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Child poverty has risen in every Scottish council area since 2015, even before the impact of the pandemic is considered, campaigners have warned.

The End Child Poverty coalition points to research from Loughborough University which shows estimates of children living in poverty in each local authority have increased.

Child poverty rates for 2019-20 range from 15.8% in the Shetland Islands to 32.2% in Glasgow, though figures were calculated before the onset of coronavirus.

At 24%, Scotland has lower levels of child poverty than England (30%) or Wales (31%).

Holyrood has unanimously passed legislation requiring the Scottish Government to ensure fewer than 18% of children are living in poverty by 2023/24, on course to less than 10% by 2030.

Campaigners say there can be no complacency if these targets are to be met.

Speaking on behalf of the End Child Poverty coalition, John Dickie said: “Solid foundations have been laid in Scotland for future progress on child poverty, not least the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment and an increasing focus on action at local level.

“But this new data is a stark reminder that child poverty was still rising in every part of Scotland, even before the pandemic struck.

“The challenge now is for government at all levels to use every power they have to boost family incomes and reduce the costs that struggling parents face.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While child poverty levels remain lower than in England and Wales, we are not complacent and are doing all we can to tackle and reduce child poverty in Scotland.

“We are providing support worth about £5000 by the time a child turns six through the Best Start Grant, Best Start Foods and Scottish Child Payment.

“This payment, worth £40 every four weeks, is already reaching thousands of families on low incomes – we are working to deliver it to all eligible children under 16 by the end of 2022 and doubling the value of the payment by the end of this Parliamentary term.

“The 2021-22 Scottish Budget commits further investment to tackle child poverty, including £100 million to support struggling families through new Pandemic Support Payments and £49.75m for expanded free school meal support.

“These statistics highlight that, even before the pandemic began, the challenge of negotiating the UK’s welfare system has left many people in desperate need of help.

“The UK Government must act now to match our action and commit to making permanent the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, and extend this to people on other benefits.”

An Ayrshire community is in turmoil with furious residents saying they have been forgotten.

Wallacetown in Ayr has been plagued with problems for years with those who stay there calling for urgent action.

Now community leaders have issued a damning statement of “harrowing” and “intolerable” living conditions, as they call for the flats, known locally as White City, to be flattened.

Chair of Fort Seafield Wallacetown Community Council Norman McLean has called for urgent investment and resources to be ploughed into dealing with “chronic” issues.

It comes after we told of horror flats within the community, with residents at a block on MacAdam Square having to deal with horrendous scenes of drug use at their front door.

But Norman has accused South Ayrshire Council of turning a blind eye to “rampant” drug abuse and anti-social behaviour.

The community councillor told Ayrshire Live: “It is reported in the national press that Wallacetown is one of the most deprived areas in Scotland.

“Drug abuse and anti-social behaviour are rampant and require a continuation of multi-service action as an immediate priority, prior to substantial investment being made in the entire area. The general environment created by poor maintenance and lack of investment makes the above behaviour inevitable.

“The chronic issues appear to have been side-stepped by officials and the administration for years in that there has been no material improvement that is in any way apparent.”

In February 2020, Wallacetown was regarded as the 22nd most deprived area in Scotland which was revealed by The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Norman feels council chiefs should prioritise Wallacetown to ensure it is liveable for tenants.

He added: “The council should use the same zeal to address the Wallacetown issues. This misdirection of resources must be challenged as it cannot be right.”

Resident of Wallacetown and community councillor Alison Logan stays in a block of flats on MacAdam Place.

In the four years she has stayed there, the 54-year-old has dealt with having no buzzer or secured entry to her flat.

Tourism businesses on Arran have said they are losing tens of thousands of pounds after one of two ferries serving the isle was diverted to another route.

The ferry is being used to support freight services between Stornoway and Ullapool following the breakdown of that route’s Loch Seaforth last month.

Holiday accommodation providers on Arran said the move had led to booking cancellations.

Ferry operator CalMac said it was endeavouring to maintain services.

The Loch Seaforth – the largest and fastest ship in CalMac’s fleet – had to be removed from its route between Stornoway on Lewis and Ullapool in the Highlands because of an engine problem.

It has been undergoing repairs at a yard in Greenock and the work is not expected to be finished until 17 May at the earliest.

CalMac has had to move ferries from other routes to help maintain services to the Western Isles.

This has included using one of Arran’s two regular summer season vessels, leading to a temporary reduction in sailings between Ardrossan in North Ayrshire and Brodick on Arran.

CalMac said it had made extra provision available at the north end of Arran between Lochranza and Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula in Argyll and Bute.

But Arran businesses bosses said accessing those sailings involved longer journey times, and would not suit visitors planning short stays on the island

The politicians aren’t listening to us,’ an exasperated teacher tells me by phone. ‘There’s nothing left for us to do but get on with it.’ The despair felt by Scottish teachers is a notable shift from the anger I encountered in the staffroom when I trained among them five years ago.

