About poverty and trauma

Poverty and trauma (especially in childhood) can affect people’s wellbeing and life chances significantly. Find out more about the wider context in Scotland.

Our focus recognises the heavy but unnecessary burden that poverty and trauma place on the overall wellbeing of people, families and communities, and the detrimental impact this can have.

The world around us is changing rapidly. Technology, changing working patterns and climate change are fundamentally altering our day-to-day lives. Evidence suggests that it is people who are already struggling with economic hardships that are most likely to be affected.

More recently, the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated many of these shifts and the impact they can have on people and communities – including financial inequality, social isolation and poor health and wellbeing.

Poverty in Scotland

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, poverty in Scotland was on the rise. Figures show that, overall, poverty declined in the first decade of the 21st century before beginning to rise again from around 2012.

Poverty can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. Over and above immediate financial hardship, those living with poverty also face stress, social isolation, shame and stigma. In the longer term, poverty affects people’s health and wellbeing, limits their ability to live fulfilling lives and can lead to a wide range of lifelong negative outcomes.

An estimated 17% of Scotland's population (910,000 people each year) were living in absolute poverty after housing costs in 2016-19. 

In that period, an estimated 24% of children (230,000 each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs.

Source: Scottish Government, Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland: 2015-2018


The last two decades have brought an increased understanding of how a person’s experience in childhood can affect them throughout their whole life. There is growing evidence that trauma, particularly when experienced during childhood, can impact on an individual’s long-term health, wellbeing, educational and life chances. Trauma can and does occur at all stages of life.

The toxic stress caused by childhood trauma (often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs) can affect healthy brain development. There is also growing evidence that experiencing trauma as a child can bring about physiological changes to a person’s body as well. Indeed, there are links between ACEs and the likelihood of developing long-term health problems such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

"An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 people in Scotland are affected by their Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)."

How do poverty and trauma interact?

The links between poverty and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are complex, but there is growing evidence of an association between deprivation and ACEs, and that risk factors “cluster together in the lives of the most disadvantaged young people”.

There is also evidence that people who experience ACEs are more likely to experience poverty as an adult. When children experience poverty and trauma at the same time, the impacts can be even more profound and damaging and can extend well beyond childhood.

Poverty and Trauma briefing paper

Read our literature and policy review of poverty and trauma in Scotland to see what has shaped our thinking in this area.

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Find out more

Apply for funding
Does your organisation or project support people and communities in Scotland with experience of poverty and trauma? If so, you might be eligible for funding from us.

Our strategy
Take a look at our strategy 2020-2030 for more about how we plan to help alleviate poverty and trauma in Scotland.