Poverty is getting deeper

ViewsJanuary 23rd, 2024

What does the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Poverty in the UK report tell us? Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, takes a look.

Today’s report Poverty in the UK published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a salutary reminder that, with a general election on the horizon, poverty is still at scandalous levels in the UK. 

The headline figures on poverty are all too familiar.  In most parts of the UK, more than one in five (22%) adults of working age and 28% of children live in households with incomes well below the median. Some groups, including disabled people and large families, have very much higher rates of poverty. The report also shows that, contrary to popular opinion, poverty in Wales is pretty much average in the UK – there are many English regions with very much higher rates.  

Poverty is deepening

A key finding is that poverty is deepening. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation defines very deep poverty as a household income of less than 40% of the median after housing costs are taken into account.  It is really not much money at all.

The report shows that the proportion of people in very deep poverty in the UK has increased in the last twenty years, with the majority of people in poverty now being on very low incomes.  It also finds that the gap between the income of people in very deep poverty and the poverty threshold has got bigger – for example a couple with two primary-school-aged children are now some £12,800 a year short of the poverty threshold compared with £6,200 in 2019/2020. 

What are we to make of this?

Well, these figures surely explain why the demand for food banks, emergency cash help, warm hubs and the like is soaring.  The demand is not because ‘the services are there’ and ‘word has got round’ – it is because some people’s incomes are now so far below the norm that they cannot afford to eat, keep warm or have a roof over their heads. 

What should be done?

The deepening of poverty also shifts demands on the Welsh Government. Even with a relatively generous cash settlement, It simply doesn’t have the resources (or all the powers) it would need to make sufficient cash payments to lift people out of the deepest poverty completely.  Nor is the emphasis on getting into employment likely to make much difference to people on the very lowest incomes. 

What it can do, however, is use its powers and resources to guarantee the absolute basics, such as a warm and secure home, nutritious food and suitable clothing and hygiene products for people in deep poverty.  The Welsh Government does do some of these things, but they are often piecemeal and small scale. 

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