:


You should look at the employment rate of lone parents too as access to education, employment and childcare is a bigger issue for lone parents;

  • you should look at the cost of private nursery care for those under three years old (currently on average £45-50 per day in Edinburgh);
  • you should look at the proportion of (especially new) families claiming, or not claiming, their entitlement to Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits, and passported benefits (see Healthier Wealthier Children as before).
  • You should look at the proportion of people who are claiming all benefits they are entitled to. For example, one woman in my study who had received DLA and Carer’s Allowance for her son for over 10 years had never received the disability component of Child Tax Credits as she did not know this existed. There should be an automatic payment of related entitlements when a relevant benefit is received.
  • There should be a measure of how the Scottish welfare fund and other sources of hardship payments are being accessed.
  • You should measure the levels, frequency and spells of benefit sanctions for families with children.


  • I can see you have used the Health Behaviours in School-Aged Children study for some of your measures. While this is a good study and can be broken down by local authority, which makes it valuable, the data are only collected every four years and some of your ‘measures’ have a tenuous relationship with child poverty at best. The indicators that ought to be dropped as they bear little relationship to child poverty are: (1) percent of poorest 15-year-olds smoking (what about vaping? I understand that young people often go straight to vaping bypassing smoking altogether); (2) screen time; (3) finding it easy to talk to your mother; (4) and feeling accepted by pupils in the class. Not only are these data collected far too infrequently to be of any use, they are not measures of child poverty and are very tenuously linked at best.


  • I am very curious about the data that 10% of average incomes is spent on housing. Is this an ambitious target? The average rent of a two bedroomed flat in Edinburgh is £850 per month, a midmarket rent from a housing association two-bedroom flat in Edinburgh is £450 per month, on whose salary is this 10%? Are you including people that have all their housing costs paid for by housing benefit in this measure? I really struggle to understand this figure.
  • There should be a figure that represents how much the Scottish Government is spending on housing, improvements to housing conditions, area deprivation et cetera.

In general, these indicators also need to include figures on what the Scottish Government is doing to make improvements in each of these areas.


Do you have any additional views on a Child Poverty Bill for Scotland?

Yes. Increasingly my and others’ work is showing the importance of poverty on parental (in particular maternal) outcomes and their association with their children’s outcomes. Using GUS data, you can see that maternal mental health is strongly associated with income poverty and especially with material deprivation. I don’t believe it would be possible to mitigate, alleviate or eradicate child poverty by focusing on children only. While this may be difficult from a policy perspective, I fully believe that the well-being of mothers, in particular lone mothers, has to be part of the measurement framework for child poverty. There are many areas in which the Scottish Government can help achieve the ambition to eradicate child poverty by focusing on parents, in particular lone mothers, especially in relation to precarious employment, low levels of education and mental health.

Figure 2 – Maternal Mental Health, longitudinal poverty and material deprivation combined

md mental health

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Addressing vulnerability by putting cash in mums’ pockets

This blog was originally written for the Glasgow Centre for Population Health

There is a lot of negative attention these days towards those who are living with low incomes, and almost daily we see and hear reports of ‘lazy, work-shy scroungers’. When asked to estimate benefit fraud, people almost always woefully overestimate its incidence. In the British Social Attitudes Survey a third of people believed that “most people on the dole are fiddling” and over three quarters agreed with the statement “large numbers of people these days falsely claim benefits”.

The actual rate of benefit fraud in 2014-15 was 0.8%. If truth be told, there is rather the opposite problem, especially for those in low income working families with children; that is, those who are entitled to certain benefits do not in fact claim them. For example, UK government statistics for 2013-14 show that only two thirds of those who are eligible for Working Tax Credits actually claim their entitlement.

There are numerous reasons why a family may not claim their full tax credit or benefit entitlement, not least of which is the awareness of their entitlement in the first place. This is especially true of those having their first children who may also be negotiating the confusing tax credit and benefit system for the first time.

Tax credit and benefit payments have recently been criticised for being inadequate for people’s needs. As they are means-tested, this suggests that being eligible for, or in receipt of these payments, is associated with a high level of need to begin with. In 2015, an unemployed single person received out-of-work benefits equivalent to 40% of what even the public says they need. Whether or not you agree that the levels of tax credits and benefits are sufficient for a family’s needs, it is unarguably the case that being eligible and not taking up tax credit and benefit entitlement must be greatly detrimental to the financial wellbeing of a family and must greatly increase their financial vulnerability.

