Updated: Nov 3, 2021
The pandemic placed us all in a position of uncertainty and insecurity. Access to services, activities and social gatherings were restricted and we became isolated. Things may be returning to normal for many, yet for those in poverty, these challenges are faced every day. Without a sufficient income to cover basic needs comes constant fear and tough decisions.
Data on the impact of the pandemic on poverty in the UK will not be published until March 2022. What we do know is that low-income families are more vulnerable to economic disruption.
As this article is published, the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit has ended, alongside the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Both have helped many families stay afloat through the pandemic, but their withdrawal threatens to push many below the poverty line.
How is Poverty Defined?
Government statistics defines relative poverty as a household with income below 60% of median household income in that year. The 2019/20 poverty data, published in March 2021, revealed 14.5 million people living in poverty in the UK. Of these, 4.3million were children and 2.1million were pensioners. Those figures include families in your community who are struggling to get by.
The reality is that a sudden change of circumstances could propel any one of us into a challenging financial situation. Redundancy, bereavement, relationship breakdown or an environmental disaster could leave us in a precarious situation. Without the support of others, this could spiral into poverty.
Poverty is a reflection of inequalities in society. As an example, the data reveals that families with a disabled member make up a high percentage of those who are struggling financially. Not being paid a living wage is an issue for many people who are working long hours yet have no financial stability.
Poverty marginalises people. It reduces access to services, activities and resources that build skills, confidence, and opportunity – the means of improving life chances. The longer someone struggles to make ends meet, the harder it is to move out of the situation.
Many organisations offer free services online or in person, but access may still be barred. Consider the individual who:
· Can’t access the website or an app because they can’t afford a smartphone or broadband
· Has to go without a meal to afford the bus fare to get to your offices or a job interview
· Avoids accessing services through fear of being asked to pay
· Is unable to leave a disabled child or parent with dementia at home alone
· Struggles with literacy or numeracy so doesn’t understand the information provided
· Is embarrassed by their situation and fears the stigma attached to seeking help
What we do know is that when individuals can access free support, particularly professional debt advice, it can help them to take control of the situation. Empathy and practical advice can help them to prioritise bills, alter payment terms and access support. The sooner this is actioned, the easier it is to get finances in order.
Improving the Chances of a Decent Life
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation believes that everyone deserves the chance of a decent and secure life. They drew on an incredible range of resources, contacts, and expertise to produce a report on UK Poverty: Causes, Costs & Solutions in 2016. In addition to increasing incomes to a living wage and raising educational standards, the report also highlights the importance of community and family in tackling poverty.
Challenge Poverty Week 2021
We can all play a part in helping to tackle poverty and collective action can enforce change. This is the idea behind Challenge Poverty Week. The Scottish initiative is running from 4-10th October, with the England & Wales and London initiatives running from 11-17th October.
Challenge Poverty has provided online resources, events, and training to help everyone get involved. You might choose to raise awareness on social media using the hashtags #TogetherWeCan and #ChallengePoverty. There’s also an MP letter template that you can use to raise concerns at Government level. Alternatively, you could volunteer at a local foodbank or community project or donate to a charity.
We live in a society full of inequality. In a time of need, we all like to think that there is someone who would step up and help us out. Will you be that person during Challenge Poverty Week?