During the lead up to Christmas, many of us are all-too-acquainted with empty pockets and a much lighter bank account. But the poverty we’re looking at today isn’t just linked with money.

The policy for safeguarding individuals in the UK depends on a shared agreement of definitions. Disability, for example, is an umbrella term that encompasses both physical and mental conditions that in some way restrict a person’s daily activities. While far from perfect, the definition allows for front-line workers all the way to policymakers to ensure they’re working on improving life for those that have conditions that fall under the umbrella term ‘disability’. 

Shockingly, poverty has no such defined measurement in the UK. The lack of official measure for poverty evaluation makes day-to-day work challenging for professionals providing frontline services, and tracking progress from a government perspective becomes nigh impossible (and potentially highly politicised). Without clear terms by which to measure, officials are unlikely to be fully held to account for their work on reducing and eliminating poverty.   

The Social Metric Commission, created in 2016, set out with the purpose of creating a clear and accurate framework through which the UK could gain insight on the issue of poverty. In September 2018, the Commission published its findings; today we’ll be looking at some highlights from the report, along with the Social Metric Commission’s proposed framework for measuring poverty. 

Poverty and Disability – A Worrying Link  

Through the Commission’s new metric, a strong link was found between poverty and families living with a disabled person: “Our approach suggests that nearly half of the 14.2 million people in poverty live in families with a disabled person.” The report went on to expand on this point by talking about the hidden costs of disabilities; in something close to social exclusion, the report found that “disabled people face extra costs to do the same things as those without a disability.” While government benefits assist with living costs, they do not account for the “inescapable costs” of being disabled and even appear to push such families above the poverty line. The poverty line, however, does not take into account the extra day-to-day costs (such as lack of appropriate public transport) incurred by having a disability and is, therefore, an inaccurate measure.   

The Commission’s new measure seeks to take into account “the way in which…disability affects people’s ability to make ends meet”.    

Persistent Poverty, Children and Worklessness 

Living below the UK’s poverty line is worrying; remaining in it for some time has potentially significant impacts on an individual’s life. The report told of the 7.7 million people living in persistent poverty using their proposed measurement; that’s over 10% of the UK’s population. Around half of all children living in persistent poverty are in “workless families” where both parents do not work. Perhaps most significantly, the report showed that the very reasons people fall into poverty are precisely why they remain in poverty for two or more years; poor education and lack of labour market experience were signposted as two conditions that led to such persistent poverty.   

The Commission chose to use the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s definition of persistent poverty, “which regards families as being in persistent poverty if they are in poverty this year, and have been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years.”  

On the Precipice – Almost in and Almost Out of Poverty  

The report found over five million people who are sitting just below or just above the poverty line. The Commission suggested that relatively small changes would result in those people moving either in or out of poverty. Worryingly, those who were above the poverty line but had been in poverty in the past were “bar far the most likely to be observed in poverty in the future.” 

Looking Beyond Income – A More Accurate Measure of Poverty  

An overview of the Commission’s approach to poverty measurement was presented in the report (page 8). Rather than measuring through a purely income-based approach, the proposed model presents an equation that builds a more detailed picture of poverty. Savings, debt, childcare costs and the extra cost of disability are used to create an image of “family resources” that form part of a larger equation, with the measurement presenting each family with an individual poverty line. The Commission also sought to factor in previously omitted groups, like those living in overcrowded conditions and homeless people.  

We at UKCBC hope the government takes on board the Social Metrics Commission’s report and addresses the concerning issue of poverty that is still shockingly prevalent in British society.   

Be sure to read the Social Metrics Commission’s full report for more details. 

Those working in health and social care form a vital part of British society’s social security net. If you’re interested in supporting citizens, a BSc (Hons) in Health and Social Care Management (with Integrated Foundation Year) might be the perfect course for you. Contact our course advisors today for more information. 

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