Published on
14 October 2020

NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland reveal harrowing impact of years of austerity on vulnerable families across the country

Families’ needs are escalating while support services are diminishing, new research reveals
Children’s charities call on Scottish Government to invest in family support without delay

Years of austerity have had a harrowing impact on vulnerable families in Scotland with some now facing destitution, reveals NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland research published on 13 October 2020.

The report, Challenges from the Frontline – Revisited, highlights the devastating impact of the rollout of welfare reform on children and their families and the effects of local government funding cuts on the support available to them.

The research, a snapshot of life before Covid-19, describes rising need in the face of lessening resource, with some families struggling to obtain adequate food, secure housing and basic necessities. Despite long-standing commitment by the Scottish Government to early intervention and parenting support, the research found that too many families were coming to services already at crisis point.

Service managers told researchers that welfare reform had financially punished a whole section of the population.

One said: “…because so many of our families are on universal credit, that does not allow them to have a standard of living that meets the needs of those adults and children within the household. It simply does not.”

Another said: “It’s the poverty and disadvantage that we see now. It was always there, but it’s certainly exacerbated by the welfare reform over the past few years. The rise of foodbanks here is massive. Families use them on a regular basis and you can see that, families who come to us and are really struggling.”

NSPCC Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland are now calling on the Scottish Government to press ahead, as a matter of urgency, with the Independent Care Review’s vision of making intensive family support available to all who need it. The review’s Promise report sets out a blueprint of how this should be done.

The children’s charities also say the Scottish Government must articulate a clear vision for family income in Scotland, and set out how – within the current levers available – it will ensure that all families have enough money to live with dignity.

The report compares findings from research carried out with family support services in Scotland in 2013 and 2019. It concludes that in the intervening period severe hardship has affected parents’ mental health and family relationships, so that those now being referred have more complex difficulties and greater needs.

This is amid a landscape of local authorities and other public bodies continuing to face financial challenges. The research found evidence of family support services closing or being offered on a far more limited basis than had been the case in 2013.

Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland head of service, said: “Our research reveals that families were facing destitution, isolation and mental health struggles before the Covid-19 pandemic began.


“We found that against a backdrop of years of austerity there was escalating need for help from families who were struggling with more complex problems, being met with less support than before.

“We know that adverse and traumatic experiences in childhood can have a profound impact on a person’s life.

“And it is crucial this unacceptable situation, now compounded by the Covid-19 crisis, is addressed with a matter of urgency.”

Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “Supporting vulnerable families mitigates social inequality and improves children’s life opportunities.

“The Coronavirus crisis provides a huge opportunity to make meaningful, sustainable, transformative change. We need to harness the desire to do things differently, to reach out to families with a strengthened social safety net to prevent longer term difficulties developing in young people’s lives.

“The Independent Care Review’s Promise has given us a blueprint for family support and    we must deliver on this without delay.”


Spokespeople are available for interview.

For further information please contact the NSPCC Scotland’s press office on 0141 420 6546 or email [email protected] or Katrina Slater – Barnardo’s Scotland on 0208 498 7555 (24 hr) or email: [email protected] 

Notes to editors

Latest report

Earlier report

Research findings:

  • In 2013 most of the services were ‘core’ (revenue) funded by the Local Authority, either by Social Work or Education, or a combination of both. Just two of the 14 services did not receive most of their funding through a Local Authority. In these cases, the service relied upon donations and charitable giving for funding.
  • Six years later the financial position had in most cases worsened significantly. In 2019 most areas reported significant cuts in local authority funding having already happened, or being expected imminently.  A few services described the impact as ‘drastic’, ‘horrendous’ and ‘significant’.

About the NSPCC

The NSPCC is the leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse in the UK and Channel Islands. Using voluntary donations, which make up around 90 per cent of our funding, we help children who’ve been abused to rebuild their lives, we protect children at risk, and we find the best ways of preventing child abuse from ever happening. So when a child needs a helping hand, we’ll be there. When parents are finding it tough, we’ll help. When laws need to change, or governments need to do more, we won’t give up until things improve.

Our Childline service provides a safe, confidential place for children with no one else to turn to, whatever their worry, whenever they need help.

Our free NSPCC helpline provides adults with a place they can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection. Adults can contact the helpline 365 days a year.

Barnardo’s Scotland work with more than 16,300 children and young people in over 140 specialised community-based services across Scotland and has around 100 shops.  We believe in children and we believe every young person has a right to thrive. Our vision is to realise Thomas Barnardo’s dream of a world where no child is turned away from the help that they need. Our work includes: fostering and adoption services and support; helping children break free from sexual exploitation; supporting young people leaving care; helping young people in to employment and helping children living in poverty.   

Visit to find out how you can get involved and show you believe in children.  Twitter: @BarnardosScot Facebook: Barnardo’s Scotland