What is the role of place in relation to poverty?
The place where children live can create additional challenges. Here we focus on two particular geographies where there is evidence of these additional barriers: rural areas, and areas of high deprivation.
Not all people who live in these areas are at a greater risk of poverty. Indeed, quantitative analysis of large datasets have tended to conclude that ‘neighbourhood effects’ are marginal when compared to other factors in explaining poverty  . For that reason, we have not treated these areas as high risk ‘priority’ groups. Instead, we are exploring where there is evidence that place can have a small, but potentially significant, impact for some low income households. This is primarily through access (or lack of access) to employment and public services, and due to additional costs of living.
On average, rates of poverty tend to be lower in rural areas. However, there are 40,000 children in rural areas that are in poverty, and the barriers to leaving poverty may be greater for those in rural areas. For example, lack of access to employment can also be an issue in rural areas. Poor public transport networks mean that people may not have good access to opportunities for employment, particularly if they rely on bus networks  . Access to services and support can be difficult. It is suggested that poverty in rural areas may be more isolating in its impact, due to the greater visibility of individuals within rural communities and a rural ideal of self-reliance. Poor adults in remote rural areas have been found to have particular problems with low levels of support  .
There is widespread evidence that rural areas, and remote and island communities in particular, experience higher costs of living for some goods and services. Highlands and Island Enterprise found that, typically, the minimum cost of living in remote rural Scotland ranged between 10% and 35% more than the equivalent in urban Britain in 2016. The cost of living in a rural town was found to be consistently more expensive in remote Scotland than in England, by up to 20% in 2016  . A 2017 Scottish Government report looked at the evidence on this in some detail  . In summary, the main areas where there is evidence of additional costs are: shopping; broadband; delivery costs; transport; childcare; and fuel costs.
Areas of high deprivation
Not all children in deprived areas are in low income households, but we estimate that around 60,000 children in the 15% most deprived areas are in relative poverty.
There is evidence that the combination of a weak economic base and physical barriers to accessing employment may limit employment opportunities. This is not always the case – some deprived areas are situated in close proximity to areas of relatively high employment demand. There is some evidence that place matters particularly to those who are disadvantaged in the labour market, as they tend to have a more ‘localised’ orientation than the population as a whole. Relocation may not be an option, in particular where this may restrict access to support networks that enable working, especially for childcare  .
Urban areas of deprivation can also be poorly served by public transport which can limit access to employment  . This is exacerbated by the growth in part-time employment and employment during anti-social hours, with public transport not always responding to the changing needs of the workforce.
Evidence suggests that social networks, particularly having connections between people from diverse groups (‘bridging capital’), are important for ‘getting-on’ – accessing good quality jobs and influencing services. This bridging capital may be less available in more deprived areas. Also, a reliance on strong social networks within more homogeneous groups (‘bonding capital’) by people in low-skilled work, declining industries and young people could keep them in these industries, and act as a barrier to accessing better paid, higher skilled employment. However, there is no proven ‘contagion’ effect of living with other people experiencing poverty. There is also no demonstrable evidence of a culture of worklessness, or the existence of an underclass of people in poverty with different social norms    .
Conversely, there is evidence that people in more deprived areas receive more support from social networks - for example, childcare is more often provided by relatives rather than through formal providers. A study of long-term unemployed people in Glasgow found that people who cycle in and out of employment use temporary boosts in income to provide short-term lending to others who need it. And a study of ethnicity and social networks found that social contacts in the immediate neighbourhood were important for coping with financial crises, for accessing information on the welfare and benefit system, and as an exchange of services  . Therefore, there are assets, as well as barriers, in areas where there are concentrations of low income households, which may help households alleviate poverty. However, the services supplied by these social networks may in some instances be in response to poor provision or inability to access public services, and can place a heavy burden on individuals and households.