In Britain today around a quarter of the population live in poverty. This is the highest it's been throughout the post-war years and much higher than in most countries of comparable wealth. Moreover, the poverty rate is heading upwards.
Based on exclusive access to a unique series of research studies into poverty in Britain over the last thirty years, this book examines the sharp rise in the numbers of people who fall below the minimum standards set by society. It sets out to answer a single question – why, when national income is twice as large as it was 30 years ago, has the level of poverty doubled? In doing so it will tackle some of the hottest political topics of the day. What is poverty? Why has growing prosperity been accompanied by a hike in deprivation? Can today’s poverty levels be cut, or are they inevitable?
Just three years ago, in 2010, Labour passed the Child Poverty Act committing future governments to a series of ambitious targets for cutting poverty. It was an audacious move, achieved, remarkably, with all party support. After 150 years of often fractious debate, a national political consensus seemed to have finally been reached, that poverty was too high and reducing it should be a key priority. That consensus is now in ruins. The coalition government has embarked on a poverty rethink aimed at reducing poverty by simply re-defining it. Blaming the poor for their poverty, they have embarked on a ‘big bang’ reform of welfare that has imposed the first rolling set of cuts in benefit levels since the 1930s.
The political controversy that has dogged anti-poverty policy is back, initiating an increasingly bitter debate. With poverty increasingly blamed on the individual not society, public and press attitudes to those on benefits has become increasingly hostile. Meanwhile the living standards of the poorest and most vulnerable have been in freefall, heading back to the types of deprivation last seen a generation ago.
The book will show that while the post-2008 crisis and austerity polices have accentuated the problem of poverty, the origins of Breadline Britain are much more deep-rooted. They lie in the creation of an economic and social system that has enriched the few while condemning a rising minority – around a third of the workforce – to a life of insecurity, low pay and capped opportunities. A successful attack on today’s mass poverty lies less with tinkering with the welfare system than with the construction of an alternative economic model, one which raises opportunities, tackles low pay and deals head on with what Tawney called the ‘problem of riches’.
Stewart Lansley is a writer and economic consultant. After university he became an academic economist holding research posts at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the Centre for Environmental Studies specialising in poverty, inequality and wealth.He has also taught at the Universities of Reading and Brunel. He then moved into television journalism, producing many television series including Breadline Britain, Death of Apartheid, Kenyon Confronts and Food Junkies. He holds awards from the BFI, the New York TV and Film Festival, Sony, Amnesty and was nominated for a do...
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Joanna Mack works at The Open University on a wide range of new modules for the social science faculty covering social policy, psychology, economics, politics and the environment. After graduating from Cambridge University, she worked on New Society magazine before moving into broadcast television where she had a long and successful career as a producer/director of factual programmes winning many prestigious awards, including, nationally, from BAFTA, Royal Television Society, British Film Institute, and British Universities Film and Video Council, and, internationally, from New York Interna...
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