By Sadie Robinson
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British society scarred by deep poverty and racism

This article is over 3 years, 11 months old
Issue 2712
Marching against child poverty in 2008
Marching against child poverty in 2008 (Pic: Need NOT Greed/Flickr )

The number of people in Britain who live in deep poverty has soared by over a million and a half in 20 years. And the coronavirus crisis means it will rise even further.

A report from the Social Metrics Commission released last week said that some 4.5 million people are in “deep poverty”. This means their income is more than 50 percent below the poverty line.

Some 7 percent of people in Britain are in this category. And over a fifth, 22 percent, suffer 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.

In 2000-1 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.

And nearly half of all people living in families where the head of ­household is defined as “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British” are in poverty. 

They are between two and three times more likely to be in persistent poverty than white people.


The impact of racism is appalling. But nearly one in five of those with a white “head of household” also live in poverty.

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

Who will pay for the crisis now?
Who will pay for the crisis now?
  Read More

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

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.

Oppression and discrimination lock some people into part time work—and therefore poverty—more than others. 

For instance it is often harder for a single parent to work full time, and women are more likely to be single parents.

Racism means black people are more likely to be stuck in insecure jobs or on casual contracts with too few hours (see right).

The study is based on figures from 2018-19. 

But it also cited figures ­showing that the coronavirus crisis has already hit the poorest the hardest (see below).

The system is failing huge numbers of people. We need a serious ­fightback to stop more lives being ruined.

For the full report go to

Coronavirus fallout is set to hit the poor hardest

The coronavirus crisis will send poverty levels soaring—and the poorest have already been hit the hardest.

The Social Metrics Commission report predicted 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”.

People forced to food banks as they are ‘swept into destitution’
People forced to food banks as they are ‘swept into destitution’
  Read More

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.

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.

The study shows how more people are being pushed into desperate situations. 

But it also shows that working class people who aren’t deemed to be poor are suffering too.

The whole working class needs a fightback.

The toll of racism in work

Black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers face poverty due to “widespread institutional racism in the labour market”.

A TUC study last year found that BAME workers were more than twice as likely to have agency contracts compared to white workers. 

And while one in 

 42 white workers had a zero hours contract, the figure for BAME workers was one in 24.

One in 13 BAME workers were in temporary jobs, where pay is typically lower, compared to one in nine white workers. 

And BAME workers were twice as likely to report not having enough hours to make ends meet. 

London has highest rate

 London has the highest poverty rate of all regions in England, with 29 percent of people living in poverty. 

The second highest region is the north east of England with 26 percent, followed by Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands with 24 percent.

The south west, south east and east of England have the lowest rates.

Big change in housing type 

 They type of house you live in and poverty are closely linked. Nearly half of people in families who live in social-rented accommodation are in poverty, the Social Metrics Commission report found. 

Some 37 percent of those in private-rented homes are also poor.

These figures compare to 12 percent in mortgaged-owned houses and 9 percent in homes that are owned outright.

The proportion of poor people living in the private-rented sector has soared to 33 percent from 15 percent in 2000-1. 

Just 9 percent of people lived in the privately-rented sector in 2000-1—but now it’s 20 percent.

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