An insight into UK poverty

By: Rhiannon Harradine, Student, aged 19. | @rhia97eq | Facebook | Blog

It's that time of year again when we are all preparing for Christmas and the New Year. We are all busy with work, college or university and many of us will have a few things on their wish list. I'm the same - clothes, shoes, make up, perfume, etc! In recent years, we have all had to cut back on our spending. The economic crash of 2008/9 affected everyone and even eight years later, many of us are still feeling at least slightly squeezed.

It is also at this time of year that I am preparing a small shoebox of items to be sent off to a child living in poverty somewhere in the world. I'm donating to a scheme called Operation Christmas Child, run by the Samaritan's Purse. To contribute, you fill a shoebox with presents (toys & essentials), wrap it in Christmas paper and drop it off at a collection point. The photo attached to this post is of the box I'm going to donate. It's for a girl aged 2-4 and it includes a teddy bear, some bath toys, a colouring book and crayons, some washcloths and sponges, a toothbrush and some toothpaste. It is a reminder of how lucky most of us are, when some families cannot even afford basic necessities or a Christmas present for their child.

Poverty in the UK Today

Today, I'm focusing on poverty in the UK. This is mostly because I have been struck by the fact that, in a developed country like the UK, there are still millions of people living in poverty. The British Government defines the poverty line as 60% of the median UK household income. This is roughly equivalent to £320 per week in 2016.

I'm going to start by giving you a few statistics on poverty in the UK:
  • 1/4 children in the UK are living in poverty
  • 63% of those children are living in households where at least one adult is in work
  • 2.2 million pensioners are living in poverty
  • There are an estimated 380,000 "hidden homeless" in the UK
  • 33% of homes are seen as lacking essential household items (2012)

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), the proportion of people with a job has risen at the fastest rate for 25 years (74%). The number of children growing up in a jobless household has decreased from 23% in 1990 to 13% in 2014. Sounds great, doesn't it? What the IFS has also found is that average earnings (in real terms) have gone down.

The 90th percentile (people at the top end of the scale) earn on average £947 per week, whilst the 10th percentile (the lowest end of the scale) earn on average £244 per week. Those at the top end of the scale are earning around four times those at the bottom. This is about the same as it was in 1990. What this tells us is that economic inequality hasn't made much progress for 26 years.

I mentioned earlier that 63% of children living in poverty are living in working households. Frankly, this is just ridiculous. How is it that a developed country like the UK still, in the 21st century, has working people who simply cannot earn enough to feed, clothe and heat themselves.

It is clear to see that wages just aren't keeping up with inflation. We all know that the costs of food, fuel and housing have all gone up. For those on the minimum wage, it is becoming even harder to afford these essentials.

New Essentials

Another point I would like to bring up is the changes in what may be considered a necessity today. A person needs food, clean water and shelter in order to survive. However, there are other things that people perhaps need in order to get themselves out of the downward spiral of poverty. I'm going to list a few suggestions below:

  • Internet access via a smartphone, computer or laptop: Many job applications now have to be done online, as do a lot of government forms such as benefit claims and tax returns. This could be done at a public library, but not all areas have one. Also, a lot of schools and colleges now require homework to be completed or submitted online, so lacking a computer can have a negative effect of a child's education.
  • A presentable outfit: We all know it's standard practice to dress well for interviews. For men, this usually means a suit, smart shoes and possibly a tie; for women a smart outfit and hair and makeup done. Again, makeup is expensive and it's not essential to everyday survival, so it's easy to disregard the difference it could make.
  • A car: Again, it's expensive but it's necessary for transport, especially in rural areas. Plenty of jobs require the applicant to at least have a driving license.

Children and Poverty

Poverty affects children in a number of ways. For example, children who are on free school meals are less likely that other children to achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE. This is due to a number of reasons. Families living in poverty may not be able to afford good food and heating, making their children more prone to illness. Houses that are cold, damp or overcrowded prevent children from sleeping or being able to study properly. As a result, poor children are more likely to be absent from school or lack concentration, so they don't do as well. Poor parents are less likely to be able to afford to support their child at university, so they aren't then able to get a degree and access better jobs.
Children growing up in poor households also miss out in other ways. Their parents may not be able to afford to send them on school trips and they may not be able to afford fashionable clothes or the latest phones for their children, who are then stigmatised and excluded from friendship groups as a result. It's clear that growing up in poverty dramatically increases a person's chances of remaining in poverty as an adult.

I wrote this article with the intention of providing an insight into poverty in the UK. It exists, and it is not going away. In my opinion, the British government should be doing much more to help people in poverty. The main issue is the economy: There needs to be jobs for people and people need to be able to earn enough to afford a decent standard of living. There needs to be reform of the welfare system to make benefits available and sufficient for those who need them, and the system cannot punish those who work but whose wages do not go far enough.
An insight into UK poverty An insight into UK poverty Reviewed by Student Voices on 10:13 Rating: 5

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