Poverty no longer exists in Britain today

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There is an argument that poverty no longer exists in Britain today.  Many people would say that the days when people died from lack of food, shelter or clean water ended, in this country, with the introduction of the welfare state (Chinn, 1995).  Poverty, however, can be defined in two ways and depending on which definition one chooses to employ, it can be contested whether the balance of evidence shows that poverty actually does exist or not. In this piece of work it will be argued that poverty does affect many people in our society and the lack of resources of poorer people in society is at the root of inequalities in health. Furthermore it will be shown that the discrepancy between the standards of living that better off people in society enjoy and the standards of living that poorer people endure can be something that is very difficult to alter. In conclusion there will be a discussion on the role that social care professionals may play in trying to reduce the negative effects suffered by some people as a result of poverty.

The first of the two identified forms of poverty is absolute or “subsistence level poverty” (Thompson and Priestly, 1996: 207). Income falls below a set level so that a person does not have the means to be able to secure the basic necessities for living, in terms of food, drink, shelter and clothing.  Stephens et al (1998) argue that for some people in society, like rough sleepers, poverty in absolute terms is very real and that when older people die from hypothermia because they can’t afford to heat their homes adequately it is as a result of absolute poverty.  Poverty in this sense however has certainly diminished since the advent of the Welfare State.

The second definition of poverty, relative poverty, is defined in terms of a ‘reasonable’ standard of living generally expected by the society in which a person lives. It identifies ‘needs’ as more than basic biological requirements, taking into account social and emotional needs. It is also about being excluded from taking part in activities which are widely undertaken by the rest of society.  In terms of resources, relative poverty is a higher standard of living than absolute poverty but it could be argued that many things that are not strictly essential for life nevertheless could be deemed as necessities by society in general.  Thus whether you adhere to an absolutist or relativist definition of it, it is clear that there are certain people in society who suffer from poverty. Modern research into poverty combines both classifications. Stevens et al (1988: 266) maintain:  “it’s important to capitalise on the advantages of both definitions”.

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There have been several pieces of well-documented research into health inequalities, both by successive governments and independent bodies, for example, The Black Report in 1980; Margaret Whitehead’s ‘The health divide’ in 1987 (Stephens et al, 1998) and most recently the Acheson Report in 1998.  This research underlines the correlation between poverty and ill health and the disparity that exists, depending on social class. Measurements and comparisons are made in terms of morbidity and in terms of mortality. Research shows that if a person is born into poverty his/her chances of suffering ill health and a shortened life span are ...

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