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Although the United Kingdom (U.K.) is one of the largest economies in the world, the persistent battle with poverty is one that has plagued the nation for decades. Both the need for work and the average income level are nearly stagnant with little room for growth.

Persistent poverty is defined as experiencing low income continually for three or more years. For solutions to become clearer, the general public must become acquainted with the top 10 facts about poverty in the U.K.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in the U.K.

  1. Britain has a lower proportion of its population living in relative poverty than most other European countries. Relative poverty is defined as a household with a disposable income rate of less than 60 percent, often referred to as “at risk” poverty.
  2. This means that most impoverished people living the in U.K. fall under the term “persistent poverty,” pointing to more households having an even smaller disposable income as well as experiencing poverty for an extended period of time.
  3. There are 13.3 million people in poverty in the U.K., and about 4.1 million of that population are children under the age of 18. Couples with children are five times more likely to raise them in an impoverished household than childless couples.
  4. Children in large families are at a far greater risk of poverty – 42 percent of children living in families with three or more children live in poverty. When accounted for childcare costs, an extra 130,000 children and their parents fall below the poverty line.
  5. Last year, around two-thirds of U.K. citizens took on jobs that paid less than a living wage, which resulted in more part-time work and more citizens needing to take multiple jobs. In recent years, there has been an economic push to increase the rate of pay for low-income workers, but progress is slow. In addition, once a family member is in a low-income job, it can be very difficult to move out.
  6. At least half of the U.K.’s impoverished population is working full-time and another 30 percent take part-time work. In Scotland alone, ten percent of working adults live in severe poverty.
  7. Many of the households on or near the poverty line (making less than £15,000 per year) spend more than a quarter of their income on housing. In fact, the poorest private renters and homeowners spend more than half of their income on housing. Around 5.8 million in the U.K. rent private housing — double since the last decade.
  8. Of the nine million people aged 14-24 living in the U.K., 2.7 million (30 percent) live in poverty — an amount higher than any other collective age group. Part of the reason that the rate among young people is higher is that they are more likely to live in privately-rented housing and spend a greater share of their income on housing costs.
  9. A higher proportion of women were persistently poor when compared to that of men — 8.2 percent compared to 6.3 percent, respectively.
  10. Women are 14 percent more likely to live in households with income levels that fall below the poverty line. As a result, single-parent homes lead by women are less likely to receive better healthcare, education and options to private housing.

A Bright Future

The United Kingdom continues to struggle in the terms of its poverty, but understanding these top 10 facts about poverty in the U.K. creates stepping-stones to a brighter future and helps alleviate people out of poverty.

– Tresa Rentler
Photo: Flickr

Children at a nursery in Lancashire
Some advocates call for better access to high-quality, early childhood education to help keep children living in poverty in the U.K. from falling behind developmentally and educationally.

International charity Save the Children urges Parliament to deliver world-class early childcare in the U.K. through its “Giving All Children the Best Start in Life” campaign. The campaign focuses on young children who are currently falling behind before they start school, especially impoverished children.

In March 2016, Save the Children released a report called Lighting Up Young Brains, which shows how parents, caregivers and nurseries support a child’s brain development in the first five years of life. The paper includes a recommendation to the government to ensure an early childhood educator leads every nursery in England by 2020.

The report explains that the brain begins processing information in a more efficient and complex way between the ages of three and five.

However, poverty can get in the way of this essential development. According to Save the Children, the poorest children in England, on average, begin school 15 months behind their wealthier peers in developing key skills, such as language skills.

The Child Poverty Action Group, a U.K.-based nonprofit, reports one in four children in the U.K. is being raised in poverty.

According to UNICEF, investing in early childhood education is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing poverty because the estimated economic returns on investment in early childhood education are as high as a one to 17 ratio.

Numerous countries recently made early childhood education a priority. In 2010, the government of China increased early childhood education significantly. UNICEF reports the percentage of children between the ages of three and six in kindergartens in China increased from 45 percent in 2009 to 70.5 percent in 2014.

Efforts to enrich the development of young children living in poverty in the U.K. go beyond just the nursery school classroom. For instance, CPAG reports that a child’s home environment influences them the most, and poverty experienced in this environment should be taken into account.

“While good quality nursery care and education can supplement this (the home environment),” CPAG’s website states, “it cannot substitute for an impoverished home life.”

The Lighting Up Young Brains report explains how research shows that a strong home-learning environment provides the types of experiences and environment necessary for child brain and language development, such as opportunities to read and be read to.

CPAG’s website states social policies focusing on early years interventions for poorer children are “welcome,” but should not distract from the needs of impoverished children of school age, such as not having a place to study because of the cold or overcrowding.

You can learn more about the “Giving All Children the Best Start in Life” campaign by visiting Save the Children’s website. You can also visit the Child Poverty Action Group’s website to learn more about child poverty in the U.K. and see how the organization works for families affected by poverty.

Kate Miller

Photo: Save the Children