Governments ‘must do more’ to address poverty’

Posted on 20/08/2014 by


Largest UK poverty study calls on governments to tackle rising deprivation


The percentage of households who fall below society’s minimum standard of living has increased from 14 per cent to 33 per cent over the last 30 years, despite the size of the economy doubling. This is one of the stark findings from the largest study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK.

Other key figures reveal that almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions; 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities; one in three people cannot afford to heat their homes adequately in the winter and four million children and adults aren’t properly fed by today’s standards.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom (PSE) project, led by the University of Bristol and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC], has shown that full-time work is not always sufficient to escape from poverty and calls on the Scottish and UK governments to take action.

The report’s findings will be discussed at a conference in Edinburgh.

Researchers from the University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, the Open University, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Glasgow, University of Oxford, University of Birmingham, University of York, the National Centre for Social Research and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency found that:
• About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing.
• Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
• Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.
• One in four adults have incomes below what they consider is needed to avoid poverty.
• One in every six (17 per cent) adults in paid work are poor.
• More than one in five adults have had to borrow in the last year to pay for day to day needs.

The PSE standard of living survey results show that more than one in every five (22 per cent) children and adults were poor at the end of 2012. They had both a low income and were also ‘multiply deprived’ – suffering from three or more deprivations such as lack of food, heating and clothing due to a lack of money.

povertyMore than one in four adults (28 per cent) have skimped on their own food in the past year so that others in the household may eat. Despite this over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly.

In 93% of households where children suffer from food deprivation, at least one adult skimped on their own food ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ to ensure others have enough to eat. Women were more likely to cut back than men – 44 per cent of women had cut back on four or more items (such as food, buying clothes and social visits) in the last 12 months compared to 34 per cent of men.

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, from the University of York, said: “The research has shown that in many households parents sacrifice their own welfare – going without adequate food, clothing or a social life – in order to try to protect their children from poverty and deprivation.”

payday loansWages are low and working conditions are bad in many parts of the UK. One in every six (17 per cent) adults in paid work are poor – they suffer from both a low income and cannot afford basic necessities.

For a large number of people, even full-time work is not sufficient to escape from poverty. Almost half of the working poor work 40 hours a week or more. One third of adults currently in employment (35 per cent) are in ‘exclusionary work’ – in poverty, in low quality work and/or have experienced prolonged periods of unemployment in the last five years.

Nick Bailey, from the University of Glasgow, said: “The UK government continues to ignore the working poor; they do not have adequate policies to address this growing problem.”

Although more people today see a range of public services as ‘essential’ than in 1999, including libraries, sports centres, museums, galleries, dentists and opticians, the use of many services has declined since 1999 primarily due to reduced availability, cost or inadequacy.

Professor Glen Bramley, from Herriot-Watt University, said: “It is worrying that in the 21st century more than 40 per cent of households who want to use meals on wheels, evening classes, museums, youth clubs, citizens’ advice or special transport cannot do so due to unavailability, unaffordability or inadequacy.”

The findings will be discussed at an Edinburgh conference which has been jointly organised by the PSE team and the Scottish government.