Being in poverty has a negative affect on an individual’s life chances. Being poor means you’ll struggle to make ends-meet, you’ll be stuck renting rather than buying your own house, you’ll probably be in stuck in a debt-cycle, your kids are more likely to fail their GCSEs, you’re more likely to a victim of crime, less likely to feel like you’ll belong, you’ll feel more miserable, and suffer more mental health problems during the course of your life.
You’re also much less likely to save sufficient money towards your pension, but fortunately that won’t matter, because you’re also likely to die younger, so at least you won’t suffer for too many years in old-age.
This post explores some of the statistical evidence on the relationship between poverty and life chances, looking at a range of evidence collected by the office for national statistics and other agencies such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The point of this post is simply to provide an overview of the statistics, and offer something of a critique of the limitations of these statistics. I’ll also provide some links to useful sources which students can then use to explore the data further.
Most of the statistics in this post use a relative measurement of poverty based on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s definition of a low income household which is defined as one which has income of 60% of the average income, roughly equivalent to £7500 for single person households and £11000/ year for two person, or couple households in 2014-15.
According to this measurement there were 13.5 million people, or 21% of the U.K. population living in low-income households in 2014/15 (1).
Life chances simply refers to your chances of achieving positive outcomes and avoiding negative outcomes throughout the course of your life – such as succeeding in education, being happy, or avoiding divorce, poor health and an early, painful death.
Six ways poverty affects life changes
Poverty negatively affects people’s life chances. Being poor means…
- You struggle to pay the bills (having to choose between heating or eating)
- You have to pay rent rather than owning your own home
- You’re more likely to be in debt, which means more poverty.
- You’re kids are more likely to fail their GCSEs
- You’re more likely to be a victim of crime.
- Your more likely to suffer from poor mental health
Poverty means you can’t pay the bills
The poorest fifth are at least FIVE times as likely to be able to keep up with paying bills compared to the richest fifth
- Almost half of all families with children in the poorest 20% find it ‘difficult to make ends meet’. A fifth are unable to keep up with bills.
- This compares to 10% and approximately 3% respectively for the richest fifth of households.
Being poor means you have to pay rent
People renting are 3-4 times more likely to be in poverty than owner-occupiers
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation notes that ‘11% of owner-occupiers live in poverty after housing costs, over two in five (42 per cent) of all social rented sector tenants and over a third of private rented sector tenants (36 per cent) live in poverty (DWP, 2015b). The extent to which housing costs contribute to poverty levels is particularly acute in the private rented sector with poverty levels in this tenure doubling from 18 to 36 per cent when housing costs are taken into account.’
Rent accounts for at least a third of income for more than 70% of private renters in poverty.
Poverty equals debt, equals interest payments, equals more poverty
Poor people are FOUR TIMES more likely to be in debt
Living in a ‘low income’ household (or being ‘in poverty’) is strongly correlated with being in debt – in 2014/15 20% of people in poverty were behind with a bill (excluding housing costs), compared to only 5% of households not in poverty.
Source: The Joseph Rowntree Foudation – Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion
The ten sets of statistics below all suggest that poverty has a negative impact on life chances
Poverty leads to educational underachievement
Poor children are almost twice as likely to fail their GCSEs.
Only 39% of Free School Meal Pupils achieve A*- C in English and Maths compared to 66.7% of all other pupils
Source: Department for Education: GSCE and equivalent results 2015-16
Poor people are more likely to be victims of crime
Poor people are THREE times more likely to be victims of burglary
People living in more deprived areas are more likely to be a victim of crime that those living in affluent areas:
- In the most deprived areas, the risk of households being victims of vandalism is eight per cent as compared with six per cent in the least deprived areas.
- In the most deprived areas the risk of households being victims of burglary is three per cent as compared with one per cent in the least deprived areas
Poverty leads to poor mental health
The poorest 20% of children are 4 TIMES more likely to have a severe mental health condition than the richest 20%
Free school meals:
Where a pupil’s family have claimed eligibility for free school meals in the School Census they are defined as eligible for Free school meal (FSM).
In 2016, 13.4% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 were eligible for free school meals, compared to 13.8% in 2015.
Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals in the past six years (from year 6 to year 11), if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care.
In 2016, 27.7% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 were disadvantaged, 0.4 percentage points higher than 2015 (27.3%).
There was a 12.2 and 12.6 attainment gap between ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘Free School Meals’ pupils respectively in 2016.
I usually teach this material as part of my introduction to sociology module.
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