• Kirsty McNeill

A generation failed? Almost half of Scottish BME children are now in poverty

Recent statistics released by the Scottish Government show that across all measures, poverty rates for children in minority ethnic families have risen in recent years. CRER’s Policy/Research Officer, Kirsty McNeill, discusses one of the key findings of CRER’s forthcoming report on poverty and ethnicity.

The Scottish Government have far reaching, ambitious targets to reduce the percentage of children living in poverty by 2030.[1] However, as The Child Poverty Action Group highlight, without additional ‘urgent and immediate’ actions, these statutory child poverty targets will not be met. In August, the Scottish Government published their latest child poverty progress report which discussed current anti-poverty measures, plans for the coming year and progress towards meeting the child poverty targets.

The child poverty progress report shows that poverty levels are rising for Scottish minority ethnic families - 44% of children in minority ethnic families were living in relative poverty, a 4% rise since 2015-18. This means that almost half of children in minority ethnic families in Scotland are now growing up in families who are struggling to afford the basics and may be trapped in poverty.

The unacceptable rise in poverty amongst minority ethnic families comes despite the identification, in 2018, of minority ethnic families as a priority group for anti-poverty strategies. Indeed, the latest child poverty progress report shows that all other priority family groups for whom statistics were available either experienced poverty rates maintaining or reducing slightly. Children in minority ethnic families were the only priority family type for whom poverty rates increased, and this increase was not insignificant.

Whilst it’s welcome that the Scottish Government have taken reporting on poverty levels within minority ethnic families seriously, seen through specific progress reporting on child poverty within minority ethnic families, there now needs to be associated concrete action. This is especially so in light of the recent stark figures on rising poverty rates for minority ethnic children.

The Scottish Government recognises that understanding what drives the higher risk of child poverty among minority ethnic families is hampered by challenges with data availability. One immediate measure, then, should be to rectify this. Minority ethnic child poverty figures need to be disaggregated by specific ethnicities in order to better target anti-poverty efforts. Additionally, data on poverty prevalence within minority ethnic families should be made available year-on-year instead of the current multi-year time period, which makes tracking the impacts of anti-poverty measures hard.

Further measures to gather data on ethnicity for the Child Poverty Framework (CPF) indicators should be considered. As the Scottish Government’s report shows, currently only 5 out of a possible 16 CPF indicators have ethnicity data. This leads to critical gaps in knowledge - for example, the percentage of BME children registered for Free School Meals in Scotland is currently unknown.

Importantly, data showing the alarming rise in child poverty for BME communities predates the coronavirus pandemic in which families who were already struggling were hardest hit economically, whilst others have been swept into poverty for the first time. Structural racial inequality means that BME people may have found it harder to cope economically both during the pandemic and from the resultant fallout. This will increase the number of BME families in poverty and deepen poverty levels for those already experiencing it.

In hindsight, the lack of targeted action to support these families when Scottish Government declared them to be a priority in 2018 was a lost opportunity to guard against the potentially devastating impact of the current crisis. CRER highlighted this need for targeted action in our 2017 evidence submission to the Scottish Parliament: ‘if policies to eradicate child poverty (and wider poverty) do not reflect the particular barriers faced by minority ethnic individuals, inequality will only perpetuate and grow’.

Urgently, the Scottish Government needs to re-address their commitment to reducing poverty rates for minority ethnic children. This is the priority group for whom poverty rates are growing quickest, and current measures are not making an impact. Ambitious plans are needed to eradicate child poverty in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, with specific focus on the needs of minority ethnic families. Without this, a generation of minority ethnic children will be left behind in the fight against child poverty.

CRER will explore the mostly recently available statistics, including those on child poverty, in our forthcoming report, Ethnicity and Poverty in Scotland 2020: Analysis and reflection on the impact of Covid-19.

[1] The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, commits the Scottish Government to reducing the percentage of children living in relative poverty to 10%, living in absolute poverty to 5%, living in combined low income and material deprivation to 5%, and living in persistent poverty to 5% by 2030.