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Families paying hundreds per year on essential education, new research finds

Posted 11.05.23 by Alice Hinds

Parents and caregivers are spending hundreds of pounds every year to send their children to state primary and secondary school, according to new research from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Families in the UK need to find at least £39.01 per week, per state secondary school child, and £18.69 per primary-age child, totalling more than £1,750 and £860 every year, respectively, on costs including uniforms, learning materials, school trips, packed lunches and transport.

Over 14 years of education – excluding the costs of before and after-school childcare and items like laptops and printers – essential education bills can total up to £18,345.85 per child, which the charity believes shows more support is needed to ensure all children can learn equally.

The research, which was informed by interviews and focus groups, also found school costs vary dramatically depending on location, with low-income families in Scotland paying the least of any other country in the UK.

With the Best Start Grant, universal free school meals for children in P1 to P5, means-tested school clothing grants available nationally, and universal free bus travel for young people under 22 years old, the lowest earning parents in Scotland pay £16.46 for their children’s primary education per week, compared to £30.85 for parents in England, £22.53 for those in Wales, and £20.88 in Northern Ireland.

For some parents of secondary school children, the outlay in Scotland is around a quarter less than for families in all other nations.

However, in the report, CPAG also highlighted that 16% of children in poverty living in Scotland are not eligible for free school meals through national schemes. The Scottish government planned to introduce free school meals for all primary pupils by 2022, but the rollout for P6 and P7 has been delayed until 2024.

Kate Anstey, head of CPAG’s Cost of the School Day programme, which aims to reduce financial barriers that prevent pupils from fully participating in the school, said: “Parents are guilt-stricken when their kids are left out at school but when you can’t cover the electricity bill, how is a new PE kit affordable?

“Our research shows there’s a hefty and often hidden price tag for just the basic essentials needed for school. For struggling families, it can feel more like pay-as-you-go than universal education. It’s on each national government to intervene and ensure that every child has at the very least the essentials required to take part in school and learn. Without that intervention, the very idea of universal education and equal life chances for children is undermined.”

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News: Government urged to take more action to address rising food insecurity

Posted 25 November, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

A coalition of charities has written to the Scottish Government to highlight the devastating impact of poverty and hunger

The open letter, penned by Includem, Magic Breakfast Scotland and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland highlights the impact of food insecurity on Scotland’s communities. It calls on the government to commit to financial support for families on low income, ensure everyone has access to nutritious meals and create spaces where communities can cook and eat together.

Published yesterday (Thursday 24 November), the letter welcomes the Government’s doubling of the Scottish Child Payment Bridging Payment, the ambition to end the requirement for food banks and recent action from some local authorities to clear school meal debts. However, it also highlights concern over the slow progress to deliver free school meals for all Primary 6 and Primary 7 pupils and the lack of action on breakfast provision in schools.

It states:

“The cost crisis is soaring and economists warn of a looming UK-wide recession. From parents and carers skipping meals to prioritise their families. From children and young people being too hungry to learn. From members of our communities not knowing if they can afford their next meal. The Scottish Government must do everything in its power to prevent families from going deeper into crisis”.

They are calling for:

  • A commitment to the Scottish Child Payment retaining its soon to be £25 per week value in real terms next year
  • Work with Local Authorities to wipe out school meal debt
  • A clear commitment and actionable plan for the national roll out of school breakfast provision
  • Acceleration of the roll out of universal free school meals in primary schools and piloting in secondary schools
  • Supporting access to spaces where communities can create and eat together regularly.

Signatories of the letter include The Trussell Trust, Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, Social Work Scotland, Star Project and Families Outside.

Click here to read the letter in full

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More than a third of parents unable to access suitable childcare

Posted 22 November, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

New research has revealed that affordability and flexibility are key barriers for parents trying to find childcare settings for their pre-school children.

Flexible Childcare Services Scotland (FCSS), a national charity that runs 23 childcare settings across Scotland, conducted the research with 600 parents in order to better understand some of the challenges of accessing childcare for younger children.

Their findings revealed:

  • More than a third of parents (36%) find it difficult to find preschool childcare. Of these 76% said this was due to affordability issues.
  • Two fifths (41%) of parents of preschool children said they were unable to access childcare during the working day.
  • 64% of respondents indicated their employer provided little or no flexible working.

