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unable to reach a minimum standard of living

July 10, 2012
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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published a report for which it asked the British public about the minimum amount of money that different types of families should have to their disposal. As part of the Minimum Income Standard of the UK (MIS) initiative, members of the public are asked to list all the items that are required for a socially acceptable standard of living and how much money they think different types of families need to reach such a standard of living. The JRF has been undertaking this initiative since 2008, thus offering an interesting insight into the situation before and after the recession.

Results of this study were presented yesterday in the 10pm BBC news. I also found its findings on the front page of Guardian’s website this morning. But then this doesn’t just present another exercise towards defining or measuring poverty, it rather shows the (huge!) discrepancy between what people themselves think is required to lead an acceptable life and what is feasible for those on minimum wage or social welfare. The minimum acceptable standard of living for a family of four (a couple with two children) has been established at £36,800, whilst single people need to earn £16,400 a year and lone parents with one child £23,900. The research found that one in four families live below these standards of living. These standards are not the result of generous calculations or elaborate wish-lists of what a family should have – participants in the panel suggested that families need to go bargain-hunting, use vouchers and spend less on gifts. Still, reaching those standards will be hard for many, and not just those on social welfare. The gap between the required salary of parents to reach those standards is 55%.

In addition, it shows the stark decline in the proportions of families being able to obtain the acceptable minimum standard of living as identified by the public since the start of the recession. The wage gap was 30% two years ago, and has thus risen sharply. The report states that child care costs represent the largest burden on families, and that rising transport costs also take their toll. The total amount required to reach an acceptable standard of living has risen by a third since 2008, which is twice the amount of inflation. As a result, 3 million more people live are unable to meet those standards in comparison to 2008.

These results are particularly pertinent in a time of fiscal austerity and a climate of cutting costs and far-reaching welfare reform. And although the coalition claims it does everything it can to ease or spread the burden, middle-class families now have £ 1,000 less to spend. And with further welfare cuts underway, it is doubtful that another round of this research will provide a rosier picture.

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