Challenges from the frontline - revisited

Publication date 2020

Supporting families with multiple adversities in Scotland during a time of austerity

In 2013 we investigated how welfare reform and austerity policies were affecting work with vulnerable families in Scotland. We interviewed the staff at 14 Intensive Family Support Services run by Barnardo’s Scotland.

We found that the way services respond to families struggling with complex challenges had to change, in order to match the changing scale and severity of pressures on families.

In 2019 we revisited the services to see how six more years of austerity has affected the most disadvantaged children and families in Scotland and the services designed to support them.

This time we also explored the barriers to learning experienced by school children, the types of needs being presented within primary schools, and the support accessible within them.

Author: Susan Galloway
Published: 2020


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Download the 2020 report (PDF)
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Download the 2014 report (PDF)

Key finding

Poverty remains the core issue for families

Increasingly, services are seeing families living in destitution (where they have been unable to afford two or more of essentials such as shelter, food, heating, clothing and basic toiletries over the past month). Services attributed this to welfare reform, the roll-out of universal credit and benefit sanctions.

Additional findings

Severe hardship is affecting parents’ mental health and family relationships

Families referred to Intensive Family Support Services have more complex difficulties and greater needs than was the case in 2013.

Intensive support for families has been reduced in the last six years

Intensive Family Support services report significant cuts in local authority funding having taken place since 2013, or are anticipated imminently.

Six of the 14 Intensive Family Support services visited in 2013 have now closed and access to services has either reduced or been removed altogether in five local authority areas.

To address this we recommend the Scottish Government provides:

  • A more comprehensive and better resourced provision of family support in local areas which meets the scale of need in communities.
  • A clear vision for family income in Scotland which ensures that all families have enough money to live with dignity.
  • Adequate resourcing for the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in Scotland which shifts public investment towards children and family services.


What service managers told us

Within abusive relationships, the payment goes to the one parent and very often it’s being paid into the abusive parent’s account. So, we’ve got mums who the benefit is being paid into the account of the dad who uses that as an increased level of coercion and control over the victim within that relationship.”

Service manager
“A lot of children talking about being hungry and on a regular basis… We have families who often won’t open the door to us at school holidays and I think that’s because they don’t want us to have access to children so we find out what is going on…”

Service manager


Galloway, S. (2020) Challenges from the frontline – revisited: supporting families with multiple adversities in Scotland during a time of austerity. London: NSPCC.

Scullin, K. and Galloway, S. (2014) Challenges from the frontline: supporting families with multiple adversities in a time of austerity. Edinburgh: NSPCC Scotland.