Critical Analysis Of The Community Strategy Response To Poverty In UK

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In this essay I will be critically exploring and commenting on the policies and the community strategy responses that have been implemented to poverty through the lens of gender and race. I will be exploring the Welfare Benefit scheme that was set up by the Coalition and this is exclusively available to those in poverty. This is a response to poverty because it is money paid by the Government to people who are ill, poor, or have no job to help make ends meet. I will be also looking at changes that were made to the welfare state and the introduction of the Spare Room Subsidy also known as Bedroom Tax. I will be exploring what universal credit is and how that links to poverty.

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The word poverty provokes strong emotions and many questions because poverty is a broad issue and it can be dissected into many different factors and the definition of what poverty is differs to many people, Poverty is contested due to the fact that people have different views on what poverty is. Alexandria, VA: ASCD says that there are basically three current definitions of poverty in common use: absolute poverty, relative poverty and social exclusion. Absolute poverty is defined as the lack of enough resources with which to keep body and soul together. Relative poverty defines resources or income in relation to the norm. It is concerned with the absence of the material needs to participate fully in accepted daily life. The most common explanation of poverty is when individuals may have less income than what seems to be enough to purchase basic needs, food, shelter, clothing, and other essentials.

The 2010 Spending Review were committed to cut public sector spending by £81bn in actual terms, and much of this reduction has already been achieved. The deficit is that the expenses of the Government exceeded its income and has fallen over the last four years, mainly because of tighter management of government spending. The United Kingdom Government Austerity programme is a financial policy that was implemented in the early 21st century after the Great Recession. It is a deficit reduction programme which consists of continuous reductions in public spending and tax rises. The austerity programme included reductions in welfare spending, the cancellation of school building programs, reductions in local government funding, and an increase in VAT. There was a reduction in the spending on services like the police, courts and prisons. With the intention of reducing the Government budget deficit and the role of the welfare state in the United Kingdom. The effects of the austerity policies have proved debated and the policies have received criticism from a variety of politicians and economists. Because of the Deficit reduction programme the decision to cut public sector funding for initiatives like the spare room subsidy (bedroom tax) and universal credit was put into place. This will be explored further later in this essay.

Gender is defined as a basic element of social relations based on perceived differences between the sexes, and as a primary signifier of power creating unequal access to resources. 2009’s World Survey on the Role of Women in Development has shown that women’s access to resources and opportunities is typically tighter and more constrained than that of men. At first look, the links between gender and poverty seem obvious because women have poorer labour market attachment. It is undeniably women who have been affected by Austerity. Austerity is a condition in which people’s living standards are lowered because of economic struggles. Taking a snapshot, women in the UK are slightly more likely to be in poverty than men, this was measured as living in a household on relative low income. There are many other groups that are affected by poverty, but one example is Low paid working families because research using national survey data showed a strong link between continual poverty and experiencing multiple changes in and out of work. The consequence was that employment of the ‘wrong’ sort low paid and insecure can sometimes be worse than no employment at all because of the instability it brings to a family’s funds. Other groups include families with children, BME households where stats show that 44% of children live in poverty and it is rising to 55% in Bangladeshi and Pakistani families. Older and younger people today are also affected plus those individuals with disabilities and People in certain parts of the country this is known as geographic poverty.

The main concern was to get poor people off benefits and into work, so their sources of income was increased. Since the 1970s, employment has been one solution to tackling poverty, but this has not always been effective because official figures show that there are continuing high levels of unemployment with figures of 1.42m individuals who are unemployed. Jobs that are low paid and insecure, that does not have any future job opportunities but only offering only a dead-end only traps people in poverty. Despite having good employment rates in the UK, barriers to increasing pay can be bigger for those with family responsibilities. Caring for children can restrict the number of hours you can work and the distance you can travel for work. This is very important when children are young. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation research shows that the number of people from working families who have been caught in poverty has risen by over one million in the three years to 2016/17. Meaning almost three million children are now confined in poverty despite living in a working family.

Investing in vulnerable children is important to tackle Child poverty as it is a state of financial discrimination in which some children grow up with limited or even no access to the resources needed for them to develop into productive healthy adults, including having adequate education, food, shelter and medical care. According to Mary Liddell, writing in the Guardian (Sunday 29th April 2001) “our child poverty rate is the third highest in the industrialised world.”

