Channel 4 Learning

Who rules //

Unequal Britain?

The UK is a democratic country; its citizens enjoy freedom and equality. It is both one of the richest countries in the world and one of the most expensive countries to live in. You may think that a country such as this would be practically free of poverty. However, almost one-quarter of the population lives in poverty – this accounts for nearly 13 million people, including a third of all children. At the same time some of the richest people in the world live in the UK. Does this make Britain an equal society?

What is poverty?

The United Nations defines poverty as a 'lack of capabilities to live a long, healthy and creative life, to be knowledgeable, and to enjoy a decent standard of living, dignity, self-respect, and the respect of others'.

If someone's household income in the UK is below 60% of average household income, then they are considered to be living in poverty.

Effects of poverty in the UK

Children living in poverty are less likely to do well in their education than children who are from wealthier households.

They are also more likely to suffer from health problems, lower life expectancy and low employment prospects. 18% of children go without two or more essential items such as warm clothes and three meals a day. Just under ten million people can't afford safe, warm housing and have to live in cold, damp conditions.

Children, women and the elderly are the worst hit by poverty. Those living in poverty often have to face humiliation and a feeling of helplessness as they are judged and seen as second-class citizens, with many people expressing the view that those in poverty are to blame for their difficulties.

Children living in poverty

Children living in poor conditions in Stetchford, Birmingham, UK

What's being done to help?

The government has pledged to halve child poverty by 2010. It has increased child benefit payments to parents since 1997 when it came into power and introduced a minimum wage to try and ensure that people are not being exploited.

There are many local schemes in areas where poverty and disadvantage is high. These schemes aim to support parents to get into employment, so they can help themselves without having to constantly rely on benefit payments. Childcare and nurseries are provided free of charge to help these families.

Pensioners have received increases in their pension payments and receive extra help in the winter to pay for higher heating bills. Do you think the government is doing enough to combat poverty?

Key Points

  • A quarter of the population in the UK lives in poverty.
  • Poverty is defined as those with less than 60% of the national average household income.
  • Children, women and the elderly are most likely to live in poverty.
  • The government has introduced schemes to try and help people overcome poverty.
  • Poverty can affect people's life chances including job prospects and education.

Reality Bytes: Barnardo's

Barnardo's is a national charity that aims to help disadvantaged children, young people and their families. It runs anti-poverty projects all over the UK and tries to get whole communities involved in tackling poverty themselves with help from local organisations.

The charity provides services such as play schemes for young children, training for parents so they can enter employment, and drop-in centres for young homeless people. This is all offered free of charge and can make a huge difference to people's lives, pulling them out of poverty and helping them find jobs and adequate housing.

Interesting Facts

  • Approximately 500 people sleep rough every night in the UK.
  • There are 400,000 homeless people in the UK living in temporary accommodation.
  • There are 2 million children in the UK who live in households where nobody is employed.

Big Question

  • Do you think the government should be doing more to help people in poverty or should this task be left to charities such as Barnardo's?