As a society, we recognise that care leavers have a right to care and love. Yet too many young people leaving care continue to face significant barriers to achieving a successful transition into adulthood that, in turn, make them more vulnerable to poverty.

Indeed, the latest Scottish Government Statistics show just 1 in 4 young people eligible for aftercare were in education, training or employment and 436 were known to have experienced one or more periods of homelessness. A new survey of care leavers in England conducted by Coram Voice has also found that almost 1 in 5 find it hard to cope financially.

And with new Scottish Government figures showing that poverty and inequality in Scotland is on the rise, it's an issue of continued and increasing concern for Staf.

The new figures show that for the period 2015-16 to 2017-18:

  • 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 4 children were living in poverty
  • Almost two-thirds of children in poverty were living in working households
  • Almost 40 per cent of lone mothers are living in poverty, higher than the rate for other single working-age households
  • After a period of stability, income inequality has been increasing since 2012-15.

In response to rising poverty rates, the Scottish Parliament passed a new law in 2017 that will require the Scottish Government to cut child poverty to under 18 per cent by 2023-24 and below 10 per cent by 2030-31. However, a new report from the Resolution Foundation has projected that the targets will be missed.

The biggest driver of the increase, the report states, are UK-wide benefit changes and the four-year benefit freeze. This is compounded by the introduction of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of working-age benefits and has resulted in an increase in rent-arrears and food bank use. To mitigate the impact of these cuts, the Scottish Government intends to introduce an 'Income Supplement' benefit in 2022. However, a number of anti-poverty and children's charities are calling on the government to bring this forward and to top-up child benefit too.

At a local level, we know from our Care Leavers into Employment Focus Group that a lot of good work is happening to support young people into sustainable work. This has included local throughcare and aftercare teams working in partnership with other Corporate Parents, Skills Development Scotland and the DWP.

And while our members have concerns around its implementation, the care-experienced bursary has undoubtedly been positive for young people too, supporting them to continue their education and improve their employment prospects.

Yet all of this good work is at risk of being undermined by reductions to local authority funding. A recent report from the Accounts Commission found that revenue funding to councils has been reduced in real terms between 2013-14 and 2019-20 - at a time when councils 'face an increasingly complex, changing and uncertain environment'.

It is clear that while cuts to social security are driving increases in child poverty, cuts to local services are hampering efforts to mitigate its impact on young people. And when the system is itself stressed, it cannot be the fully supportive environment we want for all those who are working hard to support care leavers.

If we are to fully realise our high ambitions for care leavers, tackling poverty is vital. To do that, Staf will continue to advocate policy and practice that tackles the barriers to work and education, as well as raising the incomes of care leavers. Local authority budgets - and throughcare and aftercare budgets in particular - must be protected to achieve this.

For Staf and our members, there is no poverty of ambition for care leavers. If you want to help us shape the solutions to rising poverty, get involved today by becoming a member or joining one of our events.

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