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The re-emergence of absolute poverty in Britain

Something terrible is slowly happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute levels of poverty which have not existed on this scale since the Victorial age over a century ago. Relative poverty is when people can’t afford the comforts and enjoyments which most people have, but absolute poverty is when people haven’t the money to pay for even their most basic needs. The evidence is all around us.

There are now over 300 food-banks in Britain, and the number is rising every week. The Red Cross is setting up centres to help the destitute, just as they do in developing countries. A new study published this week shows that even in prosperous area of the country like London, more than a quarter of the population are now living in poverty. And a new scary fact is steadily emerging: an increasing number of these poverty households are not dependent on benefits, but where someone is at work.

In the north the first of the Northern Housing Consortium’s surveys just published presents a devastating picture. It is based on 74 househoolds, a small sample but one which broadly reflects all households living in the social rented sector.

It reveals that two-thirds, after paying for rent and food and other essential bills, end up each week with less than £10 left, whilst more than a third end up with nothing at all. A quarter can only afford £20 or less on food per week – how many of the rest of us could survive on that? Four-fifths of them are in debt, and not small levels of debt either – it averages nearly £2,500.

Some of the responses are heart-rending. Take this one: “Hate the system. I have worked all my life and because work is so hard to find, I have been taking anything. I had a phone call one night and was offered 3 days work starting the next day. I did it, then went to the job centre to tell them I had earned 3 days money. They fined me for not telling them sooner, but I couldn’t as I’d had to start at 7.30am the next morning.

Then I put a new claim in, then got another 3 days work. This has been on and off for months. I hate not working and will take what I can, but now this has messed all my benefits up and I’m getting fined. They stop my money and I have to sell things to pay bedroom tax and council tax. I am going to have nothing left at this rate. How can this be right when all I am trying to do is find a job?”

What makes this so gratuitously cruel for the victims is that it isn’t even necessary. The pain is enforced, but the budget deficit is not being reduced. The right way to cut the deficit is by public investment to stimulate the economy, cut the dole queues (it now costs £18bn a year to keep the current 2.5 million unemployed out of work), and kickstart growth to turn the economy around, which the present fragile so-called ‘recovery’ is certainly not doing. Then, and only then, will the bitter scourge of absolute poverty be removed from this land.


  1. Robert says:

    We need to attack somebody start a world war

  2. J McIntosh says:

    I’ve always hated mans inhumanity to man but now it’s our governments inhumanity to man. They’re making us pay for the banks mistakes. Austerity measures when it was us that bailed them out. We’re all in it together? I don’t think so or am I wrong has David Cameron or his cronies ever had to go to a food bank?

  3. Barry says:

    It was all planned and brought about by the UK govt and central banks! Tory or Labour together they brought about the current state of affair through a Hegelian dialectic system of Synthesis and antisynthesis resulting in the populace accepting something in between which was the intention anyway! This is only the start! B

  4. Matthew Moore says:

    We are supposed to be living in *Great Britain* but sadly due to Mr Cameron and his minions, there is nothing *Great* about this country anymore. We are also said to be a *United Kingdom* but alas we are not *United*. How can anyone agree with what this mashed up government of a bit of blue and yellow are doing to this country? I am disabled and for me, things cannot get much worse. I am skint, simple! What with the bedroom tax and the planned changes to DLA all I can see to the future is very bleak, we have to unite, and put the *Great* and *United* back into this country, before its too late. Thank you for reading.

  5. Alan says:

    Yes Robert, what a brilliant idea. That will kill a few million people, leaving more jobs available for the survivors, won’t it?

  6. Rod says:

    @ Alan and Robert

    You should offer your support to Jim Murphy, he’s sure to have a plan.

  7. Alan says:

    @ Rod:
    As it appears to have escaped your notice, I would like to point out that my reply to Robert was sarcasm. In no way would I ever agree to war!

  8. Robert says:

    Alan your sarcasm did not work to well maybe it was to near the truth. When Hain spoke about Cameron going to China and taking arms dealers with him, he stated let’s not forget we have 10,000 people in the arms manufacturing.

    And one thing wars does it makes jobs for everyone from bullet makers to soldiers to people who dig graves.

    We are seeing poverty in the UK yes we have been seeing poverty in the UK for a very long time it’s never gone away, Blair Min wage was to lift a million out of poverty what it did was to put millions into it.

    Heil Blair.

  9. Rod says:

    @ Alan

    Understood from the get-go, mate.

    What was it that Keynes said about digging holes… Or more pragmatically, as Robert suggests: jobs for grave diggers:

    Stainless steel bladed spades cost less than £20 and plenty of work is available in the Middle East and in Africa. Letters of thanks to Blair and his cronies in the PLP.

  10. Tamaresque says:

    Maybe the Job Centre department could take a leaf from the Australian Centrelink pages. We don’t get fined for not reporting work immediately; we only need to report once per fortnight. We are able to earn a certain amount per fortnight (how much depends on which benefit you are on) without it affecting our benefit, too. However, the amount of benefit paid to unemployed people and students here is woefully inadequate.

  11. Robert says:

    What we need are real jobs and I can tell you after two years the people who are not then working seek to ask why, and then bring in sanctions, not now when we all know we have no jobs.

  12. Tracy Deakin says:

    Being fined for not reporting starting work in the instance above, ( and probably most instances ) is an utter insult to the working man. IF supermarkets were banned fro only employing people for limited numbers a week to avoid NI payments, I think that would make a substantial difference to a lot of people who have to take on a 2nd or 3rd job & claim WTC to stay afloat. But, hey, we know the government does not want the economy to improve the way the rest of the country do. It is ethnic cleansing without guns & un ethical behaviours being rewarded & hard work & honesty being persecuted. A shabby state indeed we are in. Independence for Scotland next year…I do hope so.

  13. Bronwyn says:


    War is nothing more than a massive government stimulus expenditure – at least in economic terms.

    However, you end up with dead citizens. Public works programs deliver something back to the general population, at least they do if they are carefully chosen.

  14. stuart says:

    The word poverty rolls off the tongue quite easy,my parents came from poplar,east London they could tell a story about poverty,no mobiles tv or junk food, if you couldn’t find work you could starve, people have never had it so good
    in this country,people just don’t know how to manage their money, something they should teach in all schools ..

  15. Azrael says:

    Just wait til the QE3 bubble bursts.

  16. Hernan Tasies says:

    I would teach my children how to grow their own food, make their own clothes, hunt, make a fire, etc. The most basic of the most basic. Perhaps on global scale apply a system of rationing a la Cuba. Economic empowerment is not the solution; more consumerism and waste is not sustainable either. Consumption without discipline will not a better world make.

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