Despite being the sixth richest country in the world, one in five people live below the official poverty line in the UK, meaning that they experience life as a daily struggle. The poverty line in the UK is defined as below 60% of median UK household income.
Poverty in the UK is indiscriminate, but some of the common causes include unemployment or redundancy, lack of education or employment skills, low-paid work, inadequate benefits, disability, and long-term physical or mental health issues. Some social groups are also at higher risk of living in poverty, such as ethnic minority groups, single parents, and the elderly.
Whilst the government is quick to identify work as a route out of poverty, around half of UK households in poverty have at least one person in paid employment and two-thirds of children growing up in poverty in the UK are in families where at least one person works.
Another significant factor behind the rise of poverty in the UK is inequality. In May 2014, the Office for National Statistics reported that the richest 1% of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54% of the population. The same month, the Sunday Times reported that the 1,000 richest people in the country had doubled their wealth in the last five years.
Over 80% of the UK population believe that “large numbers falsely claim benefits”, which is reinforced by the media and politicians perpetuating the myth that poverty is a life-choice or self-imposed because of idleness and the separation of people into “strivers” and “skivers”. A survey found that the general public thought that 41% of the welfare budget wasspent on unemployment benefits, when the real figure is no more than 3%. People also believed that 27% of the welfare budget was claimed fraudulently, but in reality less than 1% of claims are dishonest.
Another myth that tends to perpetuate around poverty in the UK and the welfare system is believing that benefit claimants are addicted to drink and drugs, when only 7% of those who receive out-of-work benefits are estimated to be problem drug users and 4% are dependent drinkers. The general public also believes that benefit claimants have large families, but only 8% of benefit claimants have three or more children.