THE percentage of households existing below society’s minimum standard of living has increased sharply over the past 30 years, according to the largest ever study into the issue in the UK.
A third of people living in Britain are now experiencing a poor standard of living, up from 14 per cent 30 years ago, the Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) project found.
The research found almost one in five people in Scotland is “multiply deprived” – suffering from three or more measures of poverty such as a lack of food, heating and clothing.
The project, by a group of academics including researchers from Glasgow University and Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, said almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions, while 12 million are too poor to engage in common social activities.
However, Scotland’s poverty levels are trailing that of Britain as a whole, where 22 per cent are “multiply deprived”, compared with 18 per cent in Scotland, where researchers said certain devolved social policies had protected vulnerable people from the “worst excesses” of poverty.
Politicians said it was a “disgrace” that people were living in poverty in modern Scotland and called for action from all parties.
The academics behind the study said their research shows full-time work is not always sufficient to escape poverty, with one in six adults in paid work ranked as “poor” – defined as suffering from both a low income and being unable to afford basic necessities.
Almost half of the working “poor” work for 40 hours or more a week.
Nick Bailey, from the University of Glasgow, said: “The UK government continues to ignore the working poor; they do not have adequate policies to address this growing problem.”
One in three people cannot afford to heat their homes properly in winter, with 4 million children and adults not properly fed by today’s standards.
The study found around 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing, while 2.5 million children live in damp homes. Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.
One in four adults has an income below what they consider is needed to avoid poverty, while more than one in five had been forced to borrow in the last year to pay for day-to-day needs.
Professor Glen Bramley, from Heriot-Watt, said: “It is worrying that, in the 21st century, more than 40 per cent of households who want to use meals on wheels, evening classes, museums, youth clubs, Citizens Advice or special transport cannot do so due to unavailability, unaffordability or inadequacy.”
Professor David Gordon, from the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, who led the research, said: “The coalition government aimed to eradicate poverty by tackling the causes of poverty. Their strategy has clearly failed. The available high-quality scientific evidence shows that poverty and deprivation have increased since 2010, the poor are suffering from deeper poverty and the gap between the rich and poor is widening.”
He added: “Scotland is doing slightly better than the UK, but that doesn’t mean it is doing well. Because there have been different policies in place in Scotland, they have prevented the worst excesses of poverty from affecting the Scottish population. Nevertheless, many Scots do suffer the same problems as people in the rest of the UK.”
The report found that far more households were in arrears on their household bills in 2012 – 21 per cent – than in 1999, when the figure was just 14 per cent.
Experts said results from the project dispel the myth, often conveyed by ministers, that poverty in general and child poverty in particular is a consequence of a lack of paid work.
More than one in four adults has skimped on their own food in the past year so that others in the household may eat. Despite this, over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly.
Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, from the University of York, said: “The research has shown that, in many households, parents sacrifice their own welfare – going without adequate food, clothing or a social life – in order to try to protect their children from poverty and deprivation.”
Scottish Conservative welfare spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “In Scotland the level of welfare dependency is too high and this means people become trapped in poverty.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It is a disgrace that in 21st century Scotland we have people forced to live in poverty and addressing this should be the focus of everything we do in politics.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Welfare changes brought in by the current UK government have seen lone parents worse off, family incomes cut and more children pushed into poverty. This should not be happening in a modern, wealthy society.”