Low levels of pay for those in work, not levels of joblessness, are the key cause of poverty in the Outer Hebrides.  That’s one of the key facts revealed by the Outer Hebrides Anti-Poverty Strategy outlined yesterday (Tuesday October 8th)

This is also part of a national trend which has seen the UK Government subsidising low-pay through tax credits far more than similar payments to those out-of-work.

And the situation relating to fuel poverty and wasted energy is far worse in the Islands.  A total of 57.9% of dwelling places were rated not energy efficient in 2016, compared to a Scottish average of 34%, while households in fuel poverty (roughly those who have to spend more than 10% of their income on heating) total 55.6% compared to a Scottish average of 31%.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy in an event at e-Sgoil in Francis Street, Stornoway, yesterday, Councillor Angus McCormack, who chairs the Anti-Poverty Strategy Working Group, said: “Growing up in poverty can have a lasting influence on a child.  Whether it is physically, emotionally, or academically, it can be a daily struggle for a family. “

He said the local policy was developed from the Child Poverty Act, introduced in 2017, and adapted to local circumstances. 

“The latest statistics for child poverty in the Outer Hebrides show that 767 children in the area are in low income households.”  However, this measure is not necessarily accurate – a recent report indicated the Outer Hebrides were among the top third for concentration of child poverty in Scotland.

In a report issued as part of Challenge Poverty Week, which is running at the moment, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that poverty levels had fallen between the 1999-2002 period and 2015-18 but they had now started to rise again across Scotland.  The report reckoned that more than 1m Scots were struggling in poverty conditions, including 240,000 children, 640,000 working-age adults, and 150,000 pensioners.

Councillor Norman A Macdonald, the convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “What is vital to the success of this strategy is a willingness to address the very real problems experienced by some in the our community.”

Recent research concludes that the budgets required by households to meet a minimum acceptable standard of living in remote and rural Scotland are between a tenth and a third more than in urban areas of the UK. While Island living costs were the highest of all.  This was then compounded by the level of wages being lower. 

Dr Maggie Watts, the director of public health for the Western Isles, explained that there were going to be a series of ‘Get Heard” local engagement sessions being held about the strategy over the next five months throughout the Islands.  The aim is to get more evidence and actual experience of the reality of poverty in the Isles.  Along with input from other related organisations throughout the Isles, this would be used to update the strategy in the future. 

Child poverty means growing up in families without the resources to ‘obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities’ which are the norm in 21st century Scotland.

Children are considered to be living in poverty if they live in households with less than 60% of median household income. This is the key measure used by UK and Scottish Government.

From latest figures (2015-18) a family is considered as in poverty if they are living on:

  • Less than £363 a week or £18,900 a year for a single person with children aged five and 14
  • Less than £463 or £24,100 a year for a couple with children aged five and 14