George Walford: Poverty Advances

Startling figures continue to be given for the prevalence of poverty in Britain. One recent report, from the National Children’s Home, has a quarter of our children suffering this condition, 3.5m of them severely. Consternation diminishes when one learns that ‘poverty’ here means living in a family with less than half the national average expenditure – so that a widespread increase of income, unless distributed with rigorous evenhandedness, would be likely to increase the numbers in poverty.

In 1990 London Weekend Television undertook a survey of poverty, calling it “Breadline Britain.” They did not impose any arbitrary definition but used survey techniques to draw up a list of what people considered necessities. Anything mentioned by more than half of those questioned went on the list, and families without three of the items were deemed to be living in poverty, those without seven or more in severe poverty. The list included a washing machine, regular savings of £10 a month, a hobby, and leisure equipment for children. The survey continues, and additional items which seem likely to attain listed status in the near future include a dressing gown, a night out twice a month, quarterly journeys to other parts of Britain to visit friends, and special lessons in sport or cultural subjects.

With a ‘breadline’ pitched at that level it becomes easier to understand the eagerness, of people from countries without advanced industrial capitalism, to subject themselves to British poverty. (Based on an article by Godfrey Smith in the Sunday Times, 28 June).

from Ideological Commentary 57, August 1992.