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Sunday, December 4, 2016
Viewpoint: Government needs to address 1 in 5 living below poverty line
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¬†As Poverty and Homelessness Action Week gets underway - London Citizen's Journalist of the Year Paul Donovan reflects on the scandalous situation in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, where one in five lives below the poverty line. Footballer David Beckham recently made a well publicised visit to Downing Street to visit Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Beckham visit came on the same day that the Government announced its plan to force three-year pay deals on public sector workers, effectively an incomes policy. Few seemed to catch the irony of a moment that saw the Prime Minister fawning around a multi millionaire footballer while seeking to impose pay restraint on the mass of public sector workers. The Beckham episode is but the latest example of the celebration of rich people in our society while the growing number of poor people are virtually ignored. Over Poverty and Homelessness Action Week (27 January to 3 February 2008) the Church housing charity Housing Justice (HJ) together with Scottish Churches Housing Action and Church Action on Poverty conducted some 100 poverty hearings across the UK. These events gave a glimpse of the other side of life - in "poor Britain." Given that the UK boasts the fifth largest economy in the world it is incredible that 22 per cent (12.7 million) of people live under the officially defined poverty line. Incredibly, 30 per cent of children live under the poverty line. "Children who know of poverty in the family don't mention things like school trips because they know the family cannot afford it," said Alison Gelder, the chief executive of Housing Justice. The poverty line is defined by the UK government and European Union as less than 60 per cent of the median income figure. Income may be made up of employment, benefits or a combination of the two. The median income in the UK for 2005/6 is £363 a week (£18,876 a year). 60 per cent of the median figure is £217 a week. The minimum wage (£5.52 an hour for a 40 hour week at present) amounts to £220 a week. Among the groups making up those living below the poverty line are four million working adults who are not parents (18% of all working age adults), 3.1 million working age parents (25 per cent), 1.8 million pensioners (17 per cent) and 3.8 million children (30 per cent). One initiative aimed at reducing this inequality has been the living wage campaign championed by the community based organisations London and Birmingham Citizens and the trade unions. Research commissioned showed that the minimum level required to live above the poverty line - without having to do two or three jobs simply to survive ≠ was £7.20 in London and £6.50 an hour in Birmingham. Progress has been made with a number of organisations agreeing to pay their workers more. In London, Mayor Ken Livingstone has backed the living wage, setting up a special unit to promote the goal and insisting that all organisations coming under his control pay the £7.20 rate. Low wages often result in problems with housing. Housing has been an issue that seems to have moved up the agenda after much prompting from charities, trade unions and other grass roots movements. Among the specific Housing Justice demands are that homes be provided for the 87,000 homeless families living in temporary accommodation across England and Wales. They also want the decent homes standard that is applied to public sector housing provision to be extended to the private sector plus homes to be provided for the 1.7 million people on council waiting lists. These new houses need to be of the right type to meet housing need with infrastructure like transport systems, health provision and community facilities provided. Government is making encouraging noises about a new housing policy. The worry though is that this will not mean more and better homes for those in need but a private developers charter to rip up the green belt and build luxury houses and apartments. If things are just left unplanned to the market then Gelder believes there is every chance of more of the type of unhelpful development seen in inner cities where luxury apartments are built as investments and then often left empty. "This not only deprives people of homes but also destroys communities," said Gelder. There needs to be a multi-faceted approach to really tackle poverty. This will include elements like the living wage, an equitable housing policy and a redistributive tax system. However, many of the social problems of today from poverty and homelessness to crime and abuse have their roots in this increasingly unequal society. Failure to address the inequality will lead to the rich gated communities surrounded by shanty town type scenario mapped out by Labour MP John Battle last year. A genuine effort to address poverty in all its forms can stop this coming about. The poverty hearings have helped lay open much of the extent of the problem, it must be hoped that government will now be prepared to act on what it sees.
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