Tackling persistent poverty

Tackling persistent poverty in Britain

It has been stated in the most recent Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report (Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), 2010) that in 2008/2009 13 million people in Britain were living in poverty. Of these, “5.8 million were in ‘deep poverty’ (household income at least one-third below the poverty line”.

For a country that can boast the accolade for being the fifth richest in the world, this is a surprising statistic. Furthermore employment and education is decreasing, suggesting that poverty in Britain is a social problem that is set to continue into the next decade.

 Defining poverty

Peter Townsend offers a conclusive definition of poverty, outlining it “as those people whose resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities” (Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research).

The severity of poverty is also classified. ‘Relative poverty’ is a situation where there is a lack of perceived basic needs when compared to the average and ‘absolute poverty’ is where a number of basic necessities which sustain life are lacking. Examples of some of the indicators used in measuring poverty include: an inside toilet, beds and bedding for everyone, a damp-free house, 3 meals a day for children and 2 meals a day for adults.

Who is most at risk?

There are certain demographics that are more susceptible to poverty. Single parent households are particularly at risk and research has found that 89% of lone parents with 3 or more children are living in poverty. This percentage increases further if the children are under the age of 4.

Other demographics particularly at risk are those people of non-white origin, specifically those of Black or Bangladeshi ethnic affiliation. In 1999 71% of Black people in Britain were living in poverty and an astounding 92% Bangladeshi (Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, JRF 2000).

This has significant implications not only for the people suffering below the poverty line but also to the ever growing disparity between ethnic groups in modern day Britain.

Those people receiving job seekers allowance and income support have a greater tendency to be living below the poverty line. One in eight of the economically active population claimed Job Seekers Allowance at least once between 2008 and 2010 and this was thought to be exacerbated by the recession (Monitoring Poverty and Social Change, JRF 2010).

The root causes of poverty


A lack of sufficient funds that can support basic life is seen to be the greatest and most significant root cause of poverty. Professor David Gordon stated that “wages and benefits are too low” and therefore breaking the poverty cycle is extremely difficult for those in unemployment or part-time, low paid work.

Currently the minimum wage stands at £5.93 for those over 21. However the wage for school leavers (ages 16-17) has been criticised the most for being too low and possibly encouraging poverty (£3.64).

A campaign for a Living Wage has spread from Baltimore, USA in 1994 to now become a force in Britain, being lead by London Citizens. The Living Wage Campaign calls for every worker in the country to earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life. Launched by London Citizens in 2001, the campaign has won over £40 million of Living Wages, lifting over 6,500 families out of working poverty.

Leading organizations such as KPMG and Barclays, the Olympic Delivery Authority and the Greater London Authority have gone Living Wage and become influential advocates. It is also championed by politicians including Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Professor Jane Wills from Queen Mary, University of London has been researching the living wage since 2001.


There is a common belief that poverty can impede a child’s education. Children’s social background can greatly influence their educational experience and it is suggested that children from low-income backgrounds are less confident in school and feel that they have reduced prospects in the future. As a result, these children are typically more resentful about schooling and this trend can be inherited through generations.


The consumerism trend in modern day Britain is aiding to the increasing levels of poverty. Television and other media outlets are corrupting the real needs of growing children and replacing them with consumer goods which are expensive and unneccessary.

What can be done to eradicate poverty?

The labour government in 1999 pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and have it cut from 4.1million to 3.1 million by April 2010. However, this target was not quite reached as the Department for Work and Pension found that child poverty had decreased by 700,000, therefore missing the target by 300,000.

Effective social mobility is seemingly scarce in Britain but still considered to be the preferential solution to poverty when compared to social security. High dependency on social security has been criticized for slowing social mobility and has been compared to ‘glass ceiling’ which prevents liberation from helping themselves out of poverty.

Policies are needed which target the root causes of poverty, including addressing the high young adult unemployment levels and dwindling education statistics in this country. The new coalition government is proposing to concentrate on the long term causes of poverty and according to the Department for Education there has been “an over-reliance on short term measures”.

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