The Borders youngsters caught in a poverty trap

Councillor Stuart Marshall
Councillor Stuart Marshall
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MORE than one in four children in the Hawick and Denholm council ward live in poverty, according to a study supported by 150 charitable groups.

The figures from End Child Poverty claim 26 per cent of children in the area, which includes the Burnfoot estate, live in poor conditions – twice the average for the Borders as a whole.

And out of 11 Borders wards, only four – Tweeddale East and West, Selkirkshire and Leaderdale and Melrose – are currently set to meet the UK Government’s target of reducing children living in poverty to 10 per cent or less by 2020.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall described the report as making “very grim reading” which he attributed to the economic difficulties being suffered across the region and the UK.

Councillor Marshall told us: “Only last week I visited several homes within my ward that have both parents out of work, and its very sad indeed to actually hear them tell you how they are struggling almost on a daily basis to make ends meet.

“I really do fear that when the new Welfare Reform Bill goes live, and with Scottish Borders Council predicting around £10million being taken out of the local economy because of it, that many more families, and in particular their children, will suffer.

“In my opinion its absolutely vital that we as a council redouble our efforts in helping those families who are on very low incomes.”

The Borders was below the UK average for child poverty statistics, but with the economic situation likely to get worse before it gets better, SBC has been forced to assess its strategy to tackle the issue, with any recommended changes being presented next month.

David Cressey, SBC’s head of housing and community justice, said: “The report rightly demonstrates that the Scottish Borders fares significantly better on average at 13 per cent compared to 20.9 per cent of children throughout the UK living in child poverty.

“However, the council, along with its partners in the Strategic Partnership against Poverty, are actively working together to reduce the impact of poverty in the Scottish Borders.

“Children, as part of family groups, are most affected when the income of the family is reduced. To that end the council is focusing its effort of maximising income and helping to reduce costs for low-income families.”

Mr Cressey says schemes undertaken by SBC include the appointment of an employment co-ordinator, advice and assistance being given to low-income families on reducing the cost of heating their home and provision of debt education to their social work department.

A specialist welfare benefit service to people with mental health issues has been set up, while front-line staff at SBC’s Newtown St Boswells HQ have been trained to spot members of the public in poverty and guide them to relevant agencies for help.

Mr Cressey added: “I would add that this success has only been possible due to the excellent partnership working that exists between Scottish Borders Council, the Citizens Advice Bureau, NHS Borders, our partner registered social landlords and other local organisations committed to tackling poverty and social inclusion.”

He went on: “However, despite all the positive action that has taken place to tackle poverty, the Scottish Borders is not exempt from the effects of the global economic recession and many of our local communities are feeling the consequential effects of that.

“To that end, officers are now reviewing the strategy and its effectiveness in light of the new challenges and propose to bring back a full progress report on delivering the current strategy, along with any proposed changes, in February.”