Child poverty – Kirkcaldy’s shocking story

Child poverty is increasing in parts of Kirkcaldy
Child poverty is increasing in parts of Kirkcaldy

More than 70 per cent of children in one of Kirkcaldy’s poorest areas are estimated to be living in poverty.

The shocking latest figures for Sinclairtown Central have revealed that 70.5 per cent of youngsters under 16 are living in households which are struggling just to get by.

Lesley Laird MP

Lesley Laird MP

The figure isn’t much better in Gallatown West, where an estimated 59.9 per cent are living in families in receipt of working and child tax credits and with an income less than 60 per cent of the average household.

This compares to a figure of 17.9 per cent for the whole of Fife and 16 per cent for Scotland.

And the most up to date statistics taken from the Department of Work and Pensions Child Poverty Estimates for 2016, don’t take into account the recent introduction of Universal Credit, which is hitting the poorest families the hardest.

The statistics, published by HMRC last month, have seen very little improvement since the Poverty Summit which was held in Kirkcaldy’s Town House in March 2018 and followed later in the year with an event at the Adam Smith Theatre, when Gordon Brown, former PM called on statutory and voluntary organisations to work together to improve the situation for families in the town.

Liz Easton

Liz Easton

The figures, published last month, have been described by Kirkcaldy’s MP Lesley Laird as “utterly, utterly disgraceful.”

She said: “Published deprivation figures, which all pre-date the impact of Universal Credit, should leave no-one in any doubt about the poverty crisis facing our communities yet the government persists in its fallacy that ‘austerity is over’.

“Try telling that to hundreds of parents in the Kirkcaldy area who, but for frontline charities such as the Cottage Centre or Kirkcaldy Foodbank and other local groups, wouldn’t have seen their children open a single present or eat one hot meal over the holidays.

“It’s utterly, utterly disgraceful that here in the UK – the fifth wealthiest economy in the world – chronic poverty on this scale should occur.

Councillor David Ross

Councillor David Ross

“Despite Labour’s calls to halt Universal Credit, the UK government was hell-bent on rolling it out. Future child deprivation reports will prove just how disastrous that move was.

“Just how much worse do poverty levels have to get before governments – and society - say enough is enough?”

Marilyn Livingstone, chairman of the Cottage Family Centre, which provides support to vulnerable families living in the Templehall area, said: “This is something we have been working on for many years, and specifically since 2013 when we started to see significant rises in families facing real hardship.

“These figures are terrible enough without the introduction of Universal Credit, and at Christmas we helped families with 1200 children who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford it. That is just utterly unacceptable in a country as rich as this.

Cllr David Alexander

Cllr David Alexander

“We are working with Fife Council and other partners to see how we can meet these challenges and we have expanded our work into Kirkcaldy east where the worst problems seem to be. We are looking for a permanent base there.

“We have people having to make decisions on whether to pay a bus fair or buy a pint of milk and that is a dreadful situation for families with children to be in.

“We are trying to deal with the causes as well as the symptoms and people must realise that every one of those statistics is a family struggling to survive. This is leading to big increases in mental health problems, domestic abuse and instances of delayed development in children.

“The government at all levels needs to take this seriously and we need to start seeing proper investment and support to stop this.”

Fife Council’s co-leaders say that the increases in the number of children living in poverty will only get worse as Universal Credit continues to roll out across Fife.

Cllr David Alexander said: “Universal Credit continues to be a real issue – people are struggling to cope – and that’s not only those who are not working.

Marilyn Livingstone

Marilyn Livingstone

“Rent arrears are on the rise and foodbanks are facing unprecedented demand. It’s a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.

“We need a co-ordinated response involving the local authority, third sector, community activists and volunteers, to ensure everyone gets a fair deal.

“We know that some areas are being harder hit than others and the work we carry out to identify the specific needs in different areas means we can target our resources better those where they are most needed.”

As part of the authority’s pledge to create a Fairer Fife and make conditions better for families living in poverty it is building new, affordable homes across the Kingdom, investing in early years education, and continuing to invest in apprenticeships and support and infrastructure for jobs and training.

Cllr David Ross added: “The extent of child poverty in parts of Fife is nothing short of scandalous.

“The council is doing what it can to address this situation but it feels like swimming against the tide of central government austerity policies.

“We know the impact that Universal Credit is having on many people across Fife, and the problems of fuel poverty so we’re providing advice and practical support to assist people facing financial problems.

“There are lots of fantastic examples of local people who are committed to making a difference in their communities through volunteering. By working together we are doing what we can to make things better and fairer for all of us.”

Liz Easton, general secretary of Kirkcaldy YMCA said: “Kirkcaldy YMCA runs a number of programmes in the Gallatown aimed at reducing the impact of poverty and deprivation.

“The figures are very daunting and difficult to believe for many, however we have been working there long enough to know that things are only getting worse because of the impact of Universal Credit, the restriction on benefits for families with more than two children etc.

“We are running activities that support adults, children and young people, much of it tackling food poverty through cooking classes and provision of free/cheap meals alongside crisis support and reducing social isolation, with opportunities for local people to seek help with a range of issues.

“Supporting adults is key in managing to improve this situation, alongside services directed at children – generational change is required and there is no quick fix. It has taken years to get into this state and it will take years to change the fortunes of people living in these hard hit communities.

“There are many people living in the Gallatown area who are trying to improve their lives, who volunteer to help others – local resilience like this community gives needs to be harnessed and supported to develop further.”

Kirkcaldy YMCA has submitted funding bids for almost £850,000 to try to develop services for and with people in the area.

This will develop and extend the old Bowling Club, which it is currently in negotiation with Fife Council to acquire.

Funding bids also include training programmes and working with children and families, and the community will influence and shape the direction of its work.

Added Liz: “It doesn’t help that programmes which are targeted at our most vulnerable children are being hit hard by loss of funding, with our Active Kids programme, which has run since 2006, around £48,000 short this year due to expiry of some funding.

“The programme is at risk and at this point cannot be delivered for the usual six weeks of the school holidays.

“There is simply not being enough done and too much short-term funding which does not help the many voluntary organisations in the Kirkcaldy area which are trying to support and tackle issues.

“Some long term vision, commitment and budgets are required to really have an impact and effect change.”

Joyce Leggate, chairman of Kirkcaldy Foodbank, said: “These figures are shocking and I cannot even begin to imagine how much worse they will be when the post Universal Credit statistics are added.

“To have seven out of 10 children in one small area living day to day, month by month and even year by year in poverty should bring shame on every politician who has the power and influence to change this broken system.

“We are constantly being told we live in one of the richest economies in the world but I doubt if many individuals living in this part of Kirkcaldy will agree.

“It’s time for everyone to wake up to the drastic effect that austerity is having on people and change lives for our future.”