More than 4 million people in the UK are trapped in deep poverty, meaning their income is at least 50 percent below the official breadline, locking them into a weekly struggle to afford the most basic living essentials, an independent study has shown.
The Social Metrics Commission also said that 7 million people, including 2.3 million children, are affected by what it termed persistent poverty, meaning that they are not only in poverty, but have been for at least two of the previous three years.
Highlighting evidence of rising levels of hardship in recent years among children, larger families, lone parent households and pensioners, the commission urged the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to take urgent action to tackle growing poverty.
Commission chair Philippa Stroud, a Conservative peer, said there is a pressing need for a concerted approach to the problem.
“It is time to look again at our approach to children, and to invest in our children as the future of our nation,” she said.
Campaigners said the commission showed austerity has undermined two decades of anti-poverty policy.
“By cutting ￡40 billion [US$49.32 billion] a year from our work and pensions budget through cuts and freezes to tax credits and benefits, the government has put progress into reverse,” Child Poverty Action Group chief executive officer Alison Garnham said.
The commission’s membership is drawn from experts across the political spectrum, and includes representatives from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the British Office of the Children’s Commissioner. It was set up in 2016 to develop a new way of measuring poverty .
It found that of 14.3 million in the UK in poverty, 4.5 million are in deep poverty — one-third of all those on the breadline, and 7 percent of the population.
In cash terms, this means a couple with two children would have an income of less than ￡211 a week after housing costs, and a single parent with one child would be on less than ￡101.5 a week.
The finding echoes wider concerns about the re-emergence of extreme poverty, or destitution, which separate research has shown is experienced by an estimated 1.5 million people in the UK as a result of benefits cuts and high rents. A destitution level of income is ￡140 a week for a couple with two children.
Although overall rates of poverty have changed relatively little since 2000-2001, certain groups — such as children, children of lone parents and pensioners — have had hardship levels rise since 2013 because of austerity measures, such as the benefit freeze, reversing earlier downward trends, the commission said.
There has been a dramatic rise in child poverty in families with three or more children, up 9 percentage points since 2013-2014. This is in part a result of policies that penalize larger families.
The figures do not capture the affect of the two-child benefit limit introduced in 2017, which is likely to push levels even higher.
“We need our new prime minister to get to work immediately on a bold plan to boost living standards and support our towns and cities in building a more hopeful economic future,” said Helen Barnard, a commission member and poverty expert at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
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