Poverty and social exclusion in the UK

The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy – I mean that if you are happy you will be good.
Bertrand Russell

Poverty in the UK, or ‘relative poverty’, has achieved a general consensus amongst the political class and inspired a new narrative based on life chances, social mobility and ending child poverty.

Poverty that’s relative is measured against average national incomes, with the European standard set at 60% of median incomes. As opposed to ‘absolute poverty’, the New Policy Institute’s ‘Poverty’ website defines it as “the concept…that, in a rich country such as the UK, there are higher minimum standards below which no one should fall, and that these standards should rise if and as the country becomes richer” (poverty.org.uk).

Expressions of poverty in the UK can be seen through the wider social consequences it produces, as those communities of relative poverty suffer not only a lack of jobs and money, but poor health and education, crime and violence, as well as a scarcity of hope. These factors add to further socially exclude pockets of relative poverty stricken areas, and push them away from the average living standards of other citizens.

The impact on younger generations struggling to find their feet in areas of relative poverty were highlighted in Unicef’s recent report ‘Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries’. After using 40 indicators to measured material well-being, family and peer relationships, health and safety and behaviour and risks, the report had a stark message for a UK featuring at the bottom of most results.

Prior to near market melt down, the news was transfixed on the ‘broken Britain’ crisis of hoodies, gang violence and overrun communities; the general narrative of disintegration in deprived communities. Suzanne Moore in the New Statesman wrote, “In short, children need a New Deal. They need to be seen as full of potential, not evil. Culturally, politically and economically, they need to stop being punished as symbols of our self- indulgent idea of moral decay” (New Statesman).

Under the consensus of relative poverty, old ideological battles do still get fought over the role that the state should play in ensuring that citizens don’t fall behind the country’s average. The fight against relative poverty and it’s consequences of social exclusion should be the fight to empower active citizens in deprived areas with the ability to rebuild their communities to make them stronger and more resilient.Much has been done to empower communities, with legislation such as the Sustainable Communities Act and the ‘Communities in Control’ White Paper aimed at devolving real power to a community to reverse some of the corrosive affects of poverty.

But people need to know their rights and have the resources to create positive change. As recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation research highlighted “People in poverty find it hard to participate in society because they lack the resources to do so, conversely, lack of participation exacerbates poverty” (Joseph Rowntree Foundation (pdf)). So the fight against poverty is one not only to empower the potential active citizen in every deprived community, but the fight to education communities about their power for change.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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