Education, Children and Young People Committee
Child Poverty Action Group submission November 2021
CPAG submission on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people resident within deprived communities.
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
Education, Children and Young People Committee
The impact of COVID-19 on children and young people resident within deprived communities.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland works for the one in four children in Scotland growing up in poverty. We collect evidence from families living in poverty and campaign for solutions to bring about a society where children have a fair chance in life free from hardship. We provide training, advice and information on social security to frontline workers to make sure families get the financial support they need.
1. Child poverty: the context
Even before the COVID 19 crisis around one in four (260,000) children in Scotland were living in poverty(1). The pandemic has hit low income families with children disproportionately hard, deepening poverty and dragging more families into severe financial insecurity. Although the committee’s focus is on children and young people resident within deprived communities it should be noted that there are children living in poverty in every area of Scotland. Research shows that levels of child poverty across Scotland were rising before the pandemic and that child poverty is rising in every local authority area in Scotland. Some areas face particularly high levels of child poverty (2) and areas with already high levels of child poverty have faced some of the biggest increases over the last five years, with, for example, Glasgow experiencing an increase of more than five percentage points. Yet poverty affects children to a greater or lesser extent regardless of their geographical location and the places with the highest risk of poverty do not necessarily account for the greatest numbers of people living in poverty (3). Action is needed from government to tackle the particular disadvantage young people face in the most deprived areas, at the same time as ensuring support reaches low income families living out with the most deprived areas.
Scottish government has set out a ‘national mission’ of ending child poverty and has set ambitious targets toward that end. In order to place Scotland on the path to meeting these targets and to protect children living in the most deprived communities from the worst impacts of the pandemic the Scottish child payment must be doubled in the upcoming budget. The introduction of the Scottish child payment in February 2021 has already made a significant difference to the financial situation of many low-income families across Scotland. However, unless the commitment to double the payment is accelerated the evidence (4) is clear that statutory targets to reduce child poverty by 2023/24 will not be met (5) compounding the impact of the pandemic for children in poverty across Scotland, many of whom are living in deprived communities. Meeting the child poverty target for 2030 will require much broader action including on childcare, affordable housing, employment and transport. By doubling the payment now, government will create a firm foundation on which to build broader action contributing to the national mission and ensuring children in low income families have the support they need.
2. The impact of Covid-19
The pandemic has further exposed that low-income families with children are particularly vulnerable to health and economic shocks. Analysis by IPPR Scotland during the pandemic found that just under half (49%) of households with dependent children in Scotland were in the two most serious categories of financial stress, compared to a third of households more generally (6). It is clear that women have borne the brunt of the pandemic economically and, because they are often primary carers for children, this has impacted on child poverty. Evidence from Close the Gap finds that job disruption will disproportionately impact women because men and women tend to do different types of work, and that those in low-paid jobs will be particularly affected (7). Women are disproportionately affected by the need for more unpaid care due to ongoing periods of isolation and children being sent home from school, impacting their ability to do paid work, and are less likely to do a job that can be done from home, creating increased risk to their job retention and financial security. This is highlighted by these case studies from our Early Warning System which collects and analyses case evidence about how changes to the benefit system are affecting the wellbeing of children, their families and the communities and services that support them:
A client with two children who had been furloughed, has now been told that she is expected back at work at the beginning of June. When she explained that she doesn’t have any childcare, she was told that she will have to take unpaid leave. #751 (07/05/20)
A lone parent key worker has been unable to get childcare for her two children as the local provision is full. She took two weeks sick leave but has been on unpaid leave ever since. She has been advised to claim UC just now and that she may lose her job if she cannot get childcare sorted out. #719 (06/05/20)
Research from Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland demonstrates that although all children in low income families require support, children in neighbourhoods with high levels of pre-existing poverty and social deprivation were more vulnerable to the negative social and economic effects of lockdown and the extended period of recovery including increased income insecurity, greater reliance on the benefit system and barriers to accessing the labour market. This same research has shown the extent to which the pandemic has led to a rapid increase in the number of people across Glasgow accessing universal credit and the long term impact the pandemic will have both on family incomes and health outcomes (8).
Children growing up in deprived areas face additional barriers to accessing support and services which too often results in worse outcomes in terms of education, health and wellbeing. This has been seen both before and over the course of the pandemic. A child growing up in one of Scotland’s most deprived communities is 40% less likely than their least deprived peers to leave school with 1 or more awards at SCQF 6 or above (9). This education gap begins early with children living in more deprived areas less likely than their more advantaged peers to attend an early learning and childcare (ELC) provider with 'very high' or 'excellent' staffing grades (10).
Access to health services in deprived communities is poor, with 8% more patients per GP than the overall average (11). These inequalities have played out over the course of the pandemic with the death rate from Covid-19 in the most deprived areas of Scotland being more than double that of the rate found in the least deprived communities (12).
2.0 Impact on Education
CPAG in Scotland’s Cost of the School Day project helps schools identify and reduce the financial barriers that prevent children in poverty from fully participating in school life. To understand how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted children’s experience of learning, Cost of the School Day conducted research through surveys and interviews. This research gathered the experiences of 3,600 parents and carers, along with 1,300 children and young people, with an emphasis on the experiences of low-income households, and found that the cost burdens of school closures have fallen most heavily on families already living on a low income (13).
2.1 Barriers to education during lockdown
Lockdown forced learning from schools into children and young people’s homes. Although some families were well-equipped for this transition with separate rooms and desks, adequate resources and parents on hand to help, it is clear from CPAG Cost of the School Day Learning in Lockdown surveys that this was not the case for all families responding to the surveys. Many families on low incomes struggled to meet the additional costs of resources that were suddenly required for learning, most often ICT equipment. Children in receipt of free school meals were more likely to report sharing devices at home and using mobile phones to complete school work.