Recent research in Scotland that uses the Growing Up in Scotland data shows that families experiencing financial vulnerability have increased maternal emotional distress and lower child wellbeing. One way to help improve the outcomes of families, particularly mothers and children, would be to increase their financial resources and reduce their financial vulnerability. One very straightforward way to do this, within the current context of tax credits and benefits, with no additional entitlement from either the UK or Scottish governments, would be to ensure that people, especially families, claim their full entitlement to tax credits and benefits. This is known as income maximisation. There are multiple examples of good practice in income maximisation; however, one study in Glasgow targets the very population that has most to lose: mothers with new babies. It is called Healthier, Wealthier Children (HWC).

Healthier, Wealthier Children

HWC is an initiative that helps provide money and welfare advice to pregnant women and families with young children experiencing, or at risk of, child poverty across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. HWC is primarily located within the frontline NHS early years workforce, such as midwives and health visitors in collaboration with local money/welfare advice services. Health staff identify the need for help and advice among pregnant women and families and refer them to partners in advice services.

The performance report to February 2016 shows that HWC achieved just over £11 million in cumulative financial gains for over 10,300 pregnant women and families. Comparing this cumulative figure of £11 million with the initial costs and combined annual running costs (approximately £2.2m), the project has conservatively achieved a benefit-to-cost ratio of around 5:1; a major achievement that exceeds the project’s initial remit and best case scenario expectations.

Why was so much money in Greater Glasgow and Clyde unclaimed? Well, an evaluation of HWC shows that families referred by HWC were unaware of their entitlements and would not have approached traditional mainstream advice services for help. On the plus side, as a result of HWC intervention, families reported reduced stress, improved mood and an increased sense of self-worth and security. Some also reported an improvement in relationships with family and friends.

We know that tackling poverty and income inequalities remains key to improving health and reducing health inequalities, and for the mothers and children who receive the HWC service this is certainly the case. What remains to be seen, in post-election Scotland, is whether such an initiative can be rolled out more widely, across all of Scotland, so that new parents can access that to which they are entitled and help prevent child poverty and financial vulnerability.

Once families are actually receiving their entitlement can we then focus the discussion on whether or not the level of entitlement is sufficient to prevent child poverty and financial vulnerability.

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Recent changes to measuring child poverty

This blog was originally written for Challenge Poverty Week 2015

The Conservative government is planning to change the current measure of child poverty, which combines income (60% median equivalised) and material deprivation (21 items commonly agreed as essential by members of the general public for adults and children separately, which are then combined to create an index of multiple deprivation).[1]

The proposed new child poverty measure would comprise commonplace family characteristics such as: family ‘breakdown’, ill-health, lack of skills, inadequate housing, ‘poor’ schools and ‘worklessness’. Let’s lay aside the fact that these characteristics do not distinguish between poor and non-poor people as they are experienced by many people at different points in the lives[2]. Let’s also lay aside the fact that these dimensions do not measure poverty itself, but rather are risks, consequences or causes of falling into poverty. Let’s instead focus on what analysing income and material deprivation can tell us in relation to child wellbeing.

It is worth briefly commenting on the background to the current child poverty measure. It was reached after a period of extensive consultation using research evidence. Not only has the 60% median equivalised income measure succeeded in capturing the effects of complex economic situations, it is also the official child poverty measure of the EU, OECD and UNICEF, and is now used by other governments[3].To change this measure now not only negates the considered and considerable efforts of many, it will separate UK child poverty from the rest of Europe and beyond. The government also risks being accused of changing the goalposts in recognition of its impending failure to reduce or eradicate child poverty.[4]

Let us turn our attention now to income, material deprivation and child wellbeing. The following chart is from my recent analysis of six waves of the birth cohort study Growing up in Scotland (See Figure 1 below) when the children are aged six years old. The red line with mean equal to 0 is the average of child wellbeing across all children in the study. Any positive numbers above this line shows higher than average levels of child wellbeing and any negative numbers below this line shows lower than average child wellbeing.

This chart shows that material deprivation (solid line) and recurrent poverty (dotted line) are each associated with lower than average child wellbeing; increasing levels of either income poverty or material deprivation result in increasingly low levels of child wellbeing. However, when both recurrent poverty and material deprivation are measured together (combined multiplicatively in an interaction term to be technical – dashed line), this results in exceedingly low levels of wellbeing for children, greater than either material deprivation or income poverty added together. This indicates that income and material deprivation while related, for the definition of material deprivation is not being able to afford consensually agreed necessities, are picking up on different aspects of economic disadvantage, which when combined, equal to more than the sum of their parts in their association with low levels of child wellbeing. This suggests that using both income and material deprivation in a measure of poverty is valuable and necessary.

