Press Story

IPPR Scotland has warned that tens of thousands of adults and children are at risk of remaining trapped in poverty in the absence of good, secure and well-paid work. The new analysis comes at a time when more than a quarter of a million unemployed people in Scotland are looking for work but are being defeated by a system that purports to support them.

The Scottish government has made employment for parents a central plank of its child poverty agenda. New analysis from the think tank finds that boosting fair working conditions has immense benefits – for both individuals and the economy.

  • Simply ensuring every working person is paid the living wage would lift around 70,000 people out of poverty.
  • Going further and bringing people who do not work into either part-time or full-time work would lift 90,000 and 110,000 people, respectively, out of poverty.
  • More people working, and in good conditions, could raise up to an extra £1.6 billion from a combination of higher tax and national insurance contributions, and save over £600 million a year on social security spending.

However, the research uncovers that despite the prize on offer, Scotland’s devolved employability programmes (No One Left Behind and Fair Start Scotland) while hugely valued by people accessing them – are not yet meeting their ambitions. Based on current progress:

  • No One Left Behind and Fair Start Scotland struggle from a lack of scale – of funding, delivery, and impact.
  • The Scottish government’s aim to help 12,000 parents into sustained employment could require a 200 per cent increase in the number of parents entering work each year.
  • The Scottish government’s aim to see 86,000 parents supported by devolved employability programmes would require a near 300 per cent increase in the number of parents starting on those programmes.

Working against the potential offered by employability, however, the report also finds that split responsibility between UK and Scottish governments can limit the scale and reach of devolved programmes– and bring damaging experiences and outcomes for users.

  • In the most recent quarter, only 3 per cent of the total population of people in Scotland who do not work were enrolled on a devolved employment programme.
  • Most people looking for work go through the reserved Jobcentre Plus system. There are vast disparities in philosophy and culture of approach, which leaves people feeling largely unvalued and unsupported.
  • The system pushes people to take any available job, regardless of their interest or capacity.
  • There is little flexibility or compassion, and a constant fear of being sanctioned for the slightest misstep looms.

The report makes several recommendations for reforms within existing schemes and identifies areas of improvement within the powers of the Scottish parliament. These include strengthening the role of the third sector, providing the necessary scale of funding and delivery, and ensuring greater accountability.

But it also finds that realising the full potential of employability in tackling poverty also necessitates changes in more fundamental ways. The think tank argues that all employment support powers, including policy and administrative responsibility for the Jobcentre Plus network, should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Philip Whyte, director of IPPR Scotland, said:

“The current system is arguably failing countless people who are trapped between a devolved system that suffers from a lack of scale and a reserved system that is more often punitive than supportive.

While devolved programmes show signs of success – but could yet do more – ultimately, they are held back by responsibility being split across governments and a reserved Jobcentre system which is more often focussed on compliance than helping people reach their full potential.

A reformed system – through increased powers – would be the next natural step in delivering a system that is person-centric and works towards positive outcomes, so that more people can enter, stay and progress in meaningful work. That’s not just good for individuals and families but also good for economy.”  


Philip Whyte, IPPR Scotland Director, is available for interviews.


Sukhada Tatke, media and impact officer at IPPR Scotland 07901169121  


  1. IPPR Scotland shapes public policy in pursuit of a fairer, greener, more prosperous Scotland.