The U.K. boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy, but almost one-in-three of the country’s children are growing up in poverty, according to the independent Social Metrics Commission.
And things are getting worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that child poverty could reach almost 37 percent by 2022.
Such warnings come as Britain’s prepares to leave the European Union on March 29, which the Bank of England has said could shrink the economy by as much as 8 percent in about a year.
Brexit means the U.K. will also lose billions in E.U. funding, which has greatly benefited the country’s most deprived areas.
The U.N. last month criticized the British government for continuing austerity measures imposed in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis.
“Various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40 percent,” Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty, wrote in a 24-page report on the effect such policies have had in the U.K. “For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.”
Alston also dismissed the government’s theory that work is the solution to poverty, highlighting that 60 percent of those below the breadline come from families with at least one member being employed.
The government has admitted that the country would be poorer under any form of Brexit, and many fear that people like Butterworth who are struggling to make ends meet now will be disproportionately affected.
The statistics are staggering.
- Food bank use in the U.K. has increased fourfold since 2012. There are now around 2,000 food banks across the country, compared to just 29 at the height of the financial crisis.
- The fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 had already increased the cost of living for people in poverty by around £400 ($506) per year, the U.N. report said.
- An average of 36 people have become homeless every day in the past year in Britain, according to the charity Shelter.
- The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a research and development charity, warns that if the government does not sufficiently increase benefit payments to account for post-Brexit inflation, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty.
- The U.N. report also notes that the U.K. government does not have an official method for measuring poverty.
“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach” by the government toward those at the lowest levels of society, Alston added.
Discount stores and derelict buildings
Just outside the city of Manchester, the old cotton-mill town of Oldham has been hit hard by industrial decline and then years of austerity.
With a population of 225,000, it is peppered with discount stores and derelict buildings.
Oldham’s municipal government has vowed to fight back and the town center’s first new movie theater in three decades opened its doors in 2016 as part of a $46.1 million regeneration project.
More than 40 percent of children living here grow up in poverty, according to the End Child Poverty coalition of charities. It classifies such households as those with incomes of less than 60 percent of the national median after housing costs — or $321 per week.
In the Oldham neighborhood of Coldhurst, 62 percent of children live below the breadline — the highest rate of child poverty in the U.K.