THE BLOG
29/06/2015 13:21 BST | Updated 29/06/2016 06:59 BST

What Does It Mean to Be Poor in the UK Today?

Now that the safety net of local welfare support has shrunk and we face many more ominous cuts, who knows what the current state of poverty looks like now or what these figures will be by 2020? All I can say for sure is so long as this constant level of need remains, we will continue to provide for those who need support most.

The government's latest figures (25 June 2015) have revealed that there are 2.3million children (almost one in six) living in poverty in the UK - the lowest level since the 1980s. Poverty is flat on most of the measures and has even fallen on some.

The figures contradict earlier predictions made by The Institute for Fiscal Studies and New Policy Institute who expected the number of children in poverty to rise by around 300,000.

For some, these new Government figures have been welcome news. I'm sure the majority would agree that any movement towards reducing child poverty - although we are still a long way from achieving the target of only one in 10 children in poverty by 2020 - is obviously a step firmly in the right direction. If, that is, the figures are indeed showing us an accurate picture.

On this point, for others, there has been a growing concern in the way that these statistics are measured. Under the current definition, a child is deemed to be living in poverty if they are in a household with an income that is less than 60% of the national average.

David Cameron has said that this way of measuring does not provide an accurate representation of UK poverty. He said, "Because of the way [child poverty] is measured, we are in the absurd situation where, if we increase the state pension, child poverty actually goes up".

By questioning the definition of poverty and looking to make changes to the way it is measured, some have criticised the Prime Minister for "moving the goalposts" so that the figures work to his favour. Tom Clark, writing for The Guardian, proposed that the purpose of such changes would be to "Cloud accountability - to create so many indicators that there is bound to be some nugget or other of good news to point to, even in a land where the poor are getting very much poorer".

I expect that there will be a lot of debate in the coming days around what it means to be poor in the UK today - whether poverty is a wholly financial issue or whether social and emotional issues should play a part, and what are the most accurate ways to measure the effects of poverty.

I, for one, welcome the debate. The more publicity this issue gets, the more apparent and imposing the elephant in the room becomes. I am often shocked at how regularly I encounter people who are oblivious to, not only scale of child poverty, but also the struggles and disadvantages that these people face on a daily basis. The more media attention there is to counter this ignorance, the better.

Personally, however, I find it difficult to get overly excited just by looking at these figures. At Buttle we continue to battle against the relentless stream of children and young people who desperately need support. The needs are not getting fewer nor are the situations becoming less serious. Our caseworkers work flat out to process the thousands of applications that we receive each month and deliver £millions every year to where it's needed most. From where I stand, the demand is as prevalent and ceaseless as ever.

In addition, these figures cover 2013/14 and so are already out of date. I am not saying that they are irrelevant as they provide the most recent snapshot, however, since the start of the year the government have introduced many new cuts, including the £100million cut to local welfare, which I discussed in a previous blog, and we are yet to see what effect they have had on these figures. There are also £12billion more of cuts yet to come, as laid out in the budget. Oxfam has said that 36% of the UK population are just one heating bill or one broken washing machine away from hardship. With reduced local welfare, could this 36% be pushed closer towards the edge of deprivation?

New data from Children and Young People Now also shows that the number of at-risk children being looked after by the state rose by 8% (5,000) under the coalition government. At the same time, the number of young people put on child protection plans (being closely monitored by social workers to ensure their safety) rose by 33% to 52,000 and the number of "section 47 inquiries" (to determine whether individual children are being abused or neglected) increased by 42% to 159,000. As Patrick Butler said recently, "...this increase in demand had put huge pressure on the finances of social workers' and children's services departments at a time when local authority budgets had been cut by 40%". Are we yet to see the impact of this overwhelming rise in need?

This is a crucial time for our children and young people. There are many barriers ahead that could prevent them from escaping poverty and lead many families spiralling into debt and deprivation.

Now that the safety net of local welfare support has shrunk and we face many more ominous cuts, who knows what the current state of poverty looks like now or what these figures will be by 2020? All I can say for sure is so long as this constant level of need remains, we will continue to provide for those who need support most, case by case. Never underestimate the power of a little support at the right time.