Since 1899, when Seebohm Rowntree first set himself the task of defining a ‘poverty line’ by which to contextualise the visions of poverty which surrounded him in Victorian York, our city has played a key role in defining, quantifying and in that vein understanding the social and economic life of our community. Yet, whilst the booming businesses, flash cars and grand architecture of York’s high street today may advertise a wealthier, more comfortable York than Seebohm’s, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) continue to alert us to the poverty lurking not just in the shadows of our city but also right in front of our eyes.
This week, an annual report published by JRF has sparked a nationwide debate about what it means to have a socially acceptable standard of living. The report, first carried out in 2008, revealed that the minimum required essentials needed by families for an acceptable standard of living had barely altered in the course of four years of economic downturn, but that it is now harder than ever for families to meet that minimum standard.
The study showed that for the standard nuclear family with two working parents and two children, the minimum income they would need to earn for an acceptable standard of living is £36,800, a third more than before the economic recession.
According to the report conducted by the foundation, which is still based in York, the hit to these families in times of economic hardship have been three-fold. The first major hike in costs has come from child-care, often an inescapable cost for working parents, with the fees for child-minders outside of London increasing from £2.70 per hour in 2008 to £3.50 today. Transport has also played a major part in upping the costs of living as doubled fares for public transport have seen many families state a car as a vital essential in their lives, the costs of which drain significantly the family kitty. Finally, the coalition’s cuts to tax credits have pinched the purse strings of today’s families by around £1,000.
This financial blow also comes at the same time that the families’ weekly budget increased by 23% to £454.52 (excluding rent and childcare), a significant 77% of the median family income after housing costs. Because of these escalating costs of living and declining government help, the report shows that one in four families in the UK now lack a decent standard of living.
In terms defining the bare necessities that contribute to an acceptable standard of living, very little had altered since 2008 with the only additions being a car, a computer and internet. Families also revealed that eating out and buying Christmas and birthday gifts was today not such a significant aspect of having the minimum level of comfort as in 2008.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the JRF said of the report’s revelations: “Families have a monumental task trying to earn enough to get by…This year’s research shows that a dangerous cocktail of service cuts and stagnating incomes are being keenly felt by parents. Many working people face the risk of sliding into poverty. It illustrates how anti-poverty measures are needed to address not just people’s incomes but also the costs that they face.”
What defines a minimum standard of living for you? Do JRF’s findings reflect your own experiences?
To see the full report click here. Follow #MIS2012 on Twitter to see the debate unfold.