More than one in three people in Perth and Kinross are now living in or on the edge of poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic .
The bleak news was presented as part of Perth and Kinross Council ’s Education Improvement Plan for 2021/22 which was put to PKC’s lifelong learning committee last week.
The report estimated around one in five Perth and Kinross children live in poverty.
It added: “In 2020, around 1350 pupils (P4 and older) were registered for free school meals and by the end of 2020/21, 2275 pupils received a clothing grant (around 13 per cent of the roll).”
Between April and June 2020 there was a 148 per cent increase in crisis loan applications.
The report said thousands of jobs had been lost in the region during the pandemic.
It said: “Finding work is also becoming more difficult, with one in every eight
households feeling the effects of worklessness and recent figures suggest Perth and Kinross now suffers from a job deficit of 2800 jobs.
“As such, currently over one in three people in Perth and Kinross are living in or on the edge of poverty, one in five have no savings to fall back on, and one in five of those in work earn below the Living Wage.
“Just under one in three workers in Perth and Kinross are in lower paid occupations.
“The additional harms caused by the pandemic have not been distributed evenly.”
The number of people claiming Universal Credit in Perth City has increased to above the national average.
The report said: “Before lockdown, Perth City had a rate of 3.1 per cent which was below Scotland.
“In May, Perth City rate of 6.4 per cent exceeded the Scottish rate of 6.2 per cent.
“Between March 2020 and January 2021, the overall unemployment claimant count in Perth and Kinross rose by 119 per cent (up 2220 individuals), with the unemployment rate rising from two per cent to 4.4 per cent.
“The 18-24 age group saw an even higher percentage increase, going from 345 (3.3 per cent) individuals to 825 (7.9 per cent), an overall rise of 480 or +139 per cent.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Liz Barrett asked the education team how the council would address the “very stubborn gap” in terms of a poverty-related attainment.
PKC’s head of education and learning Sharon Johnston told the committee: “Poverty has increased over the pandemic because of the impact on the local economy and the impact the pandemic has had on that.”
Ms Johnston said poverty was spread over a large geographical rural area and PKC had settled on three important priorities in its planning in terms of excellence and equity.
One was inclusive practice to support an increasing number of children with recorded additional support needs.
This is at a classroom level and right the way through to support from partnerships and central services.
Councillors were told a second priority was strengthening partnerships with children, young people, parents and the people who support schools.
PKC’s third priority is investing in professional learning and development for practitioners, support staff, specialist teachers and school leaders to ensure everyone is “well equipped with an understanding of what the gaps are and what they can do about it.
Moving the report, Conservative councillor John Duff said: “The improvement plan reflects our vision for our children and young people and sets out our ambition to improve attainment and achievement and reduce inequalities.”
SNP councillor John Rebbeck acknowledged Cllr Barrett’s remarks the attainment gap was “long standing” and “very stubborn.”
He said there was no “quick fix” or “easy answer” and added: “It is what understanding adverse childhood experience is all about.
“It is what extra funding for teachers is all about, it is what the Pupil Equity Fund is all about, it is what free school meals for all primary children are about.
“And above all it is what the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare is all about.
“I think there’s a lot of hard work to be done but I think everybody involved is willing to get on with that hard work.”