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The BBC's social affairs correspondent Kim Catchside
"Absolute poverty is normally applied to third-world countries"
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 00:52 GMT
Millions live in poverty in the UK
Deprived housing
Many people live in "absolute poverty"
Over five million people live in "absolute poverty" in the UK, according to a report published today.

'Breadline Europe: The Measurement of Poverty', looked at research into poverty across the continent, identifying increasing levels of poverty in the UK.

The definition of absolute poverty is taken from a 1995 United Nations statement, which said it was "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs."

It listed those as a lack of food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and access to benefits.

Absolute poverty is not supposed to exist in a country like Britain

David Gordon,
University of Bristol
Nine per cent of UK households reported that their income fell "a lot" below what they needed each week to keep them out of absolute poverty.

A further 8% said their income was a "little below" the necessary level.

And 4% said they or their partner had gone without food in the last year.

David Gordon, senior research fellow from the University of Bristol, who co-authored the study, said: "Absolute poverty is not supposed to exist in a country like Britain."

But he said that by the definition agreed at the UN, 17% said they were living in it.

Single parent poverty

The highest rates of poverty in Britain were found among single parents.

More than two fifths who had one child said their income fell below the minimum of 163 a week.

Precentage reporting 'absolute poverty'
Single pensioner - 24%
Single adult - 20%
Couple, 2 children - 9%
Single parent, 2 children - 54%
Over half those with two or more children felt they had less than the necessary income.

Single pensioners also feel they suffer. A quarter said their income fell below a minimum income of 106, which the study's authors said was 20-30 higher than the basic state pension.

Of families of two adults and one child, who put the minimum figure at 205, 15% had less than that coming in each week.

Professor Peter Townsend, professor of international social policy at the London School of Economics co-editor of the study said: "The UK has become the special case of Europe.

He told BBC News Online they had asked people what the necessities of life were, and what income was needed to escape absolute poverty.

Those lacking three or more "necessities", who also had a low income were classed as being below the level set for "absolute poverty".

He said: "No one would deny that severe poverty was experienced on a greater scale in third world countries."

But he said it was important to consider the basic physical and social needs, and the actual items people require to sustain a lifestyle like that of others in their society.


The researchers asked 1,600 people who had taken part in the General Household Survey what they thought was socially and materially necessary.

Papers from the Economic and Social Research Council provided the basis for chapters in the book.

The study also examined poverty in Eastern Europe and the former USSR.

It found that over the last ten years, levels of poverty had increased significantly.

In Russia, 60% were in poverty, with 25% in extreme poverty in 1998, compared to 11% in 1992.

Peter Kenway, director of the New Policy Institute, which compiles an annual report on poverty in the UK for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said it was perfectly legitimate to look at what people thought indicated poverty, rather than look simply at income.

But he added other measures, including that used by the government, estimated different levels of poverty.

He added a standard measure had to be found: "There is a real problem now about coming up with a definition that's comprehensible to people."

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23 Feb 01 | Health
Child poverty 'high in the UK'
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