The U.K. has been one of the wealthiest countries on the planet for centuries. Despite this, however, poverty remains a serious issue in the country. An estimated 13.5 million people live below the poverty line. Last year, one in five people struggled to put food on their table, with more than half a million reliant on food banks in order to feed themselves and their families. The question remains as to what the primary causes of poverty in the U.K. actually are.
- It may seem counter-intuitive to think that for a country recording its lowest rates of unemployment, that employment could be a cause of poverty. While work is assumed to be the main way for people to escape poverty, this is not always the case. For those in low-paid jobs or part-time work, income can be limited. Coupled with such positions often have little potential for progression, certain employment opportunities seem to exacerbate poverty rather than offer the relief many people need.
- A lack of education and technical skills is another primary cause of poverty in the U.K. Around five million U.K. adults do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills, leaving them at a serious disadvantage when it comes to finding gainful employment. Compounding matters, 12.6 million lack any form of digital skills, since many employment opportunities involve at least a small amount of computer use.
- Issues in home life can facilitate a fall into poverty, for example, domestic violence, substance abuse or underemployment. Children are often at risk in situations such as these, with research showing that boys raised in a difficult household are far likelier to be excluded from school or become involved in criminal activity. For girls, the situation is similar, with those growing up in similar circumstances show to be more at risk of mental health problems as well as more likely to enter into early parenthood, at times characterized by further abuse.
- Inadequacies in the benefits system can also cause further poverty. For many, the system can be difficult to understand and navigate, which can lead to mistakes or delays in payment. For many, the benefits they receive are simply not enough to help them avoid poverty. In fact, it is estimated that for a family with one child claiming benefits, receives around 65 percent of the required amount to keep them above the poverty line.
- The final primary driver of poverty in the U.K. is the cost of goods and services. Between 2008 and 2014, living costs increased three times faster than the average wage. The cost of housing, food and utilities have quickly risen in recent years, with increased childcare costs also placing a strain on families’ finances.
While these issues are problematic for many people across the U.K., attempts have been made to alleviate the damage. The national living wage, introduced in 2016, was created in order to reflect the costs incurred by working people in the country. There are charities such as the Child Poverty Action Group and End Child Poverty that target vulnerable families. Though it may take time, the fight is certainly underway against poverty in the U.K.
– Gavin Callander