THE number of young families among Scotland’s lowest earners has increased by more than 25 per cent in six years, according to a major study.
The latest Growing Up in Scotland report found 27 per cent of Scottish families had to get by on an annual income of less than £12,500 in 2010-11, significantly up from 21 per cent in 2005-6, when the equivalent real-terms figure was £10,800.
The study also found grandparents are now taking a more prominent role in looking after children as parents find making arrangements increasingly difficult, according to the report commissioned by the Scottish Government.
The study looked at thousands of families with ten-month-old children in 2010-11 and compared them with a similar group from six years earlier, covering areas such as health, parenting support, money and changing family make-ups.
More than a third (37 per cent) of parents say their financial situation got worse in the past year, while only 15 per cent said it had got better. Among those who saw things deteriorate – about 2,237 families – it was mainly because they have less money, rather than having to buy more.
There are also “quite high levels of material deprivation” among a significant minority of Scots, about 14 per cent, which means they are forced to go without things like a car, a family holiday once a year or a night out once a month.
And families who have to pay for childcare have seen their costs jump by £12 to £88 a week – an annual increase of £624.
Grandparents now provide more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of the childcare in Scotland – far more than nurseries, which are next on 28 per cent.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the report underlined the “very genuine struggles” which thousands of families face across Scotland to afford “a decent level of childcare.”
She said: “That is an unacceptable situation, and not one that families wanting to do their best should have to consider.”
The Tories want to roll out free childcare for two-year-olds, starting with the most vulnerable, before making this widespread.
“Many of these mothers are put off returning to work because the cost of childcare would simply cancel out their wages,” Ms Davidson said.
The Liberal Democrats have also been urging the Scottish Government to extend free nursery provision to more two-year-olds during the budget debate last month.
Lib Dem spokesman for young people Liam McArthur said attainment gaps could open up as early as 22 months and persist through school.
The health differences between poorer and wealthier families are also laid bare in the report, which shows 46 per cent of those in the lowest income bracket smoked, compared with 7 per cent of those in the top bracket.
Binge drinking was also more frequent in the bottom bracket, where 26 per cent did this more once a month, compared with 16 per cent to 18 per cent of parents in all other income groups.
Younger mothers and parents living in more deprived areas also reported higher drug use in the past year. It said 4 per cent of highest earners reported using drugs, compared with 22 per cent in the lowest bracket.
Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie said: “These statistics show just how little impact the SNP has made in health outcomes for some of Scotland’s poorest.”
The report also showed 80 per cent of mothers drank no alcohol during pregnancy, up from 74 per cent. But 12 per cent of main carers were described as hazardous drinkers. It also showed 73 per cent never smoked, while a further 9 per cent stopped when they learned they were pregnant. Of main carers, 24 per cent smoked, down from 28 per cent.
Children’s minister Aileen Campbell said: “We recognise the challenges faced by families across Scotland. That’s why we are legislating to increase to 600 hours the level of early learning and childcare for three- and four-year-olds and looked-after two-year-olds through the Children and Young People Bill.
“We have also invested £4.5 million to support local solutions to family support and childcare.”
But she added: “This study shows progress and provides us with the unique evidence we need to help make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. We are doing all we can to make sure our children get the best possible start in life, and we are clear that much more could be achieved with full fiscal powers.”
Married couples now account for 50 per cent of all parents, a fall of 4 per cent, while 29 per cent were cohabiting and 19 per cent were single parents.
Most youngsters (63 per cent) do not belong to any religion, with a continuing fall from 41 per cent to 37 per cent of those who do.
Paul Bradshaw, of ScotCen Social Research, which carried out the study, said: “There is clear evidence in this report that parents are listening to healthcare advice coming from the Scottish Government.
“Mothers are increasingly likely to completely cut out alcohol during pregnancy and to follow guidelines on the introduction of solid food to young children.
“While progress has been made in some areas, in others there is still some way to go,” he said. “The findings suggest that there has been little change in breastfeeding rates.
“There also remain significant inequalities in health behaviours and access to information in relation to pregnancy and birth, and in child health outcomes, such as birthweight and general health at ten months.”