Scottish Borders Council

Agenda item

Tackling Child Poverty - Update

Consider joint report by Service Director Customer & Communities and Service Director Young People, Engagement & Inclusion.  (Copy attached.)




10.1     With reference to paragraph 3 of the Minute of 14 January 2021, there had been circulated copies of a joint report by the Service Director, Customer & Communities and Service Director Young People, Engagement & Inclusion providing an update on the actions that Scottish Borders Council and partners were taking to tackle Child Poverty in the Scottish Borders.  The report was presented initially by Jenni Craig, Service Director Customer & Communities.  Following presentation of a previous report to the Committee on 14 January 2021, Members had requested a further update in relation to: a definition of child poverty; a view of key drivers for child poverty; how Councillors could be involved; the presentation of data in quarterly performance reports; and whether benchmarking with local authorities within the family group could be carried out to identify any underlying issues giving rise to the difference in percentage levels of child poverty and to learn from best practice.  The information requested was set out within the report which included the Local Child Poverty Action Plan for 2021/22 in Appendix 1 to the report; the Scottish Borders Child Poverty Index 2020 in Appendix 2; evidence and statistics about Child Poverty in the Scottish Borders in Appendix 3; and Benchmarking data in Appendix 4. In terms of a definition of child poverty the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 used four income-based targets as measures rather that providing a specific definition.  Similarly drivers of poverty fell into three thematic areas which could be summarised as: income from employment; costs of living; and income from social security and benefits in-kind. The report looked in more detail at these areas before moving on to consider how Councillors could be more involved in actions to tackle child poverty.  It was suggested that there may be an opportunity for further Member involvement in the form of a proposed Anti-Poverty Members Reference Group to replace the short-life Member/Officer Anti-Poverty Strategy Working Group.  Consideration would be given to this in the Anti-Poverty Strategy Report due to be presented to Council in September 2021.  The report went on to refer to the presentation of Scottish Borders data and benchmarking activities, as set out in the appendices. It was noted that whilst there was a desire to have more regular performance reporting, most of the national data associated with child poverty was only available on an annual or bi-annual basis, and frequently time lagged.  More local indicators were being explored and considered in a new approach to obtaining data which was currently in development.



            Councillor Harry Scott left the meeting during the discussion recorded below.


10.2     Members thanked the officers for the detailed information provided.  They referred in particular to the long list of recommendations within the Scottish Borders Child Poverty Action Plan 2021/22 as detailed in Appendix 1 to the report and asked if these could be more focussed into actions.  Ms Craig confirmed that officers had been considering how the action plan could be strategically themed.  She agreed with the need to use data and to prioritise the households which the Council needed to target.  In response to a question about the data presented and actual numbers represented by the percentages given, officers advised that the 18% of children in Scottish Borders who were living in relative low income families represented a figure of 3,500 children.  In further discussion, Members referred to the significance of rural poverty in the Scottish Borders which was often related to lack of transport and also to fuel poverty due to the type of rural housing.  Ms Craig agreed with the valid points made, noting that these were not easy to address.  She drew attention to the efforts locally and nationally, towards the alleviation of fuel poverty, as included in the action plan.  It was recognised that schools were key to the identification and engagement with families who were in most need of help.  The Service Director Young People Engagement & Inclusion, Lesley Munro, explained how, after COVID-19, there were more families registered for Free School Meals and clothing grant provision and that these families could also be targeted for other support.  There was also work ongoing with partners to develop accessible summer programmes for children which also helped with food insecurity.  Members went on to discuss the benchmarking data but noted that no conclusions could be drawn at the moment from the data presented.  As there appeared to be little difference between the areas, there was no clarity about actions which may be effective or examples of best practice.  Members welcomed the proposals in relation to a Member Reference Group to provide input to the actions to tackle poverty.  The Chairman thanked the officers for their report and attendance. 




(a)        NOTED:-


(i)    the updates detailed in sections 4-8 of the report as requested by the Audit  & Scrutiny Committee on 14 January 2021; and


(ii)   the actions that Scottish Borders Council and Partners were taking to  tackle Child Poverty in the Scottish Borders.


(b)       AGREED to request that a Member Reference Group be established to provide input to the actions to tackle poverty and that approval of the scope and membership of the group be sought from Council as part of the Anti-Poverty Strategy Action Plan.



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