What is poverty and how can you help right now

What is poverty in the UK?

Defining poverty 

Poverty in the UK is difficult to define. What we do know is that despite Great Britain being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, 13.5 million people in the UK live under the poverty line. Poverty is not just the homeless people you see living on the street. There is a lot of people living in poverty that we can’t see. Lots of these people are families that are struggling to earn enough to support themselves and buy the essentials needed to live a basic life. 

Poverty is not just the image the media displays to us of homelessness and the unemployed destitute on the streets. Living in any sort of poverty can have a detrimental effect on someone’s wellbeing and health – both physically and mentally and limits their opportunities to live a full and happy life.

Levels and measurements of poverty

Poverty can generally be broken down into two main categories. Relative poverty and absolute poverty. Relative poverty is when households have less than 60% of contemporary median income. Relative poverty means that a person can’t afford an ‘ordinary living pattern’. They do not have the capabilities to enjoy the activities and opportunities that the average person enjoys.

Absolute poverty means that a person cannot even afford the basics to survive. Such as food, clothing and shelter. Living without access to these basic means can have a detrimental effect on a person’s health, both mentally and physically. Absolute poverty is slightly trickier to achieve an accurate result on, as it is hard to keep track of people who are homeless.

How do people end up in poverty?

There are numerous causes and pathways that unfortunately allow someone to fall into poverty. 

  • Problems at home and in a person’s personal life contribute to a small number of people falling into poverty. If someone is having issues in their home life, for example, domestic or substance abuse, it can lead them to a downward spiral into poverty. This is especially true if they are lacking support from other friends or family members and end up having no one to turn to. The breakdown of a marriage or relationship can also cause someone to fall into poverty. 
  • A lack of education and technical skills is also a cause of poverty in the UK, as it limits the person’s ability to get into employment. Sadly, there are 5 million people living in the UK who don’t have basic numeracy and literacy skills. Combine that with the 12.6 million that don’t have digital skills, employers will most often overlook these people. In 2018, most jobs involve at least a small amount of computer use. 
  • The cost of living in the UK has risen dramatically in recent years. Living costs are increasing quicker than the average wage, making it harder for people on minimum wage or benefits to keep up with the increasing costs. Electricity, council tax, broadband and phone bills are expenses that add up. As well as the huge increase in cost for childcare. For people already struggling, the inability to keep up with payments like these can lead them into poverty. 
  • Faults in the benefits system. The benefits system is a scheme designed to combat poverty. However, when combined with high costs, sometimes the amount of money people receive is not always enough. Other times complications arise due to the confusing nature of applying for benefits, such as payment delays and incorrect calculations due to mistakes on application forms. 

The effects of poverty on an individual

Poverty is both a physical state and a mental one. Regardless of the causes, poverty has devastating consequences for the people who live in it. The effect living in poverty has on an individual can cause multiple problems for the person. 

People living in poverty often suffer from poor health, malnutrition, and mental health problems. It is also easier for people in poverty to fall into delinquency and criminality. All these problems lead to a never-ending poverty cycle. People in poverty constantly live in fear, wondering where their next meal will come from, and struggling to break the cycle of poverty. 

4 million children still live in poverty in the UK

It is a sad fact that children living in poverty are more likely to live in poverty as an adult. When children grow up poor, they miss out on a lot of things that children from wealthier families get to experience. School trips, warm clothes, healthy meals and days out with their family and friends. 

When it comes to exams, there is a 28 per cent gap between the children receiving free school meals and their wealthier classmates in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades. This shows that children who are exposed to poverty at a young age still suffer the consequences when they progress into adulthood. Statistics show they are far more likely to be excluded from school or become involved with criminal activity. Women who grow up with poorer backgrounds are far more likely to enter parenthood early and suffer mental health problems. How can these children break the cycle of poverty and expect to live a more fulfilling life? 

So, why does poverty still exist in the UK in 2018? 

The increased cost of living in the UK in recent years has unfortunately caused people to fall into poverty. The cost of essentials such as food and housing increased 3 times faster than the average wage between 2008-2014. Childcare costs are rapidly increasing making it difficult for parents to stay in work and justify paying so much.

 Lots of children are still born into unstable and low-income families, lowering their chances of escaping poverty as an adult. Combined with the rise in zero – hours contracts and the sheer amount of people with low-level skills this has created a concoction for people still experiencing poverty in 2018. 

Austerity has meant fewer resources are available to tackle poverty, leaving people on low incomes at risk. The EU referendum vote to leave was a clear indication that poverty in the UK is now an economic and political problem. The majority of ‘leave’ voters came from the more deprived areas of the country. 

How can we solve poverty in the UK and make a change? 

We are still a long way off from eliminating poverty in the UK. As the number of households in the economy grows, it’s likely that the number of households living in poverty will grow. Thankfully statistics show that absolute poverty has fallen slightly over the last ten years. However relative poverty has remained very much the same. Here are a few examples of what can be done to help: 

  • Creating more jobs that offer at least the living wage and reducing the number of jobs that offer zero hours contract. 
  • Support a local charity working to combat charity, such as Pledge
  • Delivering an effective benefit system to help those already less well off.  
  • Improving education standards and making sure children from low-income families stay in school. This would ensure no child misses out regardless of their background
  • Support good parenting and helping parents on low incomes to access cheaper childcare so they can stay in work. 

Ultimately, a fundamental change needs to be made by a lot of higher powers. Changes also need to be made by people such as employers and landlords, communities and even the demographics of people living in poverty themselves. The UK can be poverty free if we all pull together to make a genuine effort to help those in need.

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