ONE in seven working-age adults and children could still be living below the poverty line by the mid-2020s, according to new research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
The research looks at the challenge that Scotland would face to tackle poverty, even with a much higher employment rate than it currently has.
The findings are set out in the third and final referendum briefing written by the New Policy Institute (NPI) and published by JRF.
Scotland’s employment rate currently stands at 73.5 per cent and, on rates of growth achieved in the 10 years to 2007, it could reach 80 per cent by 2025, the research found. At current population levels, this would mean an extra 300,000 jobs in the economy.
Researchers looked at the impact of this increase in jobs, taking account of what would happen to poverty levels, depending on whether the extra jobs were full or part-time.
They found that if the 80 per cent employment rate was reached by the creation of only part-time jobs, poverty among working age adults and children could fall from 800,000 (19.4 per cent) to 670,000 (16.2 per cent).
If most of those extra jobs were full-time, the number in poverty would fall further, to 600,000 (14.6 per cent).
Researchers said that if Scotland does achieve higher employment rates, it must address challenges arising from people’s time pressures, access to services and rights at work if work at higher levels of intensity is to be manageable.
Dr Peter Kenway, director of NPI and report co-author, said: “As employment levels rise, post-referendum Scotland must avoid replacing a problem of material deprivation with one of inflexible services and a lack of time: families short of cash are often short on time as well.
“Both sides of the independence campaign have to address the long-term challenges faced by struggling families of finding secure work that pays sufficiently.”
Jim McCormick, Scotland adviser to JRF, said: “These scenarios highlight the challenges that Scotland must meet if poverty rates are to decrease. Much higher employment would cut poverty, but jobs alone will not eliminate it while low pay and inadequate working hours remain so widespread.
“We need to ensure work pays enough to be a route out of poverty. Working more hours is only part of the answer: housing costs, rates of pay and the tax, tax credit and benefit systems are all implicated.
“Scotland after the referendum will need policy responses to all of these, whether independent or not.”
John Dickie, the head of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “This report makes absolutely clear that increased employment is in itself not enough to end the shocking level of poverty that blights the lives of too many children across Scotland.
“Whatever the outcome of the referendum, action is needed to make work pay and give families access to affordable, flexible childcare. But we also need a new approach to social security and to invest more in universal child benefit and the other supports that families in and out of work all need to give their children a decent start in life.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The UK Government is committed to our goal of ending child poverty by 2020. Our strategy outlines plans to tackle the root causes of poverty, including worklessness, low earnings and educational failure. This approach is a better reflection of the reality of child poverty in the UK today, and is the only way to achieve lasting change.
“Under this Government there are 300,000 fewer children living in relative income poverty and 100,000 fewer children in workless poor families across the UK. Based on the latest available statistics, the level of relative child poverty in Scotland has fallen by 12 percentage points since the mid-1990s and is now at its lowest level since records began. We have just seen the largest rise in employment for over 40 years and unemployment is falling. But there is more to do - and we are getting on with that job.”