That was the year of the ‘PISA shock’, 2015, when Scotland performed abysmally in reading, maths, and science in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Distinguished education professors at top Scottish universities were left reeling. One such academic suggested that the Scottish government had five years to fix the problem. In response, John Swinney, the SNP’s education secretary, promised to implement ‘radical’ and ‘controversial’ reforms. He might have also promised to make matters worse, since that’s what he’s done.

In 2019-2020, the proportion of pupils passing three or more Highers was 43 per cent, lower than any year from 2015 onwards. Audit Scotland, an independent watchdog, concludes that the attainment gap between rich and poor ‘remains wide’ and that progress ‘falls short of the Scottish government’s aims’. Scottish children from poor backgrounds remain significantly less likely than their English counterparts to go to university.

Yet in 2019 Swinney tweeted that the most recent PISA figures (showing a slight ascent from the depths to which literacy had sunk) ‘corroborates what we see elsewhere — improving schools and a closing of the attainment gap’. But where exactly do we see this? Look closely at the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, the shoogly peg on which the Scottish government hangs such claims, and you quickly find that it is not fit for purpose. For instance, the government reported that in 2019 the highest ever percentage of school leavers (26 per cent) from the most-deprived quintile of areas were going on to university. However, elsewhere the government’s own research indicates that as many as 90 per cent of those on low incomes actually live outside the ‘most deprived’ areas.

‘About half of the decrease in the gap (2+1.5 out of 7) is likely to have been due either to non-disadvantaged people living in deprived areas, or to the stagnation of entry from non-deprived areas,’ writes Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Paterson goes on to say that the government’s decision to base its policy conclusions on these ‘sleights of hand seems distinctly dubious’.

Distinct dubiety is a hallmark of this government’s education policy. From the beginning, standards have been adapted to fit the curriculum, and not (as it should be) the other way round. For example, when Curriculum for Excellence was introduced in 2010 under Alex Salmond, the SNP withdrew Scotland from two major international maths, science, and literacy surveys: Timss and Pirls. Then, in 2017, the government decided to withdraw from another tried and tested literacy and numeracy survey.

The SNP’s preferred metric is continuous assessment, which they largely make up as they go along. Standard Grades and Intermediates have been replaced with ‘National 4’ and ‘National 5’ and the Scottish Highers have been hollowed out, changing in all but name. To put it mildly, the results fail to impress. Paterson explains that not only do the latest reports indicate that ‘pass rates in the Higher and National 5 assessments have been falling’, but ‘in mathematics, too many students’ numeracy was weak and too many struggled with algebra. In social subjects and in English there was a tendency to mistake opinions for facts, to make sweeping generalisations, and to answer exam questions with regurgitated model essays that had been memorised’.

It was hardly surprising that CfE — dreadful at the best of times — was unable to withstand the pressures of the pandemic. Last summer, Swinney was forced to upgrade some 75,000 high school students’ exam results after the outcry over the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s decision to downgrade pupils’ marks. Cruelly and unusually, teachers had been appointed arbiters of children’s futures, and were instructed to rank order their pupils. Which created entirely foreseeable problems.

Now it would seem that ‘assessment’ is virtually the only form of education that Scottish pupils are guaranteed to get. After Easter, pupils were brought back to the classroom to face a continuous diet of assessments, since the official end-of-year exams have yet again been cancelled. What’s the difference between an ‘assessment’ and an ‘exam’? ‘You tell me,’ one teacher says.

Teachers are deeply concerned about the mental health of pupils under this stress. There are huge holes in pupils’ learning due to the pandemic, but the time away has also exposed the weakness of a system based on teaching children to parrot answers for a test. Many pupils have not been taught how to think, let alone have any general knowledge on which to draw. And while some private schools were able to set up preliminary exams over Zoom with invigilators, pupils at state schools and from poorer backgrounds (or without the same parental support) have had no such advantage.

Meanwhile, teachers are struggling to keep up with the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s continual changes to its 2020-2021 ‘alternative certification model’. As indicated on the SQA’s website, the latest ‘update’ was announced on April 13, maddeningly close to the June 25 deadline to submit materials (though that deadline is also an ‘update’).

Perhaps most scandalous of all is Swinney’s decision not to release the findings of the OECD’s report on Curriculum for Excellence until after the May election. He says this is on account of ‘confidentiality rules’. Who does he think he’s kidding? Education is fully devolved. Scotland’s pupils aren’t guinea pigs. Scotland’s teachers aren’t load-carrying mules. Scotland’s public isn’t stupid. Those responsible for this mess ought to answer for it at the ballot box.

