Winter Crisis: Poverty is Political

Painting by lea fd (holymagentaa), entitled “Pandemic Era.”

Over the last 18 months, the Covid-19 pandemic has been characterised by the stark inequalities that shape Britain. For half of the country, lockdown was a time of Zoom calls in pyjamas, baking banana bread, and virtual pub quizzes. People living in poverty were disproportionately impacted by the virus as they were more likely to have underlying health conditions such as lung disease, diabetes, and asthma.

Paired with the economic fallout of Covid, five key components will engender a cost-of-living crisis in the UK. The ending of the furlough scheme and the £20 Universal Credit uplift, rising gas prices, inflation, and labour shortages, will all have a profound impact on people and families living on a low income, Universal Credit, or in destitution.

People facing multiple barriers, poverty and homelessness are getting hit from all angles.

Think Tank New Economics Foundation (2021) published a report detailing the living standards crisis in the UK. Its analysis is based on the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) which considers the needs that must be met for an individual to thrive rather than just survive in society.

The findings show that by November 2021, 32% of the UK population will be residing in households below a decent standard of living (NEF, 2021). The report also found that even prior to the pandemic, levels of poverty in the UK have been more than just an acute problem. Poverty rates have been stagnant and “stubbornly high” from 2009 to 2020, which have kept living standards in the UK constantly low.

These levels of inequality have only increased as a result of the pandemic. More and more people are relying on a flawed social security system, which fails to provide an adequate basic income, as evidenced by the increasing use of food banks and emergency support services. 

The number of people claiming Universal Credit has soared, rising from 2.8 million to almost 6 million in a year (January NEF, 2021). Following the ending of the Universal Credit uplift, coupled with inflating prices of goods, inequality is expected to experience a sharp surge, starting with a difficult winter ahead. Even with the £20-a-week uplift, 28% of claimants were experiencing severe food insecurity between May- June 2021.

In one of the world’s richest countries, it seems improbable that people should be left to choose between heating the house or eating a meal.

Despite the scale of this issue, in Autumn 2021, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak traded £6 billion worth of Universal Credit funding for £500 million, whilst simultaneously enforcing a higher energy bills cap. Consequently, payments are projected to soar by approximately 12% for 15 million households. This will only have a negative impact on the state of food poverty. With more people unable to make ends meet and fulfil basic physiological needs, there is little hope of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.

In one of the world’s richest countries, it seems improbable that people should be left to choose between heating the house or eating a meal. It is nothing less than a debacle that communities across the UK are unable to put food on the table. The disparity of wealth in Britain is a systemic problem and product of political decisions. Despite Tories throwing £37 billion of taxpayers’ money to private companies such as Secro, there has been a completely futile attempt to mitigate the spread of Covid.

A person’s life prospects should not be determined by where they are born. We need rigorous plans to help people thrive rather than just survive. This includes paying a real living wage, funding digital inclusion projects, investing in green jobs and training, properly insulating homes and buildings, and providing people with opportunities. 


Article by Beckie Walker

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