Child Poverty

Anthropology: The Prevalance of Child Poverty in Glasgow, Scotland and Sociocultural Implications

River Clyde, Glasgow
River Clyde, Glasgow (

Glasgow is the biggest and the most populous city in Scotland. The city is situated along both banks of the River Clyde.

Glasgow occupies much of the lower Clyde valley, and its suburbs extend into surrounding districts. Today, Glasgow’s population is estimated to be around 1,681,000 people.

One of the main social issues in Glasgow is poverty and homelessness. The new data shows a significant increase in child poverty, which impacts not just an individual but a society as a whole and contributes to many other social problems, such as low life expectancy, crime, and a poor economy.

In this article, I am going to write about the problem of poverty and child poverty in Scotland, the effects of child poverty on individuals and society as a whole, as well as suggestions about what should be taken into consideration when tackling the problem.

Poverty in the UK and the Industrial Revolution

Poverty has always been one of the main concerns in Scotland and the UK as a whole. It has a long history in the UK and, in consequence, there has been different legislation introduced in the past to tackle the problem. The Industrial Revolution brought many changes in order to tackle poverty. This is now considered a cornerstone of poverty policy in the UK.

There has been much debate among development economists on whether industrialization increased or decreased poverty in the world. Many social scientists generally agree that in the United Kingdom, the Industrial Revolution helped the majority of poor British people escape poverty. Before the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, which was the most important time in the history of the UK, most British people were living in poverty. Life expectancy for poor people was low, due to poor diet and diseases, and deprivation, with starvation being one of the main threats.

The emergence of the Industrial Revolution brought a significant improvement to the standards of living of the overwhelming majority. Housing (although today considered squalid) was improved, the food was better and so life expectancy started to increase. During this time, there were also advances in public health and sanitation, which helped to defeat extreme poverty, as well as preventable diseases.

Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834

Factory during the Industrial Revolution

The Poor Laws were established in1579 and they were the most significant for social policy in both Scotland and the UK until 1948.

One of the most infamous British laws of the modern age was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. The aim of the law was to deal with the rising costs of poor relief by sending all able-bodied people in need of poor relief into workhouses where conditions were deliberately harsh. As a result, people were only able to get poor relief if they went to live in a special workhouse and worked for their food and accommodation there.


People working in workhouses had to put up with incredibly difficult working conditions, such as long hours, irregular breaks, and labor-intensive work. To work in the Crumpsall Workhouse in Manchester (established in 1855), all able-bodied people had to take a ‘labor test’. During the test, men would dig in the ground, while women did washing and scrubbing. Children were separated from their parents and couples split up to ensure that the workhouse was a place feared by the poor and the last resort for the destitute.

A group of boys posing outside a workhouse in Manchester
A group of boys outside the gates of Crumpsall Workhouse, Manchester (

Children were perhaps the biggest victims of the workhouses and the Industrial Revolution, as they were considered cheap labor that could be easily replaced and small enough to crawl under machines to fix broken threads. In 1830, the Factory Act prevented children under the age of 9 from working in factories.

Although poverty was not a new problem when the law was reformed in the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution played a major role in how poverty was viewed as well as how it impacted people.

Despite criticism, even at the time, due to the inhumanity of the workhouses, the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, made people look at the causes of poverty, rather than simply reacting to ideas of unemployment and an allowance system.

What is Child Poverty Today?

Children in poverty

Townsend (1979), a sociologist and co-founder of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) describes child poverty as growing up in families which lack the resources to ‘obtain a diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities’ which are the norm in 21st century Scotland. Any child who lives in a household with less than 60% of median household income is considered (by the UK and Scottish governments) to be living in poverty.

Poverty can be relative or absolute. Relative poverty depends on the average standard of living in society, thus it changes over time and in different countries. Absolute poverty is when people are deprived of basic human needs. These are, for example, clean water, food, and shelter.

Statistics on Child Poverty in the UK

Research suggests that the most vulnerable group in Scottish society today is children. Despite the introduction of child benefit, which decreased the number of children living in poverty by over 100 000, the country is still continuing to struggle with the issue of poverty.

According to Child Poverty Action Group, there are 4.3 million children in the UK in 2019-20 living in poverty. That is 31% of children, or nine out of 30. In addition to this, almost half (49%) of children from lone-parent families are living in poverty. Meanwhile, 47% of children living in large families (with 3 or more children) live in poverty.

Child poverty is especially prominent in Glasgow, Scotland. According to new data released by the End Child Poverty coalition, one in three children is now living in poverty in Glasgow. The number of young people in poverty has risen in every local authority in Scotland in the last five years. There were 26% of children in Scotland overall living in poverty before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019/20, Shelter Scotland said that 15,711 children (the equivalent of 6 or 7 children in every school). This means that around 38 children a day were made homeless in Scotland during that year. Glasgow had the highest number of homeless households – 526. According to the Scottish Government, there are various reasons for homelessness in Scotland. The main five are:

  • Being ‘asked to leave’ and violent or non-violent household disputes
  • Discharge from prison / hospital / care / other institution
  • Fleeing non-domestic violence
  • Harassment
  • Termination of tenancy to rent arrears: Private rented tenancy

In addition to this, according to the Trussell Trust group, 77,123 children in Scotland were delivered emergency food parcels in 2020/21.

