Leader of UK Labour Party

Has the SNP overseen the biggest in-work poverty increase since devolution?

Campaigning ahead of June’s snap election has already begun.

In Scotland, Jeremy Corbyn spoke to supporters in Dunfermline as his party attempts to defy poor poll ratings north and south of the border.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

In his speech on 24 April, he argued that Labour alone could stop the Tories from forming a government, and attacked the record of the SNP at Holyrood.

Corbyn pointed to a statistic that suggested under the SNP, there had been the biggest in-work poverty increase since devolution.

Ferret Fact Service looked at Corbyn’s claim, and found it was mostly accurate but his wording left some room for debate.


The Labour leader was referring to Scottish in-work poverty statistics, which look at relative poverty both before housing costs (BHC) and after (AHC).

The figures have shown a fair amount of fluctuation in the period since the Scottish Parliament was convened in 1999, but in-work poverty has been broadly increasing.

According to the latest Scottish Government report, the proportion of working age adults in poverty (AHC) who were in working households in 2015-16 was 64%. This is an increase of six points on the year before.

The SNP took over the reins of power in 2007 after forming a minority government. At this point AHC in-work poverty was at 53%, and it has increased sharply in recent years with the latest statistics showing an all-time high since devolution. The lowest point for in-work poverty since Alex Salmond’s first government has been 50%.

Under the previous Labour government, which was in power at Holyrood from 1999 to 2007, in-work poverty (AHC) climbed from 49% of Scots in poverty, to 53% when they were voted out. At its peak, the percentage of adults in poverty who were in working households was 55%. In the first year after the Scottish Parliament was established, a low of 44% was achieved.

On this measure then, Jeremy Corbyn’s claim seems to be accurate. However, that is not the end of the story.

It is important to understand the statistics that the Labour leader is referring to, and what the term ‘in-work poverty’ actually means.

The Scottish Government’s ‘Employability in Scotland’ website defines the term as “individuals living in households where the household income is below the poverty threshold despite one member of the household working either full or part time.”

The relative poverty threshold refers to households earning under 60% of the median income in the UK. Poverty is measured at the household level on the assumption that income is shared equally across all members of the household.

However, it is important to note that the figures above do not show in-work poverty as a percentage of the Scottish population, but instead as a proportion of people in poverty who are in households where at least one person is working.

So what they tell us is that most of those in poverty are in households where someone is working.

The purpose of this measure is to take into account that while employment rates in Scotland have increased since devolution, working alone does not end relative poverty. This was adopted as UK and Scottish government policy in the last decade.

A 2008 HM Treasury report explained the value of assessing in-work poverty: “Work is the surest route out of poverty but not an immediate guarantee: a combination of low wages and/or low hours in low skilled jobs may mean that working families remain in poverty.”

While the percentage of Scots defined as being in-work poverty may have increased, there are a number of other factors which need to be taken into account when assessing what the figures mean.

The percentage of those in poverty compared to the entire Scottish population has not increased so sharply, with the 2015-16 statistics showing 12% of households (AHC) with at least one adult working are in poverty. This is an increase of just three percentage points since devolution.

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Looking at the estimated numbers of Scots suffering in-work poverty also paints a slightly different picture. While the SNP has presided over an increase since 2007, the difference has only begun to show clearly in the last four years.

The statistical information in the study comes from a household survey with a large Scottish sample (2,700 households in 2015-16). So it can only give approximate numbers, and caution should be exercised when comparing years.

And as the equivalised data is measured by household, those adults considered to be suffering from in-work poverty may not necessarily be in employment. Instead many are not working but in houses where at least one adult does work.

So when Corbyn talked about the numbers of people working, he was referring to adult individuals in households where someone is working. This can lead to an inaccurate impression of the number of individuals in poverty who are actually earning themselves.

There has been research into the impact that different levels of employment in a household can have on poverty levels.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True

Jeremy Corbyn is correct that, under the SNP, those suffering in-work poverty increased at the highest rate since devolution. However, the statistics he is referring to do not necessarily reflect the whole picture.

Mostly True

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

In response to an FFS request for supporting evidence for his claim, Scottish Labour provided the latest report on Poverty and Inequality in Scotland. 


Correction: This fact check originally stated the Scottish Parliament was ‘first convened’ in 1999. This has been changed to ‘convened’ to take into account the previous parliament in Scotland, which was adjourned in 1707.

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