Welfare reform and its effects have rarely been out of the news in the past few years – and rightly so. But the focus of coverage is often on political arguments taking place at Westminster. It’s vital we hear from those directly affected by the changes to social security, and from those who work with and support them. There is a wealth of experience to be learned from people on the front line.
In our Christmas appeal this year we mentioned Helen*, who we met at our food bank project in Tower Hamlets. Our advice helped Helen and her family get the financial support they needed. But we shouldn’t have met Helen in those circumstances. She shouldn’t have had to go to the food bank in the first place.
When the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, completed his 10 day visit to the UK on 16 November, he found that the poverty he had observed was unjust and, in his opinion, contrary to British values. Britain’s high child poverty rate, in the world’s fifth largest economy in 2018 was, he said: “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one”.
Today the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty arrives in the UK for a twelve-day visit. This is an interesting time to arrive in the UK to investigate human rights for those living in extreme poverty.
“I want Britain to be the world’s great meritocracy – a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow… And I want Britain to be a place where advantage is based on merit not privilege; where it’s your talent and hard work that matter, not where you were born, who your parents are or what your accent sounds like.”
Theresa May, speech delivered September 2016
In yesterday’s Budget the Chancellor waited till the last minute to announce new money being put into universal credit (UC). That’s a sign of the political importance this issue now has, and tells us that years of campaigning are starting to cut through. Thanks are due to all our supporters, activists and friends who have helped us get to this point.
The number of children living in poverty in the UK is now at 4.1 million and will reach over 5 million by 2021, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. And children who are in poverty are now living, on average, further below the poverty line than they did 10 years ago. After making great progress at tackling child poverty, we’re now going backwards – at a time when unemployment is at a near historic low. This is cause for great concern, and not just for those in this country.
There is a lot of discussion in the media this week about the immediate and long-term impact of Universal Credit (UC), whether people will be better or worse off, and whether the ‘losers’ will have their incomes protected when they first move over to UC. This blog seeks to clarify the story.
A Different Take: Promoting the voices of children, young people and families in debates on poverty in the UK
Families experiencing poverty are often in the spotlight – politicians plan to ‘turn their lives around’; some newspapers raise concerns about rising poverty rates while others draw our attention to cases of perceived benefit fraud; celebrities promote their views on the ways that people in poverty should be behaving differently and even on whether poverty exists at all; and TV programmes show highly sensationalised representations of how people and families in poverty spend their time.
The proposed new poverty measure released this week by the Social Metrics Commission showed that whether or not you’re in poverty is determined by your income and your costs: not having enough resources to meet your essential costs is a defining feature of poverty. We know there are millions in the UK who are restricted in this way every day – having to go without. But compounding this is the ‘poverty premium’ – the additional costs associated with being poor that exert even more pressure on families who are already struggling.