Is it time we have a new world for poverty?
Poverty is a big word. We often associate it with Oxfam adverts and images of children in a third world nation travelling miles to get a tiny amount of un-clean water. That’s why I was struck when I stumbled across this report, which claimed 20% of Britons were now living in poverty (and that’s 27% if you live in London).
What is defined as poverty in the UK depends on a variety of things, such as if you’re cohabiting and if you have children.
The kind of poverty that strikes our mind – due to years of media exposure – is absolute poverty which according to the world bank means surviving on less than $1.25 (80p) a day (purchasing power parity). Relative poverty – which according to this new report 20% of Britons are living in – refers to a standard which means you can’t fully participate in society. Yet the headlines say “are you living in poverty?”.
Because of my own family circumstance, I get the maximum student loan. This year, that’s £7032 a year, or around £135.23 a week. Am I living £46.77 below the poverty line? According to this report yes.
Thankfully, I get an additional £3,000 a year taken from my tuition fees – which I can opt to get in cash – from the University of Southampton’s bursary scheme, which could take me to £192.92 a week, just above the poverty line. This is my sole income, my parents aren’t in a situation where they’re able to help me out with money, and I don’t have a regular part-time job.
Now, I understand there’s a lot of way student’s are exempt from – such as council tax, and many have part time jobs on the side of their degree. I do not for a second feel like I am living in poverty, my fridge is always full, my house is warm and I regularly indulge in excessive gluttonous amounts of online shopping for things I really don’t need.
Okay – so take away the fact I don’t pay council tax. My rent is £3.00 below the Southampton average, at £79.00 a week. And my water bill is £2.05 a week. That means, after housing I ‘take home’ £111.87 a week. That’s far more than enough to spend on food, socialising, books, gym membership, nights out, and some spare to put towards a holiday at the end of the year. It’s even enough to save some to keep for the dreaded day I actually have to start paying it all back.
I’ve lived in a third world country – I’ve seen poverty first hand, I’ve seen homeless children begging, people literally dying in the streets. How can they be put in the same bracket as me?
Student loans are in drastic need of reform. I have friends who are in a similar situation to me, their parents can’t give them a penny for various reasons. Yet, student finance assumes they will. I know multiple people who have the minimum loan £3,731 yet get no money from their parents or elsewhere. That doesn’t even cover their rent. It’s a typical example of something which in theory looks great, looking after the poorest in society and making the richest pay. In reality, especially since maintenance grants have been cut – it’s passing on the largest debt to the poorest families and making everyone struggle.