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RGU Research Shows Growing Problem of Poverty and Food Insecurity amongst Young Mothers in the North East

Robert Gordon University (RGU) led research shows that young mothers in the North East of Scotland are experiencing increasing levels of poverty and food insecurity, that have got far worse since the COVID pandemic.

The research unveiled as part of the latest RGU Research Revealed series, calls on the government to introduce ‘big ticket’ interventions to turn the tide on child poverty and recommends more investment and a shift in focus to prevention to tackle food insecurity.

The research has been led by Professor in Public Health, Flora Douglas and a small team from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedic Practice at Robert Gordon University with funding from the NHS Grampian and NHS Grampian Endowments Fund, who have worked in partnership with communities in the North East to explore the hidden nature of poverty in the region.

Working in partnership with health professionals and a food pantry network in the north east, the team carried out two interview studies between 2020 and 2022 to explore the experiences of parents from low-income households with babies and infants, particularly mothers.

One of the key aims of the research was to assess the impact of national policies aimed at ameliorating child poverty in low-income households in the north east of Scotland. The policies, centre around the Child Poverty Act (2017) in Scotland, which require all health visitors, midwives and family nurses in Scotland to screen and offer financial advice, otherwise known as ‘Financial Inclusion Pathways’ (FIPs) to at-risk pregnant women and parents/carers of families with children under five in Scotland to tackle child poverty.

The first study involved 22 pregnant women and mothers with at least one child under five who shared their experiences. The second study involved interviews with 18 midwives, health visitors and family nurse partners who offered their expertise from the frontline. Almost all participants were claiming Universal Credit and lived in the multiply deprived postcode areas within Aberdeen City.

The research highlights worrying levels of poverty driven food insecurity that has got worse since the Covid Pandemic, as Professor Flora Douglas, explains: “Across Scotland it’s estimated that approximately 50,000 children are living in poverty, with predictions that this trend will continue to rise in future years. (Scottish Child Poverty Statistics.) Sadly, in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, just over a fifth (21.8%) of children are living in poverty.

UN observers have highlighted the declining value of women’s incomes in the last decade which, coupled with reductions in social care services in the UK, on which many women rely on to stay in the workplace. All of these factors are leading to extreme levels poverty and hardship amongst women living in the UK.”

The research revealed:

  • The difficulties many parents on low incomes experience, and the shame and embarrassment many are experiencing in admitting hardship
  • A lack of confidence amongst health professionals, about how best to speak to parents about their financial well-being with many aware that mothers often wanted to ‘hide’ their poverty from them
  • The situation of food insecurity has got far worse since the COVID pandemic and there needs to be a real urgency to tackle the problems
  • Parents are using careful budgeting to make ends meet and going without food and other personal expenditures as a way of coping
  • Families with very young children are the most insecure, particularly women whose incomes are not keeping up with the cost of infant formulae and other basic food supplies, even with the support of benefits
  • That rising food insecurity is making it harder for some women to breastfeed, and for some families to afford to formula feed.

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