Socialist Worker

Millions in Britain in poverty—and virus will make it worse

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2712

The Social Metrics Commission says coronavirus could lead to a “significant increase in poverty”

The Social Metrics Commission says coronavirus could lead to a “significant increase in poverty”


Over a million and a half more people in Britain live in deep poverty today compared to 20 years ago. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission says that some 4.5 million people live in families that are more than 50 percent below the poverty line, or “deep poverty”.

This is 7 percent of all people in Britain.

And over a fifth, 22 percent, of people live in some level of poverty. That’s 14.4 million people including 4.5 million children. A full third of children aged four or under live in poverty.

The report exposes how the system is failing huge numbers of people. And an “increasingly large proportion” of the population is now suffering “the very deepest level of poverty”.

In 2000/01 some 2.8 million people, or 5 percent of the population, were in deep poverty. Had the rate remained the same today, 1.3 million fewer people would be in deep poverty.

And more than half of those currently in deep poverty have been poor for at least two of the last three years.

You are more likely to be poor if you are disabled or black, or if you have children. Half of all people in poverty live in a family that includes a disabled person.

Persistant

And nearly half of all people living in families where the head of household is black are living in poverty. They are between two and three times more likely to be in persistent poverty than white people.

Just under one in five of those in families where the head of household is white live in poverty. The impact of racism is appalling—but this still means that nearly 20 percent of those with a white “head of household” live in poverty.

Over a quarter of couples with a child are in poverty, and 48 percent of single parents.

And while working hours affect poverty, nearly two thirds of people in poverty live in families where someone works at least part time.

Out of work and out of money - how lives are being torn apart by profit system
Out of work and out of money - how lives are being torn apart by profit system
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So nearly one in ten people in families where people work full time are in poverty. This compares to 57 percent of people living in households where people work part-time, and 68 percent of those where no one works.

Obviously some of these factors will overlap. For instance it might be harder for a single parent to work full time.

The study is based on figures from 2018/19. It warns that the impact of the coronavirus crisis will make poverty levels far worse—and shows how the poorest have already been hit the hardest.

It says that the virus could lead to a “significant increase in poverty” despite temporary rises in some benefits and the government’s furlough scheme.

Many of those close to the poverty line could be pushed into poverty due to “changing employment status”. And many poor people “could move deeper into poverty” due to unemployment or cuts to pay or hours.

Already, “the largest employment impacts have been felt by those in the deepest levels of poverty”.

So nearly two thirds of people employed before the Covid-19 crisis who were in deep poverty have either lost their jobs, or had pay or hours cuts.

This compares to 35 percent of those who were employed and over 20 percent above the poverty line before the virus crisis.

Working

A fifth of those previously working and in deep poverty have lost their jobs, compared to 12 percent of those in less poor groups.

People in poverty or close to the poverty line are more likely to have had hours or wages cut. This includes over a third of those in deep poverty, compared to 22 percent of those over 20 percent above the poverty line.

Over a quarter of people in deep poverty, 26 percent, have suffered a “negative change” to their employment status or earnings. Yet some 22 percent of those more than 20 percent above the poverty line have also been hit.

The study shows that more and more people are being pushed into the worst levels of poverty. But it also shows how widespread poverty is.

Unless there is a serious fightback by ordinary people, many more people will be pushed into poverty, to pay the price of the coronavirus crisis.


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