Poverty kills

Karen Rowlingson


There are a number of possible threats to human life which the Saving Humans theme is highlighting.  Poverty is one of those threats.  Poverty kills people throughout the world but this isn’t just a problem in poor countries. People also die from poverty in the UK and other wealthy countries.

For example, infant mortality rates are much higher among poorer groups in the UK.  Children are also more likely to die from accidents and illnesses if they are brought up in poverty, and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to commit suicide.  Life expectancy is much lower for people in poverty and the UK suffers more ‘excess winter deaths’ than much colder countries like Sweden because older people in the UK cannot afford to heat their homes.

File:"Cost of Living 1918-1944" - NARA - 514088.jpg

Death is clearly an extreme consequence of poverty in the UK but there are other consequences in terms of the negative impact on mental and physical health, family relationships, educational performance and so on.

Poverty rates in the UK are higher than many people expect.  In 2011/12, 13 million people were living in income poverty[1], around one in five of the population.  Other ways of measuring poverty and deprivation paint a similarly bleak picture.  For example, 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions, and around 4 million children are not properly fed, as judged by the majority of the population,.

We sometimes assume that poverty is solely the result of being out of work but the majority of those in poverty actually now live in households where someone is in work.  This is because wages have stagnated if not declined over the last 10 years in the UK and living costs have increased.  Of course, those out of work often suffer more extreme forms of poverty but the benefit system has supported many of those both in and out of work since the credit crunch of 2008.  In the next few years, however, the recently introduced cuts to welfare spending will start to hit the poorest hardest, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Given the decline in incomes and rise in living costs in recent years, it is no wonder that people have increasingly borrowed from a range of sources to help make ends meet.  The ‘bank of mum and dad’ where available, is increasingly drawn on.  So too are more expensive sources such as payday lenders.  The government has tried to support lower cost lenders such as credit unions but these cannot (yet) compete with the better resourced commercial lenders.  The government is also supporting financial education initiatives to help young people to learn to manage their money better.  While such initiatives are clearly helpful, and you can read more about them in blogs this week, the basic problem of low income, either through the benefits system or employment, needs to be tackled in order to reduce the harm that poverty undoubtedly causes.

[1] Defined as living in incomes below 60% of median (average) income

Related blogs by Karen Rowlingson

Other useful links:

Cameron will hail the jobs figures but the living standards crisis isn’t over

Fall in inflation fuels hopes of rise in living standards

Commission on Living Standards and their final report

Image Source: Cost of living: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%22Cost_of_Living_1918-1944%22_-_NARA_-_514088.jpg


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