Social Inequality – Poverty Trends

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
2B Poverty Trends
Poor Britain
The Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey (Gordon et al, 2000) delivered a biting criticism of
Britain at the end of the 20th century. Its findings, based on the third Breadline Britain Study, told
a sorry tale:
9.5m people could not afford adequate housing conditions
8m could not afford 2 or more essential household goods
7.5m were too poor to engage in common social activities
10.5m suffered financial insecurity (e.g. could not save £10 a month)
6.5m adults went without essential clothing
4m were not properly fed by today's standards
2m children lacked at least 2 basic necessities.
According to these figures, poverty appears to be a significant problem in Britain. Not only that,
but there is evidence that it is also a growing problem. This rather surprising conclusion is
supported by the combined results of the Breadline Britain series of research.
This presents a disturbing paradox: Britain has become much wealthier over the past few
decades and the majority of people have experienced real rises in their living standards ­ and yet
in spite of this, poverty seems to have increased rather than diminished.
Some critics refuse to believe that poverty has actually increased at the same time as average
living standards have risen. The Daily Telegraph for example suggest that it was absurd for the
Poverty and Social Exclusion researchers to suggest that almost one quarter of the British
population could be described as poor. The newspaper accused researchers of measuring
inequality rather than genuine poverty. But this criticism is based on the assumption that only
`absolute poverty' really matters. It fails to grasp the full force of `relative' arguments. Both the
Breadline Britain and the HBAI measures adopt a relative approach to poverty and so it is
inevitable that they make conclusions between poverty and the boarder patterns of inequality in
society. In this view it is perfectly possible that relative poverty may increase if society becomes
more unequal.
Further confirmation of the rise in poverty comes from the 1999 White Paper, Opportunity for
All, which estimated that 1 in 3 children in Britain lived in poverty, a threefold rise since 1979. The
Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pledged to remedy this situation and he announced an ambitious
programme to eradicate child poverty within 20 years. This programme seems to have had some
early success in reversing poverty trends. Sutherland et al (2003), using Family Resources
Survey data, reports some substantial improvements around the turn of the century. Between
1996/7 and 2000/1, poverty fell overall about 1 million people (half of them children). They attribute
this success largely to improvements in employment rates and in the levels of welfare and tax
benefits. The introduction of a National Minimum Wage, child and working tax credits, and the
Minimum Income Guarantee for pensioners all made some inroads to poverty figures.
Who is poor?
Poverty does not fall evenly on the British population: some groups run a much higher risk than
others of dropping into the ranks of the poor. Of course the composition of poor people is affected

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
The middle classes have a larger amount of accumulated wealth (houses shares,
savings etc), which they can pass on to their children. Working class groups benefit less
from their inheritance.
The `underclass' represents a particularly acute case of poverty and disadvantage.
Gender and Poverty
The broad picture is that `women are more likely to be poor than men and to remain in poverty for
longer periods of time' (Brown et al, 2002).…read more

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
others to live in deprived areas be poor be unemployed, compared with white people with similar
qualifications suffer ill health and live in overcrowded and unpopular housing (Social Exclusion
Unit, 2000). In many cases the reasons for poverty are the same as those for the white
population, although minorities face the added problem of racial discrimination.…read more



This a great and comprehensive summary of the key trends when looking poverty. There is a lot of great evidence included in the notes and the data provided is nicely extensive. Great job.

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