Thursday, 3 July 2014

Are one in eight Borders kids below the poverty line?

Charities and pressure groups expressed their combined anger and frustration this week when figures from the Department of Work & Pensions seemed to suggest an extra 30,000 Scottish children had been "pushed into poverty". Independent assessments suggested they could be joined by up to 100,000 more by 2020 as a result of cuts to the welfare budget.

The poverty line is drawn much higher these days than it was in Dickensian times, during the Great Depression of the 1920s or in post-war Britain when virtually everything was rationed and living conditions in some areas were appalling. Yet we are told by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) that 3.5 million children or 27% of the total are poverty stricken in the UK in 2014.

Before discussing the position in the Scottish Borders a definition of modern day poverty might be of assistance. If a household's income is less than 60% of the average UK average then it is considered to be living in poverty.

A single person living on less than £128 per week; a lone parent family with two children with less than £264 per week; or a couple with two children living on less than £357 a week. All of these are classed as living in poverty as they have insufficient funds to make ends meet.

In Scotland 870,000 people, including 200,000 children are included in so-called Households Below Average Income.

The CPAG provides a detailed analysis of child poverty in Scotland, including statistics for every local authority area, every Westminster parliamentary constituency and even every council ward. In the Borders the numbers range from 8% in Tweeddale to 25% in Hawick & Denholm. The Borders total, given as 2,937 represents 13% of the region's youngsters, the equivalent of almost one in eight below that poverty line.

The information for each of the Borders council wards reads as follows: Tweeddale Wast 166 (8%); Leaderdale & Melrose 197 (8%); Tweeddale West 176 (8%); Selkirkshire 180 (10%); Mid Berwickshire 241 (12%); Kelso & District 226 (12%); Hawick & Hermitage 184 (13%); Jedburgh & District 250 (15%); East Berwickshire 331 (16%); Galashiels & District 493 (18%); and Hawick & Denholm 501 (25%).

These local numbers and percentages are no worse than the returns from other parts of Scotland, and in many cases they are a good deal lower. But campaigners like CPAG warn there is no room for complacency and a great deal needs to be done if the proportion of kids living in modern-day poverty is to be reduced.

The politicians will, no doubt, put their own spin on the statistics depending on the level of priority they attach to the issue and whether they admit the problem even exists.

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