Figure 1 – Interaction term between recurrent poverty and material deprivation for child wellbeing







Another advantage to the current measure of income and material deprivation is that it is objectively measured and comparable across time and place. The proposed new components of child poverty, i.e. family ‘breakdown’, ill-health, lack of skills, inadequate housing, ‘poor’ schools and parental ‘worklessness’,  do not distinguish between poor and non-poor people but result in a highly stigmatised and distressed group of people.

[1] For more details on how this index is created, and what the implications are of how the index is created, please refer to Treanor (2014).

[2] I have written about this more fully in a consultation response.



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Free education for mothers living in poverty may help alleviate child poverty

This blog was first published in The Conversation.

Improve the school results of children from poor backgrounds and they will escape poverty in adulthood. This is the way the UK government believes it can alleviate child poverty, built on a belief in the power of education to create social mobility.

But there is much evidence to suggest that access to education is unequal across the UK. And while the long-term goal to increase social mobility is laudable, it does nothing to lift children out of poverty now. Instead, it shows a lack of consideration for the lives of children currently living in poverty.

Yet if policy priorities were to focus on giving the parents of children living in poverty access to further and higher education, this could bring more immediate benefits. Unfortunately, in England at least, education is becoming increasingly unaffordable for lone parents and part-time students to access.

Ways out of poverty

The latest government figures show that in 2012-13 there were 2.3m children living in relative low income, even before housing costs were taken into account, with another 2.6m in absolute low income.

In 2000, Scotland had higher child poverty rates than England, but this has fallen over the past decade. By 2011-12, child poverty before housing costs was 18% in England compared to 17% in Scotland, both down from over 30%. One of the principal reasons for the faster decline in Scotland has been attributed to increased employment rates among lone parentsafter the Scottish government had a policy targeted at this group.

The evidence shows that employment does not always lift families out of poverty: there are more poor children in households with a wage-earner than without. Yet my research with the Child Poverty Action Group shows that parents – in this case single mothers – who accessed further and higher education succeeded in finding paid employment and that this had a positive impact on both them and their children.

Gaining confidence and skills

My research studied the lives of 20 families living in poverty, ten in England and ten in Scotland. In Scotland, four of the ten families I studied were led by single mothers who were participating in further or higher education. None in England were. Two of these four Scottish mothers completed further education and obtained their first job after becoming a parent: one is the mother of three boys aged six, ten and 13 and the other the mother of two boys aged ten and 12. The other two mothers, who each have one son, continued on to take degree programmes.

People living in poverty often need a boost in confidence and skills before they start up education again. For three of the women I studied, this came through volunteering opportunities. One explained that volunteering was “really good for me” and that the organisation had: “talked me into doing my degree. It was always something I wanted to do. I was just needing a wee boost.”

Boost to family well-being

Through access to education, these women gained in well-being, confidence, skills and self-esteem. They made friends, widened their social networks and found universities and colleges to be excellent sources of financial support through hardship funds.

By completing their education and obtaining a job, the lives of their children demonstrably improved. With their mothers less burdened by financial worries, the children were happier and were able to enjoy treats such as the cinema and an occasional meal out – all new to them. One mother, who had done a Higher National Diploma, said getting a job meant she was able to pass her driving test, save up to buy a car and take her children on holiday.

Another mother said the knowledge that she had completed a college course and succeeded in getting a job she loved had a positive impact on her children. Her eldest son, aged 13, has told her he is proud of her and feels a positive change.

Access to education has helped to increase social mobility in this cluster of families. It has not only provided the mothers with the skills and confidence to engage with their own education, but also with that of their children, for who they are now role models.

Education has also opened up a world to which neither they nor their children may have aspired. It has provided them with a starting point to bigger and better opportunities. One mother said: “I know that I’ve got loads more to offer… hopefully I’ll get better jobs and better paid jobs.”

Squeeze on part-time education

Access to education has been possible for these mothers because there are no fees for higher education in Scotland. In England, since fees were raised to £9,000 per annum, there has been a 40% decline in applications to universities from part-time students, amounting to 105,000 fewer applicants, nine out of ten of whom are mature.

