Approximately 14.2 million people live in relative poverty in the United Kingdom, which is about 22 percent of the country’s total population – 65 million. Of those living in poverty, 4.5 million are children, 8.4 million are of working age, and 1.4 million are of pension age. The country’s poverty rate has not changed a great deal from what it was in the early 2000s (about 23 percent). There were some improvements made in 2010 when the United Kingdom was attempting to make an economic comeback after the financial crisis, however this decrease has since disappeared as poverty rates are on the rise once again.
For a country that is considered one of the richest in the world, having a poverty rate of this level seems somewhat unusual. For comparison, the United States has a 12.3 percent poverty rate – considerably lower than the United Kingdom – which begs the question, why the 10-percentage point difference?
Causes of poverty in the United Kingdom
According to a report released by the United Nations earlier this year, poverty in the United Kingdom is due largely to the government’s continuous cuts to public spending and social programs which exist to benefit the poor. Poverty in the United Kingdom has reached such a level that many families must decide between basic needs such as heat and sustenance, since they cannot afford both. Although the government may not have deliberately or willingly chosen to worsen the situation for its poor population, it is the main cause behind the rising poverty levels within the country.
Furthermore, the lack of steady income growth and the quick rise in living costs have furthered the need for the welfare benefits that have been defunded. The government has attempted to remedy its cuts by replacing six benefits with one monthly payment instead, which has proven rather inefficient. This program, titled Universal Credit, has allowed for an increase in the number of people that seek out foodbanks, listing benefit delays or changes as a major cause for this increase.
Solutions to poverty in the United Kingdom
Many of the policies the government has implemented over the years, which deeply affect the poor, often have easy solutions. For example, policies that include denying benefits to those who miss appointments or limiting the number of children that a claimant can have are rules that can be eliminated almost overnight with hardly any increase in costs.
Additionally, the government is also attempting to create more welfare independent households by focusing on reducing income inequality, increasing incomes overall and providing better long-term economically stable solutions for its citizens.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the United Kingdom poverty issue can be addressed by following this five-point plan:
- Increasing incomes while reducing costs.
- Having a better and more efficient benefit system.
- Overall improving the educational system as well as the skills students acquire.
- Strengthening families and communities as a whole.
- Promoting economic growth for the long-term future that will benefit the whole population.
Positive developments in poverty reduction efforts in the United Kingdom
The Universal Credit benefit implemented recently by the British government is scheduled to increase work allowances. This is estimated to take 200,000 out of poverty. Additionally, changing how poverty is measured can change one’s perspective on the matter and help improve living conditions for citizens.
The report released by the U.N. focused on relative poverty rather than absolute poverty, the former being defined as “any family that has 55 percent or less of what that median family has”, the latter differs in that the households being measured currently are compared to those of the median household in 2010/11.
Although the British government has many obstacles to overcome before it can see a reduction in its poverty rates, the U.N.’s report has shed light on an important issue in the United Kingdom Because of this, the government can now work even harder to eradicate poverty for its citizens.
– Laura Rogers