‘Hidden’ child poverty of rural Scotland revealed
In the third and final part of our special investigation, Michael Alexander looks at the impact of child poverty in rural areas like the East Neuk, Angus and Perthshire.
The doors of Anstruther Parish Church burst open as a group of smiling teenagers from Waid Academy deliver five trolley-loads of food to East Neuk Foodbank, donated by pupils when they held a non-uniform day.
It’s a welcome boost to the foodbank, which has given out more than 5,000 emergency food parcels to local people since it was established in April 2013 through the church. It continues running independently, meaning that users do not need referrals.
According to foodbank co-ordinator Richard Wemyss, though, many older people in the East Neuk are in denial that rural poverty exists.
He says some cannot see past the idyllic harbour scenes and do not appreciate that poverty – which often stays hidden through “shame” – exists on their very doorstep.
Richard says more than 50% of his clients are single men and women aged over 45 who have fallen on hard times through a combination of job loss and marital breakdown.
But in an area where there have been stories of homeless people sleeping in cars and empty farm sheds, he believes a lot of child poverty remains hidden and thinks that’s because people are “embarrassed” to come through the door or simply don’t know the foodbank exists.
“Particular problems in a rural area like this are that there are no discount supermarkets,” he said.
“A Dayrider bus ticket to St Andrews or Leven is £8.70 return – a huge chunk of money if you are on benefits and want to go to Aldi/lidl or need to sign on every fortnight.
“Also, in these older towns people are living in historic housing with poor insulation, with sash and case windows, with the dearest electricity, so it can be much more expensive to live here.
“When you look at how employment has changed – a lot of the fishing has gone. There are some boats at Pittenweem but there’s no boat builder at St Monans, which was a major employer. There are also very few unskilled or semi-skilled jobs.
“With Universal Credit, people are being sanctioned by a system that seems intent on keeping people down, often through no fault of their own.
“People can find themselves struggling very quickly, and yet while many people in the community are very supportive, others shut their curtains, shut their doors, and don’t want to know.
“I don’t deny there are probably some chancers out there. But everyone is being tarred with the same brush.”
In Arbroath, where up to 28% of children are in poverty after housing costs are met, Arbroath Town Mission pastor Dave Webster and his wife, Morven, have helped around 100 families in Angus by providing them with over 330 clothes parcels. These include families of Syrian refugees.
“Our project, Lighthouse Kids clothes bank, was born out of an awareness of a need in some children who attended Sunday school on their own and were not adequately clothed,” said Morven.
“Starting the clothes bank was a natural next step for us as a church, to demonstrate God’s love to those in our community in a no-strings-attached way.
“In our experience, people who are affected by poverty are affected by multiple aspects – struggling to clothe their children, to have enough food and heat their homes – in a way that often comes together as a package.
“By offering this free service – and through our community cafe – people can receive help when they are struggling without feeling stigmatized.
“I would like to see the government giving fuel vouchers to families/individuals who have a meter system because it’s so expensive to run.
“We had a family come to us as their work circumstances had changed due to health. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between food or fuel, but have the basics covered so that each childhood is fair and not impeded by poverty.”
“Particular problems in a rural area like this are that there are no discount supermarkets. Also, in these older towns people are living in historic housing with poor insulation, with sash and case windows, with the dearest electricity
A young child gets a snack from the kitchen at the Arbroath Town Mission drop-in cafe.