Poverty, in its many forms, remains a disgrace in 21st Century Scotland. It is not my purpose here to excuse anything but to inform readers of the areas in which progress has been made especially in the last ten years of SNP government because you won’t hear about it anywhere else.
Good journalism needs context and personalisation. The latter is where you hear victims speak to the camera and it makes you understand how the incident feels. It might make you more empathetic if you need more. Contextualisation is where you here how the incident relates to similar incidents in the past or in other places so that you can judge how common it is here or in other places and so worry more, or less, about it. Increasingly, however mainstream media including trusted agencies are neglecting the wider context. Where the news is about bad about Scotland, a bit of context might make it seem less so. The JRF report is full of context. Let me know, if you can bear to, if there’s much in our mainstream Unionist media.
There are endless opportunities for opponents of the Scottish Government to ignore the wider UK and historical context and find examples of persisting poverty in Scotland and by association blame them. Most obviously, they will spend little or no time allocating the blame where it lies with current and former Tory/New Labour administrations at Westminster going back for decades. Equally, they will not find space to note any initiatives from the Scottish Government which have protected our poor from the worst excesses of recent Tory austerity. So, here is some of the evidence of that in recent improvements or even of lack of decline.
‘Across the four countries of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest poverty, only slightly lower than London and similar to the North East. Scotland has generally had the lowest poverty but has seen a rather different pattern to the rest of the UK – poverty rose slightly between 1994/97 and then remained constant to 2013/16.’ (P29)
Poverty ‘remained constant’ in the face of central Tory austerity cuts? So that’s a wee plus for the Scottish Government?
‘However, in the latter part of the 2000s, the picture began to diverge. Scottish pensioners began to experience slightly lower poverty rates than the other nations and, from 2010/11, Welsh pensioners began to see significant increases in poverty rates.’ (P64)
Labour-led devolution in Wales, SNP-led devolution in the latter 2000s in Scotland.
‘In England and Northern Ireland, at age 16, young people from poorer backgrounds are around a third less likely to achieve good qualifications; in Wales they are about half as likely and in Scotland a fifth less likely. These results are not directly comparable between the four parts of the UK as both measurement and educational systems vary considerably, but it is clear that young people from poorer backgrounds across the UK are much less likely to achieve good qualifications, putting them at much higher risk of continuing to live in poverty as adults.’ (P 5)
Not ‘directly comparable’ but still comparable to some extent?
‘The proportion of working-age adults with higher education qualifications has nearly doubled in England, Wales and Scotland; 45% of working-age adults in Scotland, 38% in England and 35% in Wales have these qualifications.’ (P5)
Clearly comparable, 7% more likely to have HE qualifications in Scotland.
Looking at a summary of trends in mental health care over last 20yrs, we read this somewhat minimalist statement for the poorest fifth of the population:
Adult physical health (UK, working-age adults) – Worse
Adult mental health (England) – Worse
Adult mental health (Scotland) – Better
Young people’s mental health – No change (P9)
I know there’s an awful lot left to be done here but the context is at least encouraging.
‘There have been large variations in the patterns [of housing benefits claimants] across different parts of the UK. The highest of claimants affected have been in the North West and Scotland, followed by London and the West Midlands. The lowest number of claimants affected was in the South West. The largest falls have been in the North West and London. The smallest falls have been in Scotland. Scotland has low proportions of one-bedroom dwellings, and the Scottish Government has provided substantial funding to supplement discretionary housing payments to mitigate the impact of the policy.’ (P41)
I don’t think I need explain this one.
‘The proportion of people eating the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each day varies across income groups. Over a third (39%) of people in the richest fifth of the population eat the recommended amount, falling to only 15% of those in the poorest fifth. There are no significant differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.’ (P79)
See, English comedians, and some Scots too?
Coming next another unfair Scottish stereotype, see this graph of domestic violence on page 84:
Domestic violence is for all age and deprivation-level groups, lower in Scotland than in England. It would be really interesting to have a precise gender breakdown for the Scottish figures to compare with the shocking level in one of the groups above – 10%!
‘In England, the proportion of children reaching a good level of development at age five has increased, but the attainment gap has remained fairly constant at 20 percentage points. The attainment gap remains fairly constant through primary school, meaning that the difference in attainment between those from richer and poorer backgrounds remains around 20 percentage points at age 11. This gap widens through secondary school, to around 28 percentage points by age 16 and 25 percentage points at age 19. In Scotland, children aged five living in the most deprived areas were 16 percentage points less likely to reach the expected standard in reading, and 14 percentage points less likely in numeracy than those living in the least deprived areas. By age 11, these gaps increased to more than 20 percentage points. They remained at this level in the results of school leavers (age 16), having fallen from 33 percentage points in 2009/10.’ (P87)
I’ve taken out the Wales and N Ireland figures from the above long paragraph, to simplify the reading of this. It would have been better in a table but, what is clear, first, is that the attainment gap is only the same for 11-year-olds in both countries at 20% but the gap for 5-year-olds is only 16% in Scotland compared to 20% in England and for 16-year-olds the gap in Scotland is only 20% compared to 28% in England. Second, note the massive fall in the gap from 33% to 20% in the period of SNP Government.