Declining scores for Scottish pupils in maths and science can plausibly be blamed on Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), according to a major report.

The study from the Institute for Government (IfG) says results for the two subjects in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are lower than in 2006, despite a claim in the SNP’s 2011 manifesto that the drop had been “halted”.

Sometimes, Westminster unwittingly makes quite a good case for Scottish independence. Britain’s Covid emergency has ended, but the damage of the last year is enormous: the knock-on effects of lockdown can be seen in NHS waiting lists, the devastated high street, the mental health backlog and the 20,000 pupils who are absent from the school register. There is urgent work to do, yet the government is engaged in a battle to the death over who paid for wallpaper in Downing Street.

We see a Prime Minister at war with his ex-adviser, unable to rise above the fray and capitalise on the opportunity of his vaccine success. Then there’s the opposition, unable to oppose. It’s not hard to see why many Scots might opt to press the ‘eject’ button by voting for the Scottish National Party in the Holyrood election next week.

Nicola Sturgeon would use a majority for independence by starting an immediate campaign for a referendum that would dominate Scottish politics for years, to the exclusion of all other issues. It’s worth asking what precisely that would mean.

The issues facing Scots are identical to those faced in England: the Covid-19 crisis is in retreat, but the deep societal damage of a year of lockdowns is increasingly evident. Some 3,550 fewer cancer diagnoses were made in Scotland last year, a fall of nearly 14 per cent. Scotland’s NHS is in no shape to play catch-up: even before the pandemic, waiting times for long-term health procedures were already estimated to be worse than in England. Generally, public services are less well run north of the border.

As for children, lockdown has hit poorest pupils hardest. But already poor pupils in Scotland were little more than half as likely as their English counterparts to get to university. Never have Scots been in more need of focused, effective government. But if they end up with an SNP majority there will be a non-stop campaign for separation; every policy will be used to drive another wedge between Scotland and England.

Sturgeon has admitted to having made no calculations about the economic impact of independence — which is odd, given that independence is her party’s reason for existing. But its chief policy seems to be the suspension of disbelief.

The pandemic is expected to have left Scotland with a deficit of up to 25 per cent of GDP, higher than any other country in the world. Any country joining the European Union needs a deficit no higher than 3 per cent of GDP: independence would mean sado-austerity with cuts far bigger than anything attempted by David Cameron or George Osborne.

Scotland joining the EU would also mean — under EU rules — border controls with England and a consequent hammer blow to trade. North Sea revenues, even if they had not collapsed, would never fill this gap.

By being in the Union during the pandemic, Scotland benefited from the safety net of being in the UK. The furlough scheme was financed by the UK Treasury’s borrowing power. Scotland is now coming out of lockdown due to having vaccination levels that are higher, by some margin, than anywhere on the Continent. By no coincidence, Scotland’s Covid deaths are down by 99 per cent — the same as in England. No European country except Portugal can say the same.

Recovering from the pandemic will take a generation. A vote for the SNP would mean another wasted decade in Scotland, with all political energies being focused on the constitutional question rather than on repairing the damage. Nicola Sturgeon argues that independence is needed to deal with the country’s post-Covid problems. But it is hard to see how Scotland having to cut public spending while not having its own central bank would help address these issues.

The best case for the Union has been made by Anas Sarwar, the new leader of Scottish Labour, in recent weeks. His message is that Scotland needs a recovery, not a referendum. If that message fails, unionists have to face up to the grim truth that, after 14 years in power and despite its dismal record, the SNP has found a way to game the devolution system. By convincing the 45 per cent of pro-independence voters that national liberation lies around the corner, Sturgeon’s party can guarantee itself victory after victory.

Devolution was not intended to deliver independence. As one Labour grandee famously said, it would ‘kill nationalism stone dead’. Even Tony Blair, with his new long hair, now admits that this was a misjudgment: it instead gave secessionists a platform from which to pursue the un-doing of the United Kingdom.

A pro-independence majority next week will take the SNP closer than ever to this goal. If the Tories have any sense of preservation — of the country, and of their party — they should give Scotland their full attention in the remaining days of the campaign.

The number of people who died in every care home across Scotland has been revealed, showing for the first time the extent to which some of the most vulnerable in our society were affected by the virus.

The data was released by the Crown Office and is available to view via an interactive dashboard.

It shows the care homes and operators that were hardest hit by the novel coronavirus and is part of an investigation to determine if the deaths should be the subject of a fatal accident inquiry or prosecution

Many have questioned the way that hospitalised patients were discharged into care homes at the beginning of the pandemic, without a proper testing regime in place and a lack of understanding regarding asymptomatic spread.

Care home operators have said they were let down by government policies at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Scottish Government maintains that saving lives has always been at the forefront of its decision making.

The extent to which care homes had been affected had been unclear, with care providers under no legal obligation to publish information.

