The terrible poverty of modern England:
Melissa, a 20-year-old student, has watched her family struggle to pay the bills since she was at primary school. Ten years ago her mum, Elizabeth, slipped a disc, so badly that sometimes she can’t get out of bed. And, just like that, she had to give up her job as a cafe manager.
A few years later, Elizabeth developed a heart problem: her heart would stop for seven seconds, causing her to faint. “She’d often hit her head,” Melissa explains. For long periods, there was no wage at all coming in: Melissa’s stepdad had a heart attack during her GCSEs, and her father had a brain injury.
A family where all the adults are on the sick lives a financially precarious life?
The terrors of modern neoliberalism, eh?
There’s another little joy in this too:
There are now 19 million people in this country living below the minimum income standard (an income required for what the wider public view as “socially acceptable” living standards), according to figures released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) this month. Around 8 million of them could be classed as Theresa May’s “just about managing” families: those who can, say, afford to put food on the table and clothe their children but are plagued by financial insecurity. The other 11 million live far below the minimum income standard and are, the JRF warns, “at high risk of falling into severe poverty”.
We’ve no back calculation of these numbers. We don’t know how many were, by this standard, so imperilled in 2000, 1980, even 1880. We thus cannot actually tell whether things are getting better or not.