In saying that with the work of programmes that were put into place in 2009-2010 we had the lowest level of Child Poverty for 20 years because of effective initiatives that were in place like Sure Start, Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) because this encouraged people to stay in education past the legally required age of 16 which is till the end of year 11. The Labour Party claimed the EMA scheme was of great benefit to those young people from low-income households because once in education it supported high attendance in return for bonuses. This initiative was not always effective because from researching I found out that in 2006 BBC report suggestions were made that even with EMA, parents who were earning less than £30,000 a year, were still struggling to support teenagers enough to help them stay in education past the age of 16. Ever since the cuts of these programmes’ reports show that the overall poverty and inequality are increasing therefore this shows the importance of families having the financial support in order to make a living and help their families develop.

In 2010, the Child Poverty Act was passed with cross-party support. In law it protected Tony Blair’s 2001 pledge to end child poverty by 2020. The aims of this act required a legal duty on governments to produce a child poverty strategy and to move towards four UK-wide targets by 2020 to help eradicate child poverty. A child poverty strategy makes sure that all individuals in the government who is responsible for the welfare and future of our children is concentrating on child poverty. This means taking action to reduce child poverty and having targets to work towards to achieve this. Introducing universal free school meals is one way of acting towards working on child poverty but is it always effective and is it offered to all children because currently more than half of all primary school children miss out on a healthy school meal, many for reasons of poverty. “Children need good food at school to support their progress and achieve high standards of learning.” Says Patrick Leeson Director of Learning and Children’s Services. Free school meals have been shown to improve health and help tackle health discriminations, as well as eliminating the poverty trap faced by parents trying to move into employment.

Childhood poverty can lead to severe implications, both mental and physical, some of which people can recover from in time but sometimes others can be long lasting. The universal belief is that poverty is as much a cause as well as an effect of mental health problems (Langner & Michael, 1963). Evidence for this comes from disadvantaged families from lower class areas.

Another way to help tackle child poverty was by the bringing in of comprehensive, widespread, childcare strategies including extended schools in order to help those families who may need to work a little more than just a few hours to help financially provide for their families. Extended schools provide a range of activities and services often beyond the school day, ‘to help meet the needs of its pupils, their families and the wider community’. Examples of extended school activities are breakfast and homework clubs so that children can get dropped off early and eat something before the school day and parents can go to work early and on time as the children are in a safe environment.

Between 1998 and 2012 the number of children living in ‘relative poverty’ in the UK had fallen by almost 800,000 to a total of around 3.5 million. After the introduction of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012 the quantity of children in ‘relative poverty’ increased, with the sum of around 600,000 by 2019 which was higher than it had been in 2012. Researchers have connected budget cuts and sanctions alongside benefit claimants to increasing use of food banks. During those seven years the number of children obtaining food from the food banks of The Trussell Trust more than tripled. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 found that each one percentage point increase in the rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants sanctioned was associated with a 0.09 percentage point rise in food bank use. Research by The Trussell Trust found that the use of food banks increased more in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.

Universal Credit links to poverty because it’s a way of tackling in-work poverty through decent jobs and wages and the restructure of universal credit is an alternative action of ending Child Poverty. Universal credit is a benefit for working-age people, replacing six benefits and merging them into one payment. The six benefits that have been combined include the income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, income-related employment and support allowance, Working tax and Child tax credit. Universal credit was introduced by the Conservative-led coalition government in 2010 but has proved provocative from almost the beginning. The latest available figures show that there were 2.6 million universal credit claimants as of October 2019, this was just over a third of claimants were in employment. This initiative was designed to be adjusted so that as income increases, some benefits are still received regardless of the hours worked. The concept was to avoid the poverty trap where there is a lack of encouragement to work longer hours because the person loses all benefits, pays higher taxes and ends up without any increase in discretionary income.

Universal credit was designed to make claiming benefits simpler and was introduced in stages across the UK. The idea of universal credit is that it can be claimed whether you are in or out of work. This can be used as additional income to support the family. In order to receive universal credit there’s no limit to the number of hours you can work per week, but your payment reduces gradually as you earn more. There have been criticisms made on universal credits and how it works, opinions state that the benefit cap could harm large families and people living in expensive areas like London, where rents are very high. People may be reluctant to track an online application and update changes in their circumstances because you never know a person’s need through just an application.