In addition, parents spoke about the difficulties of securing childcare hours which fitted around their working patterns or employment commitments, affordability and long waiting lists. These issues are anticipated to only be exacerbated by the ongoing, and increasing, cost-of-living crisis with a recent report (click to access) from the Poverty Alliance and the Scottish Budget Group identifying this will disproportionately impact women and single parents.

Flexible Childcare Services Scotland’s Chief Executive, Susan McGhee, said:

“This research shows the harsh reality that families across the country face – to work or not to work. As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, this problem is likely to be compounded putting even greater challenges on families.”

Created by One Parent Families Scotland, FCSS was launched in 2019 in response to findings from the charity that the parents they were supporting were unable to engage in training, education or employment due to a lack of flexible childcare provision.

FCSS believes the model it operates in its own centres in Dundee, Inverness, Keith and across Aberdeenshire, along with the models adapted for other childcare providers, can deliver the flexible solutions modern families need. This includes the free childcare management software, Caerus, which helps childcare providers manage their entire setting, and release any extra capacity as flexible spaces. This model will help parents save money as they only pay for the spaces used, and will allow providers to maximise their occupancy and income through using all spaces available.

Click here to find out more about Flexible Childcare Services Scotland

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News: Cost-of-living crisis is disproportionately affecting women, reveals new report

Posted 16 November, 2022 by Nina Joynson

New research has found women in Scotland face increasing financial difficulties, with low-income jobs and care responsibilities responsible for increased economic concerns.

A new report from the Poverty Alliance and the Scottish Women's Budget group, “It’s hard work being poor” – Women’s Experiences of the Cost-of-Living Crisis in Scotland, has found that women are disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. Those particularly affected include women in low-paid work, asylum-seeking women, women with care responsibilities and lone parents.

Of the women involved in the research, from a range of backgrounds, many told researchers they were worried about their winter energy bills, while parents and carers raised concern over the affordability of essential household items such as baby wipes and toilet roll.

Links between women’s and child poverty

Almost all participants in the research spoke about the impact and additional spending involved in care for children and extended family.

Highlighting recent figures from Carers UK, the report estimates the economic value of women’s unpaid care to be approximately £77 billion per year, with women most likely to be primary caregivers for children, and 92% of lone parent families headed by women.

Poverty rates are highest among lone parent families, and lone mothers are more likely to struggle to cover the costs of household items, childcare and bills.

Furthermore, the rising costs of food, transport and household goods have affected those with dependents, and women in particular are more likely to reduce spending on their own meals clothing and heating in order to provide for children.

Making changes

The report makes several recommendations, including that the UK and Scottish Government work to ensure adequate incomes for all, and increasing financial support for asylum seekers, people with no course to public funds, and women in low-paid work or with caring responsibilities.

It also calls on the Scottish Government to give greater recognition to unpaid care work and women’s role as mothers in Scottish policy, and to work towards an education and childcare entitlement for all children in Scotland.

Sara Cowan, co-ordinator at SWBG, said:

“Women are more likely to be poor, have lower levels of savings and wealth, and are less able to find suitable work or increase their hours if they’re in work often due to caring responsibilities that fall disproportionately on women.

“The women in this research talked about the impossible decisions they had to make to prioritise feeding their children, and whether or not to turn the heating on. Or not being able to buy things like baby wipes, incontinence pads, or toilet roll.

“The Scottish and UK Governments can help by increasing and extending the emergency support available to people, and working to put justice and compassion at the heart of social security and our public services.”

Click here to read the full report

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News: Bridging Payment to be doubled following calls from across the sector

Posted 11 October, 2022 by Nina Joynson

Families in Scotland currently in receipt of the Bridging Payment will receive a doubled payment in December, after organisations called for the increase amidst cost of living pressures.

Backed by an additional £18.9 million in Scottish Government funding, Nicola Sturgeon announced that the final quarterly payment of 2022 would be increased from £130 to £260 at the SNP conference in Aberdeen.

All children aged 6-15 years who are registered for free school meals are eligible and will receive the payment automatically.


Bridging Payments were introduced in 2021 to provide equivalent support for children under 16 who are not eligible for the Scottish Child Payment.

