By Marion Mcleod is Policy Manager for Children in Scotland
Children in the poorest families are far more likely to suffer adversity in childhood than their better-off counterparts. We also know that the effects of this early adversity are profound and enduring.
The poorest children are many times more likely than those in the richest to have fallen measurably behind in their cognitive development by the age of two.
On their journey to adulthood, our poorest children are far more likely to experience instability in their families, insecurity in housing, bereavement and poor educational attainment; in adult life they are more likely to be unemployed or have poorly paid, insecure employment, to develop physical and mental illnesses, and to die prematurely.
Poverty, by itself, is not a strong determinant of outcomes. Many poor families provide excellent care and nurturing and their children’s life chances therefore do not vary greatly from those of their peers.
Many of the factors and circumstances that do contribute to adverse and unequal outcomes, however, are more likely to occur in poor families. Poor early attachment and bonding, ineffective home learning environments and unhealthy lifestyle choices occur far more frequently alongside material poverty. Put simply, what parents do is much more important than who they are.
The Scottish Government has made a strong commitment to tackling poverty and addressing inequality, as well as to ensure that “our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed”. It has also set national targets in relation to child poverty reduction. Reform of public services, to involve those who use them more effectively in their design and delivery and to move towards a preventive rather than a reactive approach to problems, is also taking place.
While positive change was achieved, notably in reducing child poverty, the cumulative impact of the economic recession, welfare reform and cuts in public services has slowed the rate of progress.
The Scottish Government has consistently argued that greater control of tax and benefits would enable it to do more in terms of reducing poverty and inequality. Some services have been expanded despite budgetary constraints. Under the 2014 Children and Young People Act, all three and four-year-olds, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds, are entitled to 600 hours a year of free early learning and childcare.
The Government has announced that it intends to increase this to 30 hours per week for each eligible child following the Scottish Parliament elections, which will take place in a year’s time.