Young adults in Scotland make up the biggest share of the population living in poverty, according to a new report.

Research by the New Policy Institute (NPI) and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that young people under the age of 30 are at the highest risk of poverty in Scotland

Scots under the age of 30 are the only population group to have seen an increase in poverty since 2003, while poverty rates among Scottish children and pensioners have fallen.

According to the research, 25% of young adults in Scotland are at risk from poverty – compared to 22% of children and just 11% of pensioners.

Among working-age adults, the level of poverty among the under-30s has increased by 29,000, and fallen by 67,000 among 30 to 64-year-olds.

There has also been a sharp rise in the number of people in poverty living in the private rented sector, while levels are falling for social housing tenants and owner-occupiers. 29% of Scottish people living in poverty rent in the private rented sector, up 11% in only a decade.

Private renters now spend nearly a quarter of their total income on housing, compared to 18% for social housing tenants and 11% for owner-occupiers with a mortgage.

However, overall levels of poverty in Scotland have fallen by 230,000 over ten years to 920,000 people in 2012/13 – according to the report.

Scottish poverty levels by population group. Source: JRF.
Scottish poverty levels by population group. Source: JRF.

The research also found that the number of jobseekers seeing their benefits cut by sanctions was double the rate in 2013 than in 2006.

At its height, almost one in six Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants were being referred for sanctioning every month.

JRF say sanctions are ‘being applied both hastily and inconsistently’ and should only ever be used as a very last resort.

JSA sanction referrals over time, as a proportion of the stock of JSA claimants. Source: JRF.
JSA sanction referrals over time, as a proportion of the stock of JSA claimants. Source: JRF.

Some of the other key findings include:

  • Life expectancy in Scotland is still lower than in England: men in the poorest parts of Scotland live 3.9 years less than in the poorest parts of England.
  • Better qualified people are increasingly finding themselves in low-paid work. 13% of low-paid workers had a degree in 2013, compared to just 5% in 2003.
  • Part-time workers and those who are in low-paid or lower qualified employment are less likely to get in-work training.
  • The attainment gap between pupils who live in deprived areas and wealthier areas would take 28 years to close at the current rate of narrowing.
  • Around one in eight under-25s is unemployed – twice the rate of any other age group.

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the JRF, said: “Falls in child and pensioner poverty over the past decade in Scotland show that poverty can be reduced.

“But sustained action must be taken to stop a lack of high-quality work, and a shortage of affordable homes from trapping a generation of young people in poverty.

“All of us in government and local government as well as employers, housing providers and the NHS, need a shared focus to alleviate the impacts of poverty across all age groups.”

Dr Peter Kenway, Director of the NPI and author of the report said: “Organisations across Scotland, local councils, the NHS and businesses are accepting a responsibility for acting against poverty and are making plans accordingly.

“The challenge is to turn words into deeds. Involving people with direct experience of poverty themselves is vital to this.


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