SKY-HIGH levels of child poverty in the Capital have been slammed by campaigners amid warnings the crisis could worsen as government austerity measures bite.
“Shocking” new figures from the Campaign to End Child Poverty (CECP) have revealed that as many as one in three youngsters in some of the city’s poorest districts are living in poverty.
Campaign leaders warned support was being “ripped away” from families, with many sacrificing heat and regular meals to make ends meet.
Sighthill and Gorgie had Edinburgh’s highest levels of child poverty last year, with an estimated 2052 children – 35 per cent of the population – in families that survive on less than 60 per cent of the average income.
However, the figures also revealed the crisis is city-wide, as Leith, Forth, Liberton/Gilmerton and Portobello/Craigmillar all recorded levels of child poverty at nearly 30 per cent.
In the Meadows and Morningside, Edinburgh’s best-performing council ward, 223 youngsters – five per cent – were living in poverty. Council chiefs insisted their work with welfare organisations had led to a “steady improvement” in the well- being of children, but said more would have to be done in the worst-affected areas.
The admission came as the CECP, a coalition of anti-poverty and children’s charities, said “huge disparities” between different areas of the city could continue to grow as benefits are reformed or cut.
John Dickie, speaking on behalf of the Scottish members of the campaign, said: “In terms of Edinburgh as a whole, nearly one in five children is growing up in poverty, which is far too high a figure already, but then in some wards in Edinburgh that figure is more than one in three.
“Worse still, it is forecast that these levels are set to rise as Westminster cuts continue, so more families are still at real risk of slipping into poverty, either from a reduction in tax credits, child benefit, or from the loss of their jobs or stagnating wages.”
Mr Dickie called on local and national government to ensure low-income families were not penalised by budget cuts and that special welfare payments were targeted at alleviating the struggles of the city’s poorest.
He said: “It’s looking very gloomy and with this in mind we are calling on local government to build on the good work they have already done to protect these families.
“We would like to see every budget decision taken by local councils and by the Scottish Government to be taken with the aim of protecting low-income families. They can also ensure that the new Scottish Welfare Fund is distributed to families who are the most in need and that the discretionary housing payments also protect families affected by the cuts.
“The national UK Government is ripping away the support these low-income families so desperately need, so we need to do everything possible at a local level to protect them.”
The call was echoed by community leaders in west Edinburgh, who said the scale of child poverty in Sighthill and Gorgie was the result of a higher concentration of families, as well as high levels of crime, drug dealing and alcohol abuse.
They stressed the CECP data underlined the need for ringfencing funds paid to local organisations that work to help children and young people from low-income families.
Reverend James Aitken of St Michael’s Parish Church in Slateford Road, also chair of Health All Round, a voluntary agency which aims to improve the lives of residents in Gorgie/Dalry, Saughton, Stenhouse and surrounding areas, said: “Child poverty is a very serious problem here.
“In times of austerity, it’s very important that for organisations such as Health All Round, funding is not cut so that we can continue to help and support families in poverty. We appreciate times are difficult for everyone but that’s exactly why it’s important that organisations such as ours are supported.
“As times get tougher for families, we are going to see more people coming through our door.”
Tracy Lothian, 45, who lives with three grown-up children and her five-year-old grandson in Sightill, said her family regularly had to sacrifice meals and heating.
She added that she lived in fear of eviction and said concerns for the future of her grandson, Andrew, in P1 at Murrayburn Primary, were growing all the time.
“It’s reached the stage where I cannot sleep,” she said. “We make sure Andrew has enough to eat and that the house is heated when he comes in from school but he misses out on other things.
“He might ask me for a magazine when I’m out getting the weekly shop but I only have £40 a week for shopping, so I have to tell him we’ll get it another time. Sometimes I cannot afford the bus trip to Portobello beach.
“I worry he might end up with the wrong crowd. Hopefully, things will change before then and that won’t happen. I do not think anybody listens or cares.”
Church leaders called on politicians to accelerate the introduction of a national living wage.
A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said: “We all need to be part of the process for ending child poverty. It’s not going to be solved by one initiative, and pointing the finger of blame doesn’t lift any child out of poverty.”
Council chiefs admitted child poverty levels in parts of the city were too high, but said recent initiatives were making a difference.
They said £1.1 million of funding was being invested to provide affordable childcare places for around 550 youngsters in some of Edinburgh’s poorest neighbourhoods.
Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said: “The Capital coalition is determined to tackle poverty and inequality, and its effect on children.
“We’re looking to support pupils into positive destinations after they leave school, we work closely with parents to support them into work and critically we are investing in early years education, through the Early Years Change fund, to ensure that every child has the best start in life.
“The evidence points to a steady improvement in the wellbeing of children as a result of the council’s interventions but it is clear that more progress needs to be made.”
However, welfare campaigners said the figures confirmed “much more” needed to be done to tackle child poverty.
Jackie Brock, chief executive of national agency Children in Scotland, said: “As budgets are set across the country, we hope that Scottish local authorities, health boards and other public services listen to what this research is telling us – that much more needs to be done to protect, and to help, those families living below the poverty line.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It is nothing short of a scandal that any child should live in poverty in a resource-rich country like Scotland, and this report simply underlines the urgent need for Scotland to have the economic powers required to tackle poverty.”
By David Gardner, Project executive for Community Help and Advice Initiative
Hard-pressed families are struggling to manage a perfect storm of economic recession, unemployment, depressed wage incomes and rising prices – and it’s getting worse.
It doesn’t seem so long since the UK Government announced ambitious plans to abolish child poverty in the UK by 2020.
Unfortunately, the banking crisis engulfed the world economy and the plans were abandoned in favour of restrained public spending and austerity budgets.
The result? Almost one child in five in Scotland’s capital is living in poverty. The figures are even starker in the Sighthill/Gorgie area – reflecting long-standing poverty and deprivation trends.
Without concerted political will at national level local interventions can only ever offer “sticking plaster” solutions.
What is needed is a plan focusing public policy on ensuring that our children can grow up without the blight of poverty.
‘Boredom makes it harder’
SIGHTHILL youngsters who produced films as part of a pioneering arts project have told of their frustration at the lack of creative opportunities available in Edinburgh neighbourhoods hit hardest by child poverty.
Louis Clark, from Sighthill, who wrote and directed a short film as part of the Xpress Yourself project at Screen Education Edinburgh’s base in Ferry Road Avenue, said he and his peers were often “bored” and that this made it harder to escape poverty.
The 18-year-old said the situation had become worse since the local library in Sighthill was closed and moved.
He said: “I’m not really surprised the figures are so bad in Sighthill.
“You get bored – there’s not enough to do there.
“The library we had was great – it was always full and it was the only thing stopping lots of the kids from being out on the street.
“But it was knocked down and I don’t really think there’s anything filling the gap.”