Currently only available to children under 6, the Scottish Child Payment was introduced in February 2021 as a £10 weekly payment, before being doubled in April 2022. It will increase again in November to £25 with widened eligibility to include all those under 16.

An interim measure for 6-15 year olds, the Bridging Payment is paid quarterly and supports around 145,000 school-age children. In 2021, eligible children received £520 through the scheme, rising to £650 in 2022 due to the increase announced this week.

Coalition calls

The announcement is welcomed by those who have campaigned for its increase in recent months.

In August, over 120 groups signed a letter to the First Minister calling for the payment to be doubled in line with the increased Scottish Child Payment, noting that families "are facing increasing hardship as the cost of energy and food spirals ever higher".

Co-ordinated by the End Child Poverty coalition, signatories included charities, trade unions and faith groups.

Scottish members of the End Child Poverty coalition include Aberlour, Action for Children, Barnardo’s Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, Children 1st, Children in Scotland, Close the Gap, Engender, Home-Start in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, Oxfam Scotland, Parenting across Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Save the Children and the Trussell Trust.

“We must not lose sight of our collective goal”

Marking her first anniversary as our Chief Executive, in the first of a two-part blog Jude Turbyne takes stock of how poverty is impacting on families now – and why working in the children’s sector gives her hope 

I have now been with Children in Scotland for just over a year. It has been a fulfilling time, during which my admiration for my colleagues within the organisation and across the children’s sector has been strengthened. So, I feel I should be celebrating but, rather, I find myself a bit gloomy.

I came into post during the pandemic. At the start of 2022, it felt as if we might be on a more positive journey away from Covid, and that we could start to build actively on the learning from the previous two years. There was a sense of hope that we could step out of crisis mode and settle into a new positive rhythm. However, we have moved from that phase into one where the external environment is increasingly hostile.

Crisis impacts

There have been a lot of insightful pieces written over the past few months highlighting how the cost-of-living crisis is having a devastating impact on families that are already vulnerable and illustrating how many other children, young people and families are sliding inexorably towards poverty.

Citizen’s Advice Scotland, for instance, estimates that one in 10 people in Scotland currently have nothing left after covering the essentials. A Save the Children briefing clearly illustrates the way in which stagnating incomes coupled with the massive hike in costs is likely to have a serious impact on families.

The Living Without a Lifeline report just published by One Parent Families Scotland shows the impact the crisis was already having on single parent families and the cloud of deep anxiety that many families are currently living under. The Scottish Government estimates that one million households across Scotland will be living in fuel poverty.

An unacceptable choice facing families

Action is needed. We had awaited with interest the Westminster emergency fiscal event last week. However, as outlined in the joint statement by the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this did not result in the targeted action required to support the children, young people and their families who are facing this winter with inadequate resources and increasing anxieties.

Rather it focused its policies on those who already have more than enough, believing that somehow their wealth would magically trickle down to families and young people living in vulnerable situations. It is simply not acceptable that there will be families this winter that are having to make a choice between food and heat.

We will push for better responses to the immediate crisis, but we must never lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is creating a more resilient Scotland, where our children, young people and families are lifted out of poverty and are not in danger of slipping back.

Welcoming the Child Payment increase

That is why the announcement of the raising of the Child Payment to £25 in November is particularly welcome: the evidence already shows that this payment has the potential to impact on child poverty rates. We need more measures like this that will support systemic change.

Last week we held a timely Children Sector Strategic and Policy Forum where leaders across the sector took stock of the situation. It is important that we invest in the right things. We know that money is tight in all sectors and so we need to prioritise those actions that will have the biggest, sustainable impact.

We are currently processing all the different announcements that have come out from Government in Scotland and Westminster, digging into the complexities of the situation now, and seeking to develop clear policy approaches that can have a real and sustainable impact for Scotland’s families. We will continue to reflect and write about our approach as we develop these collective responses.

Pushing for change

I started saying that I felt gloomy, and sometimes it is hard not to. But the children’s sector in Scotland is full of wonderful organisations and individuals that are committed to making Scotland a better place for our children and young people.

Putting our collective effort into pushing for and making the necessary changes can make a difference. And, that does, indeed, give me hope.


About the author

Our CEO Jude Turbyne has worked for a number of charities and in the development sector

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