From: ‘UK Poverty 2017 A comprehensive analysis of poverty trends and figures’ Report by the JRF Analysis Unit
Hi John – thanks for taking the time and trouble to tease out so much value-added info regarding the relative positions of Scotland and rUK from the JRF report. Haven’t yet noticed any MSM comments regarding this finer-grained more useful contextual info. Will pipe up if I notice anything. Encouraging to see several of the ‘Scotland’ arrows pointing in approx the right direction despite the dead hand of HM Exchequer on policy developments over so many years. Oh – and thanks for reminding me to up my fruit and veg intake –
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Thanks Ludo – spinach is the one!
Thanks to you, John, for providing this digest and, of course to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for undertaking this study.
As you indicate, there are still too many of our population who are suffering poverty and, of course, we must continue to tackle this.
It will be interesting if the mainstream media report this. I suspect that they will either ignore it, or seek the worst data and present it decontextualised. Then, they will get a spokesperson from some group which tries to tackle violence or poverty or mental health or education, who will announce that this is a scandal and something must be done. Possibly, this comment will be edited from a much more nuanced statement, but, sadly, sometimes, as with, say, the baby box policy, find a little known group, possibly based elsewhere in the UK, who will roundly condemn the ‘failure of the Scottish Government’. And, sadly, there are some sincere campaigners, who are unable to applaud a gain, on the basis that ‘more needs to be done’ or ‘this is no reason for complacency’.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party in Scotland has long believed it has had the monopoly on ‘improvements’; only Labour can bring social justice. And, since for 10 years, it has not believed itself to be in a position to deliver this, it has adopted a dog-in-the-manger, knee-jerk oppositionist attitude. Donald Dewar set up the Parliament so that it would, amongst other things, force cooperation between parties. In the past ten years, the Greens, the LibDems and, even the Tories under Annabel Goldie, were able to get aspects of their policies enacted and the Government governed, reasonably successfully as JRF shows. But what has Labour done during that period, other than go through about 8 leaders, acting leaders or interim leaders and cavil in whining tones?
It is clear that with austerity and the shambles of Brexit, the vast majority of the UK population are going to suffer economically and socially, unless there is some collaboration amongst parties in Holyrood and Westminster to try to make changes.There might be signs that Ruth’s doughty 13 are recognising that they need to defend their constituents. But, at Holyrood, the new Leader faces sullen truculence from the majority of his MSPs. Despite having lived in Scotland for most of his adult life, Mr Leonard has not demonstrated any real understanding of the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK, such as those which JRF have published …….. and the ownership of water.
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Thanks Alasdair. Yes, it looks bad for Labour.
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Hi Alasdair – you are dead right re. the attitude/behaviour of the north british Labour accounting unit in the Scottish Parlt. I can’t recall the year – but it was during the SNP Minority Administration of 2007 – 2011. Labour had put in an amendment to the Scottish Budget – if I recall the amendent called for a figure of 10,000 modern apprenticeships to be funded. The minority SNP administration accepted the Lab amendment unaltered. The Lab accounting unit then solemnly proceeded to vote against their own (accepted) amendment! – In years to come people won’t believe what they are reading in the history books.
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Excellent news. . . John
David Cowan STV chief Reporter David Cowan asks Retd head of Civil Enginerring if he is a member of the SNP. Because he said snagging work on a project the size and complexity of the new Queens Ferry Crossing is perfectly normal. Pravda Trained?
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Hi John – grabbing a coffee so just taking a quick mo. to post a wee bit of a herald article commenting on the JRF report. I’m delighted 9and slightly astonished!) to report that The Herald seem to have handled this info in a sound manner – no attempts made to ‘hide’ Scotland’s relative strong performance or any other snide tactics. I try to be fair-minded, so all credit to The Herald in this instance. I’ve copied the article headline, the first couple of short paras and the final couple of paras to give a good sense of the fairness of the piece (all we ask is ‘fair’ journalism – no special favours):
Scotland boasts lowest levels of poverty in the UK
SCOTLAND has the lowest levels of poverty in the UK, according to a report that found poverty is now rising everywhere else in the country.
Pensioner poverty in Scotland is the lowest in the UK, Scotland has the lowest proportion of people who aren’t in employment, education or training, and Scots are more likely to get good qualifications, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found.
Despite Scotland’s relatively strong performance compared with the rest of the UK, the Scottish Government acknowledges that poverty is still too high and it established an Equality and Inequality Commission in July.
Douglas Hamilton, the commission chairman, said the JRF findings will inform their advice to Scottish ministers early next year.
He said: “We are less likely to be making comparisons with England and the rest of the UK, and more likely to be focussing on progress against the Scottish Government’s own targets and stated aims.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the report demonstrates that the actions it has taken to protect people on low incomes are having an impact.
She said: “This includes funding anti-poverty initiatives, providing free school meals, investing in free childcare, promoting the living wage, and investing in welfare mitigation measures such as covering the bedroom tax. We are absolutely committed to eradicating poverty.”
That is fair for the Herald and not even on a Sunday.
No sign of an author?
I wander if any of you can answer my query as to whether Douglas Hamilton is the brother of Duncan Hamilton, former MSP and someone who I think would make a great First Minister if Nicola calls it a day at some point in the future. They look awfully alike!
Sorry Bill, don’t know