Exploring the impacts of assets and vulnerabilities of families experiencing multidimensional poverty and income inequality on children's early cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural developmental outcomes in Scotland
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Living in poverty and persistent low income has detrimental impacts on many facets of the lives of parents and children. During the early years of the new millennium this was of primary concern to the Scottish and UK governments: in response, policies were implemented to improve children's developmental outcomes, and to increase both maternal employment and levels of income for low paid and unemployed families. Previous qualitative research on families living in poverty revealed that families have varying degrees of additional vulnerability depending on their levels of social assets, e.g. social support, and financial vulnerabilities, e.g. debt and financial stress. High levels of social assets appeared to attenuate, and low levels of social assets appeared to exacerbate, the negative impacts of living in poverty. These social and financial assets/vulnerabilities comprise two of the five domains of the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) quantified for use in this thesis. This thesis explores what impacts, if any, social and financial assets/vulnerabilities have on children's cognitive (C) development, as measured by naming vocabulary and picture similarities, and on their social, emotional and behavioural (SEB) development as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. To achieve this aim this research uses the first five sweeps of the annually-collected longitudinal Growing up in Scotland (GUS) birth cohort study. The analysis uses the technique of factor analysis to derive the latent constructs financial and social assets/vulnerabilities, and OLS multiple regression analysis with quasi-variance to test the associations. The research employs multiple dimensions of economic disadvantage - longitudinal income poverty, material deprivation, longitudinal income poverty and material deprivation combined, and longitudinal income inequality - to explore the effects, not only between the lengths of time people have lived in poverty, but also across the income inequality spectrum, i.e. persistent low income versus persistent high income. The results of the research show that high maternal social assets and financial vulnerabilities separately are associated with higher and lower levels of child SEB development respectively, especially for children living in persistent low income. The relationship did not hold for children’s cognitive development. It also reveals that children whose mothers are experiencing additional financial stress and debt have lower CSEB scores (but not picture similarities), especially in relation to SEB development. There is also a relationship between social and financial assets/vulnerabilities: having high social assets is statistically associated with lower financial stress and debt for those living with lower incomes. This thesis argues that mothers, families and children living in poverty would benefit from policy and practice interventions that support geographical proximity of family and friends, that foster close and supportive wider family relationships, and that promote access to credit that does not lead to unmanageable debt and detrimental levels of additional financial stress. The research notes that while the SLA has been a useful theoretical framework, effectively quantified, the GUS data are limited in how effectively it can construct the SLA as it is not dedicated to its measurement.