Too many young people in Scotland are caught in the grip of poverty


Every young person we work with tells us of their desire to fulfil their potential.

Poverty prevents too many young people from making informed decisions, connecting with opportunities and being empowered to participate in society. During their journey into adulthood, these decisions and choices will impact their future lives.  

Young people living in poverty face challenges that those from the least deprived communities do not. They often must work harder to achieve their goals and get fewer opportunities to succeed. In response, the Scottish Government established the Scottish Attainment Challenge – to improve literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing in specific areas of Scotland. The aim is to ensure that all young people get the opportunities needed to fulfil their potential.

Attainment Challenge: National Strategic Partnership

In support of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, Young Scot and the Scottish Government set up the ‘Attainment Challenge: National Strategic Partnership’, working in collaboration with three Local Authorities, Transport Scotland, the National Entitlement Card Programme Office (NECPO) and the Improvement Service.

Managed by Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities and NECPO, over 700,000 young people have now been issued with a Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC). This connects them to services and opportunities offered by Local Authorities (school meals, smart building access and library services), the Scottish Government (concessionary travel) and Young Scot (Rewards and discounts).

We know that the Young Scot NEC can be used to reduce the cost of the school day. This is based on the outcomes of our collaboration with Renfrewshire Council’s Youth Services Model – which used the Young Scot NEC to provide free local travel for young jobseekers and care experienced young people.

Following on from the success of the pilot, we wanted to explore ways of using the smart-enabled Young Scot NEC in other innovative ways to improve the health and wellbeing of young people - which can help to reduce the impact of poverty.

North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and The Highland Council

During the first phase of the project, we worked with North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and The Highland Council who all used the Young Scot NEC to provide extra entitlements to disadvantaged local young people.

We worked with groups of young people in each area who told us what extra entitlements would improve their health and wellbeing. These included local information, travel tickets, weekend and holiday food provision, access to leisure and extra-curricular activities, and help to reduce the cost of the school day.

All Young Scot services and discounts were promoted locally, and the Young Scot NECs were used by the young people to access their extra entitlements. This created a non-stigmatising way of supporting them. 

Smart travel in Renfrewshire

Renfrewshire wanted to increase participation in education, volunteering and wider learning activities for their most disadvantaged young people. Using the Young Scot NEC, they offered free local transport which saved over £10,000 on 4,400 buses journeys. During the project, 111 young people received smart travel entitlements including 75 who receive free school meals, 18 care experienced young people, eight young people living in residential care, eight refugees and three young carers.

Stigma-free school breakfasts in North Ayrshire and Highland

A £1.50 breakfast deal is offered to all young people in North Ayrshire and Highland and is accessed using their Young Scot NEC. The cost was removed for young people who receive free school meals. During the project, 391 young people in S1-S6 in North Ayrshire, and 395 young people in S1-S3 in Highland received free school breakfasts. 

Tackling food insecurity in Highland and Renfrewshire

Hot breakfasts, meal deals and drinks were offered to groups of young people in Renfrewshire and Highland – all accessed using their Young Scot NEC as proof of entitlement. Over £6,000 was saved by young people and their families. In Wick, 20 young people facing rural poverty, and 20 young people who receive free school meals in Paisley, received extra food entitlements.

Leisure and sportswear in Highland and North Ayrshire

Free leisure centre memberships and spending credit for sportswear were linked to the Young Scot NEC. Over £3,000 was saved on memberships, and over £1,200 was saved on sportswear. Over 140 young people received entitlements, including 70 young people who receive free school meals and seven young carers.

Young Scot Rewards for extra-curricular activities in North Ayrshire

Young Scot Rewards were linked to after school activities. Over 110 activities were completed and 16 Rewards items were accessed, including study guides, stationery packs, laptops and tablets. There was also a 6% increase in engagement with Young Scot Rewards in North Ayrshire.


Our collaborations with Highland, North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire have created an efficient way for our partners to deliver extra entitlements which improve the health and wellbeing of young people. This demonstrates an innovative method of using the Young Scot NEC to challenge the impact of poverty.  

We hope that the learnings from these successful models can be shared and adapted to suit communities across Scotland. Already, we are partnering with North Lanarkshire, Falkirk and Dundee in phase two of the project.

Falkirk is supporting young people who are care experienced and is delivering travel and leisure entitlements as well as bespoke Rewards. North Lanarkshire is providing holiday entitlements to young people in Bellshill including free travel, leisure and food. In Dundee, young people who are care experienced and young carers have access to travel and food entitlements. Across all six Local Authority partnerships - there is much to learn and share with colleagues in communities throughout Scotland.

The future

In a country such as Scotland, every young person should have the chance to shine. However, no single organisation or project can solve this problem alone. A broad range of initiatives and cross-sector partnerships is essential if all young people are to reach their full potential – and be able to participate fully in a just and compassionate Scotland.

At Young Scot, we are proud to support young people to raise their voices against poverty and show what can be done to tackle this issue. If you would like to work in partnership with us, then please do get in touch.

Challenge Poverty Week 2019

Today marks the start of Challenge Poverty Week 2019. Click here to find out how you can get involved too.

Find out more about our Attainment Challenge: National Strategic Partnership.

Reid Aiton