Call to help Glasgow kids who are in poverty

RADICAL action is needed to tackle Scotland's poverty shame and stop more children falling victim to deprivation, an expert says.

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Dr John McKendrick in Balgrayhill Road, Springburn
Dr John McKendrick in Balgrayhill Road, Springburn

John McKendrick, a senior lecturer at Caledonian University who has studied poverty in Glasgow, says new statistics that put the city's children among the poorest are "depressingly familiar."

Dr McKendrick says unacceptable inequalities in the city must be tackled.

Statistics from the Campaign To End Child Poverty show an average of one in three children (33%) in Glasgow live in poverty – the highest percentage for any city or town in Scotland.

In Springburn, 51% of youngsters live in poverty, while in Calton it is 49%.

Children are classed as "in poverty" when they live in homes that have an income of 60% below the median household income, which is defined as children with one parent bringing in less than £15,500 or two parents making less than £19,900.

Dr McKendrick, who lectures in social sciences and who co-wrote a report for Save The Children on action to tackle child poverty in Scotland, says the problem is so concentrated in estates throughout Glasgow that a lack of nutritious food, proper clothing and recreational activities are the norm.

He is calling for more to be done to tackle the issue and wants an all-encompassing Child Poverty Strategy to force Glasgow City Council and other local authorities to put the issue firmly at the heart of all decisions.

Dr McKendrick said: "The evidence is damning. Not only has progress in tackling child poverty ground to a halt, but current levels in Scotland are higher than they were in 2004/5.

"If this is not bad enough, the projections are our poverty shame will worsen as we approach 2020."

The Evening Times went to Springburn with Dr McKendrick, visiting some areas where the signs of deprivation are very apparent.

In Balgrayhill Road, empty shops and buildings have been left to rot in the shadow of huge tower blocks.

The derelict Talisman pub and shops are fenced off, just a stone's throw from a recently refurbished children's play park.

Dr McKendrick said: "There is some very good work being done by communities and local authorities and there is great investment in schools and houses across the city that must be commended. This regeneration has made poverty less visible, but it is no less real.

"The problems become significant when the door is closed and there is no food on the table."

Asked what he would do to halt the dangerous trend, Dr McKendrick said: "This is not a one solution problem – it is a very complicated issue.

"But local authorities need to 'child poverty proof' for a start to stop the problem being exacerbated.

"There has been talk of creating a Child Poverty Strategy for each local authority covering all age groups, as has been done in England since the introduction of the Child Poverty Act in 2010, but not on the same scale in Scotland.

"It would mean councils would have to consider how cuts they make to services affect child poverty and it could also help maximise resources.

"There is a plan in place in Glasgow, but it is piecemeal. There is no doubt some children are slipping through the net."

At the most extreme end of the child poverty scale, severely deprived youngsters have few clothes and little food in their stomachs. But the majority of children in the category are suffering on a smaller scale.

Dr McKendrick said: "These kids could have food but it might not be the most nutritious. Or they have clothes, but maybe not a good winter jacket.

"A lack of hobbies and activities is also a factor.

"We are a resource-rich country, but it is the distribution of the resources that is the problem.

"Scotland is a small country with an aging population – we cannot afford for our kids not to reach their full potential."

However, Dr McKendrick fears the already prevalent problems are about to get much worse.

He said: "Unlike the recent past, poverty is no longer falling and the full impact of the financial crisis of 2008 has yet to force itself upon the most vulnerable in Glasgow.

"Budget cuts will continue to take from those least able to lose.

"We need a more progressive tax and welfare system than we have now."

Dr McKendrick has urged politicians not to use the growing problem as a "political football".

He said: "It is all too easy to apportion blame and to find reason why it is someone else's fault and not ours. That is simply not good enough. The Glasgow public is not interested in who is to blame.

"We need radical steps to address the problem, underpinned by leadership, commitment and support at all levels and across the political divide."

Scottish Housing And Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess said the Scottish Government was working with local authorities and the NHS to tackle the "scandal" of widespread poverty.

She said: "But the simple truth is the Scottish Government lacks control of some of the most significant levers needed to deliver all the measures that could help raise children out of poverty – taxation and welfare being two key examples.

"A fairer welfare system for Scotland can only be achieved with full control over all welfare issues.

"With a lesser share of Scotland's tax revenues needed to support welfare and pensions than across the rest of the UK, Scotland is in a stronger position to support our welfare system than the UK as a whole."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said a "wide range of initiatives" were in place to tackle child poverty in the city.

He added: "The council is committed to tackling poverty and health inequalities.

"Through our long term strategy of focusing on jobs and the economy, targeted support for the vulnerable, the early years and education, we hope to bring lasting change to the city."

linzi.watson@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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