Between 2010 and 2013, there has been a 14% reduction in applications from full-time mature students, amounting to 18,500 fewer applicants. Among these potential mature students will be parents and lone parents.

The increase of tuition fees has effectively removed access to further and higher education for many poorer parents, which blocks a viable route out of poverty for them and their children. For social mobility to continue improving, access to education for low-income parents needs to be made cheaper and easier.

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Routes out of poverty: education and social mobility

This was first published for Challenge Poverty Week 2014 and then for the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.

Education and social mobility can alleviate child poverty, but not in the way the government supposes, i.e. by improving future educational outcomes of poor children in order that they do not become poor adults. Rather, child poverty in the here and now can be alleviated if we allow low-income parents free access to further and higher education.

The UK Child Poverty Strategy 2014-2017, released for consultation by the Coalition Government last February, is focused on ‘breaking the cycle of disadvantage’ and on ensuring that ‘where you start in life should not determine where you end up’. Two of its three routes to achieving this are: Supporting families into work and increasing their earnings; and preventing poor children becoming poor adults through raising their educational attainment[1].

To address the first route their principal means of supporting families into work and increasing their earnings is through the Work Programme and other employment-related activities such as raising the minimum wage and the personal tax allowance. A secondary means is through ‘improving qualifications’. Further investigation reveals that this translates into improving basic literacy and numeracy.

To address the second route, their principle means of preventing poor children becoming poor adults through raising their educational attainment, is to focus on compulsory schooling with the responsibility and accountability for this lying with schools, teachers and parents. As the government notes, they want to ‘ensure that the parents of tomorrow will have better qualifications’[2] -presumably better than the parents of today.

Now, this raises many areas of concern, from the lack of consideration for the lives of children as lived in childhood[3], to the ability of employment to lift families out of poverty[4], given the fact that there are more poor children in households with a wage-earner than without; however, I would like to focus on an issue that I have come across with my current research with the Child Poverty Action Group, and that is the further and higher education of parents living in poverty as a route into work and, hopefully, out of poverty.

In my longitudinal, qualitative study of twenty families living in poverty, ten in England and ten in Scotland, four of my Scottish ten were able to access further or higher education during the course of the research. None in England were. Two of this four completed further education and obtained their first job since becoming a parent: one is the mother of three boys aged 6, 10 and 13 and the other the mother of two boys aged 10 and 12. The remaining two went on to study degree programmes: these two mothers have one son each. The antecedent to accessing education for these women was gaining confidence and skills through volunteering.

These women gained in wellbeing, confidence, skills and self-esteem. They made friends and widened their social networks. The lives of their children demonstrably improved. Of her new job, Jennifer says: ‘I totally love it. I’m really, really happy. So, last year was a great year for me. I passed my driving test, got my wee car, which I saved up and paid for myself, and I took my kids on holiday. I love it, totally love it’.

Jennifer says that the knowledge that she has completed a college course and succeeded in getting a job she loves has had a positive impact on her children, particularly her eldest son (aged 13), who has told her that he is proud of her. She says: ‘my oldest one, he’s often saying to me: “It’s good the way you are now, you’re really happy now. Remember when it was like this?” So he feels a positive change. So that’s really good’.

This is only a brief glimpse into this research but I want to highlight that in Scotland, education is a viable route into employment and out of poverty for parents who are unemployed, due to the system of no fees in Scotland (this is not entirely straightforward as becoming a student when you’re a parent can raise issues with the benefits system, and I will write about those another time). In England, there has been a 40% decline in applications to universities from part-time students, amounting to 105,000 fewer applicants, 9/10 of whom are mature[5]. For full-time students, there has been a 14% reduction from 2010 to 2013, amounting to 18,500 fewer applicants[6]. Among this potential mature student community will be parents and lone parents. By increasing the fees in other parts of the UK to £9,000 per year, the government has effectively removed access to further and higher education for many poorer parents and prevented a route out of poverty for them and their children.

[1] The UK Child Poverty Strategy 2014-2017, pg 11.
[2] The UK Child Poverty Strategy 2014-2017, pg 25.
[3] Ridge, Tess (2002) Childhood poverty and social exclusion: from a child’s perspective, Bristol: Policy Press.
[4] Shildrick, Tracy, MacDonald, Robert, Webster, Colin and Garthwaite, Kayleigh (2012) Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low-Pay, No-Pay Britain, Bristol: Policy Press.

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