One parent responding to the survey said:
“We use my phone to do everything we do not have a computer/laptop and a lot of things are not compatible. A lot of things we have to write out as we do not have a printer and using a phone isn't ideal.”
Parents reported that a lack of equipment and space to study led to worries about ‘keeping up’ with learning and the knock-on effect this had on wellbeing. Some pupils talked about noisy family members, such as siblings and parents working from home, distracting them from their schoolwork, while others described working on bedroom floors or from their laps. Some children told us they felt unable to ask parents for help and parents reported not having the time, confidence or guidance to support children with learning. Among families with lower incomes who said they were missing resources, around one in three said they did not have appropriate IT equipment for home learning, meaning that these pupils were more likely to be missing out on the experiences that peers were finding most enriching. These activities included virtual sports days, making rainbows for windows and sharing messages with classmates. Half of the families struggling with missing resources reported that no one had asked if they had everything they need to learn from home.
However, families who have received support from schools in obtaining devices described how valuable this was. One parent responding to the survey said:
“School has been a great support, phoning asking if there is anything they can do to help you support the kids and speak to the kids. We got offered help with devices. The primary school, I think they applied for extra iPads and the school were able to shortfall anybody that was struggling.”
Parents and children reported stress associated with adapting to online learning platforms. Missing resources contributed to stress and worry as children could not complete the work that had been set for them. Pupils often reported feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work which was being set by schools. The need for increased emotional and pastoral support along with regular and consistent communication from teachers were highlighted as ways of helping young people cope while connecting them with their teachers and their learning.
2.2 Barriers to financial support for families
In our research, one in three parents and carers who tried to access support reported that they found identifying and accessing financial support ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult.’ There was a high level of frustration reported from families who did not qualify for help but were really struggling because of considerable changes to their household income. Parents and carers said they would have liked both further financial support and more information and clarity about which benefits, and grants families were entitled to and how they could access them. Families were struggling with additional costs of having children at home including food, electricity, gas and learning resources and did not always feel supported in accessing the support which they needed.
Families highlighted how crucial support was from their schools in signposting and supporting them to apply for entitlements. The impact that this had underlines the value of these supportive and poverty aware approaches in schools. Families also appreciated simple automated processes that meant they received their entitlements without having to negotiate new or complex systems at a difficult time.
2.3 Free school meal replacements
Free school meal replacements were highly valued, especially direct cash payments which allowed flexibility, dignity, safety and convenience. However not all families who would benefit from free school meals currently have access to them. We welcome the commitment to universal free school meals for all primary school pupils by August 2022 and pilots in secondary free school meal provision but during the pandemic and currently, many families sitting just above the eligibility threshold found themselves struggling with additional costs due to the pandemic without the support that free school meals would provide. Families used to receiving universal free school meals but not entitled to alternative provision noted that this caused a significant increase to their costs. Breakfast clubs and after-school activities being cancelled resulted in further additional costs and challenges for some families.
In our update research in March 2021, low income families reported that they were more concerned about money than in spring 2020, with 90% spending more on essential bills while children were at home. The support provided, including free school meal replacements and hardship payments, during the October break and Christmas holidays was hugely valued and the Scottish child payment bridging payments now in place are providing valuable support for eligible families.
COVID-19 job losses and income drops have hit already struggling families hard. Schools have seen more and more of their children and families facing the stress, anxiety and relentless pressures involved in living on a low income.
The Scottish child payment was introduced in February 2021 and has begun to provide much needed financial support to low income families across Scotland. Providing cash support for hard up families is the single most effective way of ensuring that children and young people living in poverty have the resources they need. Alongside further support for low income families in schools, an immediate doubling of the Scottish child payment is the most effective way of ensuring families have the cash they need to provide stability for their children.
Building on the additional support that the Scottish child payment must provide there are steps that can be taken to ensure children and families living in poverty are supported, including:
• Providing clear and consistent financial information for schools from local authorities (14).
• Embedding welfare rights in schools to ensure that families have support to maximise their incomes. This can be done through robust referral systems or by embedding or co-locating Financial Inclusion Support Officers as has been trialled in several areas across Scotland including Glasgow.
• Simplifying processes for applying for school age entitlements, with automation being pursued as a priority
• Poverty aware schools actively taking steps (15) to reduce financial pressure on families by reducing costs, maximising incomes and providing non-stigmatising support.
• Continue to encourage and support cash first approaches to, for example, free school meal replacement during school holidays. Families told us that they favour cash over in-kind or voucher support.
• A continued focus on ensuring children from low income households have straightforward access to appropriate devices and connectivity for home learning.
Information on the wider employment, childcare, housing and social security interventions needed to end child poverty can be found in CPAG in Scotland’s Programme for Government 2021-26.
3. Who Lives in Poverty, McKendrick and Treanor, Poverty in Scotland 2021.
4. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2021) https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/turning-tide-child-poverty-scotland
8. Bynner, C., McBride, M., Weakley, S., Ward, S. McLean, J. (2020) The impact of COVID-19 on families, children and young people in Glasgow. Glasgow: Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland.
11. Public Health Scotland, https://scotland.shinyapps.io/ScotPHO_profiles_tool/
13. The Cost of Learning in Lockdown, June 2020 and March 2021. CPAG in Scotland.
Childrens Parliament submission on the impact of Covid-19 on children
NUS submission on impact of Covid 19 on deprivation and students