Sunday, April 30, 2006

persistent poverty

The Joseph Rowntree foundation has recently produced a study report that shows that persistent poverty (poverty is defined as a family income below 60% of the median income) in Britain is on the increase.

There are approximately 3.5 million children living in poverty in Britain today. That's more than a quarter of the total child population.

Why is this so important? Apart from the obvious effects of deprivation for those children, this poverty has every chance of persisting throughout their lives, and later being passed on to their own children. Childhood poverty experience leads to adult poverty, which in turn affects future generations.

The study looked at two groups of teenagers, one from the 1970s, and one from the 1980s. The purpose was to research the link between childhood and adult poverty, and to discover if this link is getting weaker or stronger. Its findings relegate the notion of social mobility in Britain to the waste bin.

Almost 20% of 1970s teenagers from poor families were found to have grown up to be poor in later life, whilst only 10% of the non-poor teenagers had this outcome. Poor teenagers from that decade had twice the chance of staying poor throughout their life than teenagers from non-poor families. This effect has been ascribed to general background disadvantages such as parental unemployment and poor education, rather being directly attributable to poverty itself.

The results for the 1980s poor teenagers were significantly worse. This group were found to be four times as likely to remain in poverty throughout their lives. A doubling of the persistence of poverty link from the previous decade. The increasing risk has been attributed to the direct effect of poverty for 1980s teenagers. Their own adult unemployment rather than the more general family factors of the 1970s group.

There is considerable difficulty in identifying specifically the cause of persistent poverty from the numerous factors involved, but income poverty is clearly tied up with deprivation in its many guises. However, unemployment, for self and/or partner, and having a poor work history seem to be the strongest factors, and it is their direct effect that caused the massive increase in the chance of persistent poverty for the 1980s teenagers.

Although not specifically mentioned in the report, the results clearly indicate the effects of the Thatcher years in increasing persistent poverty. The 1980s teenagers first employment opportunities were blighted by unemployment which was at its highest since WWII, peaking in 1984 to more than 3 million. During this decade the richest 10% of the population more than doubled their disposable income, whilst the poorest saw little or no increase in theirs.

The concise conclusion of the report is that there is a clear link between childhood poverty and poverty in later life, and this link is becoming increasingly stronger.

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