Preventing child poverty

Almost one quarter of all children in Scotland are living in poverty. This equates to nearly 250,000 children and child poverty figures are rising. Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests the Scottish child poverty rate will be 29% by 2023-24, the highest rate in over twenty years. 

The effects of child poverty are considerable: it undermines health, wellbeing and educational attainment, and as well as being harmful to children and families, child poverty has wider costs for society. There is an urgent need for legislation, policy and practice to help prevent and mitigate child poverty, and Dr Morag Treanor, Professor of Child and Family Inequalities at Heriot-Watt, is at the forefront of pioneering work to make an impact in this regard. 

Dr Treanor is a social researcher and quantitative data analyst whose work focuses on the measurement, causes, consequences, mitigation and prevention of child poverty. Her work raises questions not only about how to understand poverty, but how these understandings should inform policy and practice and improve the delivery of professional services concerned with better supporting Scotland’s children. 

She applies advanced quantitative methods in the analysis of social issues, and utilises her expertise in qualitative methods, including qualitative longitudinal research, to explore the impacts of poverty and persistently low, and high, incomes on children’s cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural developmental outcomes and educational transitions.  

Her work has provided new insights and compelling evidence that has supported legislation, policy development and practice across health and education. 

Effecting change in legislation, policy and practice 

The impact of Dr Treanor’s research has been considerable. It greatly strengthened the Child Poverty Act (Scotland) 2017, underpinning a range of amendments at stage two of the Child Poverty Bill – particularly around interim targets, income maximisation and education – that ultimately led to the creation of a more ambitious Act. 

Previously, her research had influenced the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015, which enshrined in legislation the right of welfare fund applicants to be treated with dignity and respect. Her work helped to highlight the nature of difficulties faced by families in income crisis, and in particular, the experiences of parents accessing the locally administered Scottish welfare fund. 

Her ‘What Works Scotland’ report specifically created for local authorities – to guide them in preventing and alleviating child poverty locally – led to systemic and cultural change and enhanced policy and practice for securing poverty alleviation across Scotland. For example, in South Ayrshire the council developed a Financial Inclusion Pathway to money advice, better targeted holiday meals provision, and introduced a number of breakfast clubs in its Primary Schools; East Ayrshire Council implemented programmes of work in relation to employment, financial inclusion and dignified food provision, among others. 

Dr Treanor’s research also directly influenced the Scottish Government decision to introduce an income supplement of £10 per week per child for low income families. 

Influencing the health and education sectors 

Beyond legislation and policy development, Dr Treanor’s research has impacted the health and education sectors through training and awareness-raising. NHS Health Scotland used her research in the creation of the e-learning module, ‘Child Poverty, Health and Well-being’, for all new health practitioners in Scotland. Her research was also influential in encouraging NHS Health Scotland to include education professionals in their work on child poverty to increase its likely impact.  

Collaboration with the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and the Educational Institute of Scotland is helping to change practice in the classroom, specifically through a film created for education workers. This awareness-raising film builds understanding of the costs of schooling and the barriers to full participation in education for children and their parents living in poverty. 

Dr Treanor has also influenced and guided Edinburgh’s schools’ poverty-proofing programme ‘1 in 5: Raising Awareness of Child Poverty in Edinburgh’ which prioritises training to ensure that school staff develop a sound understanding of the scale, impact and stigmatising myths which surround poverty. To date training has taken place with staff teams in over 70 schools and ‘1 in 5’ leads have been created in over 80 schools across the city. 

Further impact in the education sector has been the introduction of a minimum school clothing grant of £100 for children living in poverty in Scotland, which was directly influenced by Dr Treanor’s research.