Why should we care about poverty?

3rd Mar 2010

The facts about poverty in the UK show why we should all care about it, says Charlotte Morris.

This week, London's Evening Standard is running a series on poverty in the capital. A lot of online comments written in response to the series reveal that readers have little sympathy with people experiencing poverty.

It's easy to think you would never fall into the poverty trap. That you are immune and that people in poverty are there because of some fault of their own. When we asked people how their income compared to the rest of society, no matter what their income actually was, people tended to place themselves in the middle of the spectrum. Not rich. Not poor.

The JRF is the place to get the facts and I wonder if these might change your mind. Research shows us why we should care about poverty:

  • During any one decade, over half of us will experience poverty for at least a year
    We are not as protected from poverty as we would like to think.
  • At the last count, 13.5 million people were living in poverty in the UK
    That's 22% of the population. So we're not all in the middle.
  • Child poverty costs the UK billions every year
    At a time when the UK government is having to spend billions to support its economic infrastructure, our research estimates that child poverty costs at least £25 billion each year in losses to the Exchequer and in reduced GDP.
  • Poverty cuts life expectancy
    Children who grow up in poorer areas of the UK have a shorter life expectancy. According to the World Health Organisation, a boy in the suburb of Calton, Glasgow, can expect to live 28 years less than one brought up in Lenzie, a few miles away.
  • Work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty
    Research we published last month found that one fifth of people who lift themselves out of poverty by finding a job are back in poverty again within a year. Over half of all children living in poverty have one parent who works.
  • Poverty is not inevitable
    As recently as the early 1980s, poverty in the UK was much lower than it is today. In 1983, fewer than 8m people were in poverty, compared to nearly 14m today.

Poverty levels in many other countries are much lower than in the UK. The list of nations in Europe that have lower poverty rates is long and includes: Czech Republic, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Slovenia, Finland, France, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Belgium, Germany, Cyprus, Poland, Ireland, Portugal, Estonia, Lithuania and Romania.

It's not just London that is affected. Rich or poor (or in the middle), if we simply accept that poverty is something that will always be with us, everyone will lose out.