Child poverty

Growing up in poverty damages children's experiences of childhood and harms their future chances.

Here you can find information on child poverty and interventions to help tackle it, including the Financial Inclusion Referral Pathway Toolkit.

  • One in four (230,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty. This is defined as living in a household with less than 60% of median household income. 
  • 66% of children in poverty are living in households where at least one person is working. This is called in-work poverty.
  • Rates of child poverty fell steeply from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s but began to increase again from 2011/12.
  • The proportion of children in poverty varies significantly in different parts of Scotland. In Shetland, it is fewer than one in ten but this rises to one in three in Glasgow.
  • 36% of children in relative poverty live in lone parent households.
  • You can find official poverty statistics and a range of evidence for Scotland on the Scottish Government website (external website).

Child poverty and health inequalities

Poverty has long-lasting effects on a child's

  • health and wellbeing
  • development
  • educational attainment
  • lifetime opportunities.

The negative impact can start before birth, build up across the life course and pass onto the next generation.

7 out of 10 children in relative poverty live in working households


The risk of child poverty is higher

  • where the youngest child in the household is aged 0 to 4 years
  • in larger families (more than three children)
  • for those living in households where someone is disabled (but the family does not receive disability benefits)
  • for those who rent
  • for children who live in households headed by someone whose ethnic group is non-white and non-Indian.

Poverty is also a risk factor for experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Having high numbers of ACEs has been found to be related to deprivation, with higher proportions of people in the most deprived areas reporting ACEs.

Families can fall in and out of poverty depending on social, political and economic factors. This means that poverty is more common than we might think.

The main drivers are

  • employment status
  • in work poverty
  • cost of living (housing, childcare)
  • social security benefits, including tax credits

Many families will experience poverty for a short period, while others may be trapped in a persistent cycle of poverty.

Effective interventions

Effective interventions for addressing child poverty include

  • structural changes to the economic, tax and benefits systems
  • legislative controls.

Effective interventions to address the associated health impacts of child poverty include

  • actions to maximise household income and resources
  • offering intensive support to those experiencing or most likely to experience problems, for example intensive home visiting, preschool education or child care.

You can find out more about effective actions and interventions in our briefing on child poverty.

You can also complete our e-learning module to understand child poverty, its causes and how it impacts on children and young people’s health and wellbeing.

Local action

Income matters for child health, so interventions that help to tackle child poverty must include those which maximise household income and resources.

‘Financial inclusion’ is a broad term that describes activities such as income maximisation and debt advice.

A good example of financial inclusion could be a health practitioner referring patients that have money worries to an advice service. These services give independent and free advice on benefit and tax entitlements and debt issues.  

We have created a Financial Inclusion Referral Pathway Toolkit to provide practical support to those developing or improving partnership working between early years services and financial inclusion organisations.

National action 

Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 sets out

  • four statutory income targets, to be met in the financial year beginning 1st April 2030
  • four interim income targets, to be met in the financial year beginning 1st April 2023
  • that a statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission will be established from 1 July 2019, with functions related to the child poverty reduction targets. 

It also places a duty on

  • Scottish Ministers to publish child poverty delivery plans in 2018, 2022, and 2026, and to report on those plans annually
  • local authorities and health boards to report annually on activity they are taking, and will take, to reduce child poverty. 

Every child, every chance - The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-22

This sets out new policies and proposals to help reach the child poverty targets set for 2030.

Actions are to

  • make progress now on the three main drivers of child poverty (income from work and earnings, costs of living, and income from social security)
  • help children and young people in poverty now avoid bringing up their own children in poverty in 2030 (including a focus on quality of life and partnership working).

You can read the full Delivery Plan on the Scottish Government website.