The Crown Office figures shows that of the 351 COVID related deaths recorded in North Ayrshire since the beginning of the pandemic, 24.9 per cent occurred in care homes.

That figure is lower than the national average.

There have been more than 10,000 COVID-related

deaths in Scotland with around a third of all those being said to have occurred in care homes.

The breakdown for each care home in North Ayrshire is as follows:

Fullarton Care Home – 20 deaths – 5.7 per cent

Arran View Care Home – 18 deaths – 5.1 per cent

Spiers Care Home – 13 deaths – 3.7 per cent

Buckreddan Care Centre – 9 deaths – 2.6 per cent

Caledonia Care Home – 8 deaths – 2.3 per cent

Shalom Nursing Home – 7 deaths – 2 per cent

Abbeyfield House Care Home – 6 deaths – 1.7 per cent

South Beach House – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

Haylie House Residential Home – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

Glenburnie House – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

Cumbrae Lodge Care Home – <5 – 0.3 per cent

Anam Cara – <5 – 0.3 per cent

Abbotsford Nursing Home – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

On Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon called for a UK-wide public inquiry into the pandemic by the end of the year, adding she would move ahead with a Scottish-only probe if that can’t be agreed in good time.

THE SNP has abandoned any attempt at helping the poor in Scotland – now over a fifth of the population.  The SNP Government has failed to put any meaningful effort into addressing the underlying causes of poverty and as a result has a shameful record of rising poverty across all measures.

Scottish Government data demonstrates clearly that poverty has increased substantially in Scotland since the SNP came to power, whereas previously it was in decline. Latest figures show that 20 per cent of Scotland’s population (1.03 million people each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-20. This is a substantial increase over the 16 per cent recorded in 2010/11.

Child poverty in particular has shot up, with 30,000 more kids in poverty in the last pre-covid year as the child poverty rate shot up from 23 to 26 per cent. Food insecurity is rising too, reaching 9 per cent of the population in 2019.

It’s the poorest areas that are doing the worst under SNP rule. Live there and you will likely die 13 years earlier than Scots living in better-off areas. Moreover you will have 25 years less of good health.

Those with drug issues or who become homeless are particularly vulnerable. Scotland has achieved infamy as the drug deaths capital of Europe, with a drug deaths rate three times higher than the rest of the UK. Similarly homeless deaths are three times higher than the rest of the UK and as with drug deaths have been steadily increasing over recent years.

In education again the poor have been betrayed. Closing the notorious poverty-related attainment gap, whereby poorer kids are more likely to fail to make it to university, was said by the SNP to be one of its major goals. But after 14 years no progress has been made, with only 26 per cent of kids from deprived areas going to university compared to the 60 per cent who succeed from the better-off areas. In some respects it is getting worse. A March 2021 Audit Scotland Report highlighted the fact that now the “gap is wider at higher levels of award.”

Where then does the SNP direct the Scottish taxpayers’ resources?  Not towards to the poor but rather to help its own supporters in the wealthy bureaucratic elite that runs Scotland and amongst younger members of the middle class.

This is demonstrated by the extensive £6 billion range of election bribes offered by the SNP at the current election. You don’t help the poor by financing fee dental care for all – those on low incomes already get free dental care anyway. You don’t help poor kids by handing free bikes and laptops to all schoolchildren. You help them by improving the quality of education poorer kids receive. We used to be good at this in Scotland, education was once a key route out of poverty.

The full range of election bribes are not, in any case, affordable. Money to pay for them has been pulled together by skimping on or cutting other areas. For example by the SNP is not distributing all the Covid relief money received from the UK Treasury, £2.7 billion of which is unaccounted for, according to the Scottish Auditor General.

The SNP has also spent less on health.  As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has explained, “the NHS has been prioritised to a lesser extent than in England. As a result, Scottish health spending per person is now just 3 per cent higher than in England, versus 22 per cent at the start of the devolution”.

Lower spending on health has been accompanied by harsh cuts elsewhere. For example when the SNP came to power there were 352 rehab beds and 455 annual drug deaths but – after SNP funding cuts by 2018 the rehab beds had dropped to 70 and the annual drug deaths had risen to 1187. Other funds have been raised by brutal cuts to local government services. Cuts since 2014 have amounted to £1,544 per household and many services have worsened significantly.  Further cuts are being made. For example, the SNP-run Glasgow council has announced that an extraordinary 40 sports venues or pitches, five libraries, and 11 community centres are being permanently closed.

The need for cuts to enable the SNP to afford its election bribes is derived from SNP failure on the economy.  Growth is a third less than the rest of the UK and there is both lower investment and lower productivity. This not only means fewer good jobs but also lower tax revenues.

Failing to help the poor in order to provide election bribes to younger voters is not a sensible long-term strategy that has the interests of Scotland to heart.

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