MORE than half a million Scots are trapped in “severe or extreme poverty”, with the numbers rising by 100,000 in a year, a new report has found.
The Scottish Government report stated that being in work is “no longer a guarantee against poverty”, with employees forced to exist on “squeezed” incomes.
The finding has led to calls for the extension of the Living Wage – a voluntary rate for employers of £7.85 an hour above the minimum wage of £6.50. MSPs will tomorrow vote on a call to increase the minimum wage to £10 by 2020 to “end in-work poverty” – a demand MSPs would relay to Westminster.
The report found 510,000 people in Scotland living in “severe or extreme poverty” in 2012-13 – a sharp rise on 410,000 during the previous year.
There were 330,000 working age adults, 100,000 children and 80,000 pensioners living in the most poverty stricken conditions. Severe poverty is defined as living with an income lower than £11,500, or 50 per cent of UK median income, while extreme poverty is defined as lower than £9,200, or 40 per cent of UK median income.
When housing costs were taken in, the number facing severe poverty surged from 510,000 to 710,000, the Severe Poverty in Scotland report said.
A separate briefing for Holyrood found nearly half of 370,000 people in poverty live in households where at least one person works, a figure the authors of the study said was “partly due to low hourly pay”.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) report said 110,000 children in poverty live in households where at least one adult is working.
Social justice secretary Alex Neil blamed the poverty crisis on changes to welfare made by the UK government, which he said had failed to raise the minimum wage to tackle low pay.
He said: “It’s a disgrace so many people live in severe or extreme poverty, but it’s an unfortunate and inevitable result of the UK government’s failed austerity agenda and welfare cuts that are slashing incomes for some of our poorest households.”
The report said poverty had “deepened in recent years”.Though relative poverty had fallen over the decade from 2002-3, “a greater proportion of households in poverty are now in severe or extreme low income”.
The rise in the use of zero hour contracts was given as one reason for this increase. Unions have said they rose by 40,000 to 180,000 last year in Scotland.
Inflation has also seen costs rise faster then wages, with this “adding to the pressures experienced by low-income families”.
The report stated: “The combination of these factors is likely to increase the numbers living in severe and extreme poverty, and reduce the chances of those in low-paid work to lift their families out of poverty.”
The research said UK government “welfare reform is another key factor”, adding: “For low-income working families reliant on benefits and tax credits, cuts combined with changes in eligibility have seen household income decrease in 2012-13.”
The report concluded: “Poverty is changing; work is no longer a guarantee of a life free of poverty; people in poverty face increasing costs; and those in receipt of benefits and tax credits – which of course includes many in work – are finding their incomes squeezed. While being in employment remains a protection against poverty, it is no longer a guarantee against [it].”
The Scottish Greens will force a vote on a £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020 tomorrow.
Co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “By making sure everyone’s wage meets their basic needs we can get to grips with the inequality that is doing so much damage in our country.” But a UK government spokesman said: “We are supporting the living standards of poor families by freezing fuel duty, increasing personal tax allowance and cutting income tax for those on the minimum wage by almost two-thirds.”
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