Poor lives matter; in UK are 14mln

London – One fifth of the UK population live in poverty: 14mln people. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line and 1.5 million live in conditions of severe deprivation. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, gathered evidence of dramatic poverty rates after travelling across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

His travel gave undeniable evidence to the figures issues in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s poverty report 2018. The total number of working-age adults struggling with poverty is 8.2 million; half of them, more than four million, are into work but not able to face ends meet; in poverty work is the consequence of precarisation of work and low wages confirmed by the fact eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person has a full time job.

The number of people in work poverty is increasing faster than employment; the JRF states that in-work poverty is rising faster than employment rate: “Since 2004/05, the number of workers in poverty has increased at a faster rate than the total number of people in employment, resulting in workers’ being increasingly likely to find themselves in poverty.”

Austerity and welfare cuts hit also 1.9 million retired people along with the most vulnerable: 4.1 million children are poor, a rise of 500,000 in the last five years. The UN rapporteur spoke with teachers who use to send food to families after seeing every day pupils going to school empty stomachs. BBC recently reported ‘malnourished pupils with grey skin are filling their pockets with food from school canteens in poor areas due to poverty, quoting teachers as saying “My children have grey skin, poor teeth, poor hair; they are thinner.”

In his 26 pages report summary Aston stresses “while the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies” warning “if the government does not adequately uprate benefits to account for inflation after Brexit, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty”.

Quoting estimates issued by the House of Commons library, The Guardian recently reported welfare benefits for the UK’s poorest families will have shrunk by nearly a quarter after a decade of austerity: by 2021, £37bn less will be spent on working-age social security compared with 2010, despite rising prices and living costs.

Read the report highlights of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston

Justine de Braeme