Poverty in UK should be the defining feature of general election

  • Post last modified:May 24, 2024
  • Reading time:4 mins read

A think tank has given a briefing on just how bad poverty and destitution are in the UK, as the general election is launched. It shows the depth of the problem. The think tank says ‘all political parties’ must recognise this – and act.

‘Unacceptable levels of poverty’

The UK has unacceptably high levels of poverty. All political parties must recognise the seriousness of the current situation and tackling hardship must take its rightful place as a key issue in the election campaign. Our political leaders must be serious, specific and ambitious in telling the British people what they plan to do to solve the urgent problem of people facing avoidable hardship.

Think tank the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has outlined the following details on the situation.

Overall levels of poverty in the UK are high and have been for decades

More than one in five people in the UK were in poverty in 2022/23. This is around 14.3 million people and includes 4.3 million children, 8.1 million working-age adults, and 1.9 million pensioners.

Poverty is deepening.

Around six million people (or 9% of the population) in the UK were in very deep poverty in 2022/23. This includes 1.6 million children, 3.9 million working-age adults, and 600,000 pensioners. Thirty years ago, around one in three people in poverty were in very deep poverty, by 2022/23 that stood at over four in 10.

Destitution is rising fastest of all

Nearly four million people experienced destitution in 2022, including around one million children. This is almost two-and-a-half times the number of people experiencing destitution in 2017 and nearly triple the number of children.

Our social security system is not protecting people from destitution: 72% of people who are destitute are in receipt of benefits. Destitution is the most severe form of material hardship. Living in destitution means you can’t afford to meet your most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

Living in poverty worsens people’s health

Men living in the most deprived areas can expect to live 9.7 years fewer than men in the least deprived areas and women 7.9 years fewer. Those in the most deprived areas can expect to live more than 18 fewer healthy years than those in the least deprived areas. In every English region outside London, life expectancy has fallen in the most deprived group.

Swing voters want to see an end to hardship

JRF research on swing voters shows they are concerned about hardship. People feel that addressing these issues should be a top priority, but that politicians are not taking the issues seriously enough.

Most voters saw very little distinction between Labour and the Conservatives on this agenda, with neither party demonstrating compassion. People want to see tangible and actionable plans for how politicians are going to reach their stated goals, not just what those goals are.

Political parties must share their plans amid the general election

Our social security system should offer adequate support to anyone in need of help, but right now it is not even protecting people from destitution.

Katie Schmuecker, Principal Policy Adviser at JRF, says:

We need to see some urgency from all political parties on the need to deal with hardship. Almost four million people, including one million children, have experienced destitution in a single year. This means they have been unable to keep themselves warm, dry and fed.

They can’t wait for promises of economic growth and they shouldn’t have to. We’re one of the richest countries in the world, so failing to tackle hardship right now is a choice. We need our politicians to tell us what they will do straight away to help families who can’t afford life’s essentials, as well as their long-term plans to tackle poverty.

There isn’t one single policy choice at the general election that will solve this deep level of hardship but pledging that people will always be able to afford the essentials like food, and household bills, through the social security system is a good place to start.

Featured image via Unsplash

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