‘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 Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - NEWS -

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

Kris Miller.

A young child gets a snack from the kitchen at the Ar­broath Town Mis­sion drop-in cafe.

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