The Effects of Child Poverty

Edinburgh, 1972
Children playing in the street of Edinburgh, 1972 (

Poverty can have a  significant, negative impact on the health, wellbeing, and educational attainment of children. Poverty is also linked with inadequate child care, unsafe neighborhoods, and homelessness.

According to the data developed by the Scottish Government, over 60% of low-income families with children in Scotland can’t afford to make regular savings of £10 a month or more. In addition to this, over 50% don’t have a small amount of money to spend on themselves weekly. Finally, 10% can’t afford to have friends of their children round for tea or a snack once every week.

Moreover, it has been shown that children who come from families with higher incomes perform better in education. Poverty has also been shown to affect both the physical and mental health of children. For instance, three-year-olds in households with lower incomes are two and a half times more likely to develop chronic illness, in comparison with children from households with incomes above £52,000. Children who are living in low-income households are almost three times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than more advantaged children. Constant thinking about hunger affects children’s educational performance, as well as their cognitive behavior. As a result of hunger, they are also more likely to experience behavioral and emotional problems (CPAG, 2020).

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, people struggled, even more, to keep the end meet. Many people were losing jobs and their income and began to have debts. Even when there is one parent who is working, there has to be a decision made to feed their children. This means that they themselves will go without food for days.

According to Fiona Young, community development worker at Tillydrone Community Flat: “People were suddenly faced with situations where there were children at home. This means extra meals had to be made for lunch and extra energy bills for television, mobile phone data (which is the only internet for many people), and other entertainment, as children couldn’t socialize and were stuck at home. Therefore, the demand for food banks and other support was even higher during that time”. Families struggled to pay not only for food but also for their bills. This makes many people in poverty feel like they are a burden to society because they have to ask for help. This, in consequence, has a significant effect on their mental health.

High levels of poverty are harmful to children, but also to society as a whole. In 2013, a study by Donald Hirsch found that child poverty affects the wider society as it costs at least £29 billion a year, due to policy interventions, long-term losses to the economy that are a result of lower educational attainment, as well as poorer mental and physical health (CPAG, 2013).

Child Poverty Act 2017

Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017

The number of children living in poverty in Scotland is well above the level set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. The bill aims to reduce poverty among children to 18% before 2024, and 10% by 2030. In addition to this, the targets set in the bill state that less than 5% of children living in Scotland should be living in absolute poverty, alongside targets to reduce persistent and material poverty.

Other policies related to child poverty in Scotland and the UK focus on the need of the parent or caregiver to gain employment in order to improve the child’s wellbeing. This is helpful for some families, but single-parent households with more than two children may be affected by this negatively. As found by many social psychologists, the bond between the parent or caregiver and the child is the key to their development and wellbeing.

However, some researchers in 2018 suggested that Scotland could miss its target to cut child poverty by those numbers, as the numbers of children in poverty has been rising since 2011-12. According to Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, “Child poverty in Scotland is on course to rise substantially in the coming years, and risk reaching a 20-year high by 2023” (source:

John McKendrick from Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research at Glasgow Caledonian University said that poverty will increase due to the pandemic. Although the aim of the bill is ambitious, and there is a lot being done to eradicate child poverty, it is not working well enough.

In 2021, new research revealed achievable outcomes if the Scottish Child Payment benefit will be increased to £30 a week. John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland said: “At least doubling the Scottish child payment is the essential first step to ensuring all our children are protected from the indignity of foodbanks, the stress of parents making impossible choices between eating or paying the bills and the misery of missing out at school”.


Poverty continues to be a nationwide problem in the United Kingdom. Due to other factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people living in poverty has been increasing, not just in the UK but worldwide. This affects people in many different ways, physically and mentally. It also has a further, negative impact on the wider society and the country’s economy.

Although there have been many attempts to eradicate poverty, and the UK government has passed a variety of policies with the aim of doing so, research shows that this is not enough, and there has to be more done to reach the target set by the government. Campaigners urge the UK government to implement changes to the policies if they want to fulfill the target they have set or even only decrease poverty, as with current efforts it is predicted to only rise.

Many researchers believe that poverty among children in Scotland could be prevented. This can be done once the right policies are implemented to ensure an equal society, support for all individuals to gain employment, educational support, free meals at school for children above year three of primary school, and the right financial support to improve people’s standards of living. Re-evaluation of the existing policies and consideration of factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic is necessary to provide children with equal opportunities and improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

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