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Last Updated: Friday, 19 November, 2004, 11:03 GMT
The cycle of deprivation
By Guy Smith
Producer of Britain's Streets Of Poverty

In a new BBC One daytime series, Sally Magnusson presents a revealing portrait of the most vulnerable people in society including the homeless, single parent families and the elderly. The programme producer outlines what it means to be poor in today's Britain.

Sally Magnusson
Sally Magnusson meets the people living in poverty today
It really is true - "We never have had it so good."

Nearly 50 years ago, when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan memorably coined this phrase, Britain was still emerging from the bleak austerity of the post-war years.

But now we're living in the fourth largest economy on earth.

Most of us have a standard of living that our parents - and certainly grandparents - would envy.

Monday, 22 November: Down And Out
Tuesday, 23 November: Born To Be Poor
Wednesday, 24 November: OAP = Old And Poor
Thursday, 25 November: Another Country
Friday, 26 November: In A Land Of Plenty
We eat better, live longer, travel further and have more cash in our pockets than they probably dreamt of.

But, in a country as rich as ours, one in ten people are still living in hardship. And that's according to the government's own figures.

In fact 20% of the population are "at risk of social exclusion". This rather dry phrase of civil-service speak means one in five people are isolated from the rest of society.

Because today being poor is as much to do with problems like loneliness, bad access to public services and a fear of crime, as it is to do with going without the bare necessities.


But how do we actually define "being poor" in today's Britain?

The government uses a number of complicated technical indicators, the commonest of which is a threshold of having less than 60% of the median income.

Mother and daughter
That works out as a weekly income of 118 for a single person and 194 for a couple.

For a lone parent with two children, it's 207.

This is the so-called "poverty line".

Acording to official figures, there are around 12 million people living below this line throughout the United Kingdom.

When Labour came to power in 1997, that figure was around 13.5 million - so there are fewer poor people now than ever before.


But we're still lagging behind most of western Europe; especially when it comes to children living in poverty.

We rank 11th in the European Union - way behind the other leading countries. For example, we have 10% more children being born into deprived families than Germany.

And, if you're born poor, you're as likely as not to stay poor for the rest of your life.

Many hard-up children live in single parent families or where the father isn't working. And, with unemployed parents, they're twice as likely to grow up to be unemployed themselves.

It's a cycle of deprivation which is very hard to break out of. And it starts with education - or rather lack of it.

Although most children in Britain are doing better at school than ever before, pupils from deprived backgrounds are more likely to miss school and finish their education with few, if any, qualifications.


Only 15% of young people from poor families go on to higher education compared with 79% of children from professional families.

So the poor children grow into poor, unskilled teenagers.

The girls are six times more likely to become teenage mothers than girls from professional families. And their brothers are more likely to turn to crime.

Six out of every ten boys with convicted fathers go on to become criminals themselves.

It's no surprise, therefore, that two thirds of the most deprived areas in the country are also the areas with the highest rates of crime.

And so the cycle continues.

Britain's Streets Of Poverty will be broadcast every weekday from Monday, 22 November, to Friday, 26 November, at 0915 on BBC One.

Child poverty campaign comes west
15 Nov 04 |  Gloucestershire
Children face 'severe poverty'
01 Nov 04 |  Northern Ireland
'Poorest' UK city is in Scotland
30 Jun 04 |  Scotland


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