by Matt Forde
National Head of Service for NSPCC Scotland
We know that money can’t buy you happiness, and it can’t buy you love, but what about its opposite? When there’s no money to buy anything, what does that mean for children and families across Scotland?
Being poor doesn’t make you a bad parent, but it certainly makes it even harder to be a good one. We know from our work with families under huge pressure that even the most vulnerable parents want the best for their children. But there is no escaping the fact that poverty does damage to families, to childhood, and to society as a whole.
Living in a society that tolerates high levels of child poverty coupled with inequality is bad for us all. It is one sure fire way to have high levels of violent crime, for example. A major study tracking childhood experiences – the ‘Growing up in Scotland’ study – has shown that children born into poverty are twice as likely as other children to face developmental difficulties when they enter school. This rises to four times the likelihood of developmental difficulties when compared with the most affluent children.
Mounting financial pressures, coupled with a frustrated will to provide better for your family, must inevitably take their toll. Chronic stress, debt and depression linked to economic disadvantage will see so many children in Scotland grow up affected by parental mental ill-health, substance misuse and domestic abuse. Nowhere is this more true than in our biggest city, Glasgow. This is part of Scotland’s story today; hundreds of thousands of children growing up in poverty while the gap widens between them and the comfortable and the well-off.
Mental ill health, substance misuse and domestic abuse are not simply the result of poverty, nor are they clearly at its roots. It is a grinding cycle, whereby each can be both cause and effect.
Poverty is not just caused by economic or social deprivation but also by a lack of opportunity and social exclusion, and the long lasting and damaging effects experienced by children now will, in turn, leave their imprint on successive generations. It creates the conditions for violence, injustice and ill health. It above all betrays a willingness to tolerate children’s life chances being denied.
A key issue of course – and one that we understand – is parents’ anxiety about being judged, having to ask for help and, shame of shame, even losing their children. There is a double bind; the most vulnerable parents have often suffered family violence, and bear the psychological scars from childhood trauma. It makes it all the more of a struggle to be the parent you want to be when daily existence involves a struggle with today’s poverty and the hangover of childhood abuse. Reluctance to acknowledge significant problems, however, has the inevitable knock-on effect of embedding them deeper within the family.
But we do have a choice; the way things are now is a result of the choices we have made. A Scotland worth fighting for, whatever the constitutional deal, is one where we value all our children, and see every childhood as of equal importance. So a key question must be how we end the shame of Scotland’s tolerance of mass child poverty and widening inequality. Every area – the economy, health, education, housing, the law – and every issue must be tested by the question: how does this policy impact on the level of child poverty, and the inequality gap?
We should do this not just because we will all reap the benefits, but because – at bottom – it is morally the right thing to do.