Since the cuts to universal credit have been made the overall system has become significantly less generous. An example of this is that the work allowance has been cut so people can earn a smaller amount of money before their benefit payments start to reduce.

The Resolution Foundation, which is a low paid charity, said that cuts like this can weaken the benefit’s main objective which is to make sure people always feel it’s worthwhile to work more hours. This is because individuals can see that their needs are being seen and taken into consideration.

Other critiques of the universal credit scheme are that most people are on a low-income wage and they are used to weekly income. So, getting paid monthly may lead to people becoming short of cash at the end of the month because they must balance their pay monthly and some months may be more costly than others. This may lead to an even higher demand for loan sharks and more pay day loans which results in problems of debt with potentially a high interest. Sometimes it may not be what it seems for example an individual who has less visible inabilities like mental instability or depression maybe declared fit to work which will prevent them from getting any benefits and this is a concern to many individuals.

Duncan Smith, a British Conservative Party Politician. Agreed that there needs to be ‘targeted work activity for those who are new to the idea of work and need to get used to the habits of work’ he also said that sanctions needed to be put into place this included the potential confiscation of benefits for up to three years for individuals who refused to work. This supports the criticism that when receiving benefits having the ‘claimant commitment’ can be a disadvantage because this means that people must take any job offered. Firms may take advantage of this opportunity to gain ‘free labour’ and this means real jobs are not created. This includes the ‘workfare’ schemes where individuals may have to work for 6 months unpaid.

The next stage of welfare transformation required benefits applicants with part-time incomes below a certain threshold to search for extra work or risk losing access to their benefits. ‘We are already requiring people on out of work benefits to do more to prepare for and look for work,’ said Duncan Smith. ‘It was also said that benefits were not a way out of child poverty, but hundreds of children could be taken out of child poverty if one of their parents were to work at least a 35-hours per week at the national minimum wage. This then resulted in the need to change the rules for those who are in-work and claiming benefits, so that once they have overcome their barriers and got into work, in time they can reduce their dependency or come off benefits altogether.’

In conclusion I learned that poverty is one of the main issues in the world that needs to be addressed promptly in the poorest villages in which thousands of people are dying, and most of these people are children. I have learned that poverty debates to the condition of not having the means to afford basic human needs such as clean water, nutrition, healthcare, clothing, food, and a place to live, poverty is a deadly issue that’s killing our population slow and that we as the affected ones need to take actions against it. The causes of child poverty show that parental income is only one of a large network of connected factors. With parents being out of work and not earning enough, children will suffer as a result. Statistics show that every day 1 in every 4 children is born into poverty. This can lead to several concerns in children, which follows with them throughout their adolescence and into adulthood. For instance, children who grow up in families with a low income are more likely to encounter mental health problems, and more likely to develop unhealthily. Greg Duncan found links between poverty and poor health, cognitive development, behaviour, academic achievement and emotional wellbeing. Duncan found that children who had experienced 4-5 years of their early years of life in poverty, achieved a full 9-year decline on exam and test scores compared to children from healthy backgrounds.

In a 2018 study it was found that the bedroom tax was not successful in encouraging residential moves, but ‘it did incentivise people who relocated to downsize suggesting some success in terms of one of the policy aims, such as reducing under-occupancy. The policy did not incentivise people to work more and no statistically significant effects on households’ food consumption or saving behaviour’.

Public policies are methods that Governments use and put into place to translate their political ideas into programmes and actions to deliver ‘results for desired changes in the real world’. An example of a policy that has been introduced to tackle poverty is the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 is an Action from the UK Parliament which makes changes to the rules concerning several benefits offered within the British social security system. Alongside the introduction to this Act there were changes made to the housing benefit scheme. Bedroom Tax is a change to Housing Benefit Entitlement that means individuals will receive less housing benefit if they live in a housing association or council property that is considered to have one or more spare bedrooms. Even Though the Act does not introduce any new direct charges, this fine was brought about by the Labour Party. You will lose 14% of your entitled housing benefit if you have one spare bedroom and if you have two or more spare bedrooms then you will lose 25% of your entitlement. Two children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share one bedroom, as are two children under 10, regardless of gender. On average, a tenant affected by the bedroom tax is losing between £14 and £25 a week. The cap on the housing benefits may force people to move to poorer areas because they may find it too expensive. This causes an increase to the trends of low-income ‘ghettos’ and slum areas. 

16 August 2021

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