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Guest blog: What does ‘poverty’ really mean?

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation, a charity that promotes social justice in Wales through research and debate. She has worked extensively on equality and poverty issues at the Foundation and in her previous roles in local government and academia.

By Victoria Winckler

What image does the word ‘poverty’ conjure up? Someone sleeping rough? A disheveled mother and dirty kids? Or maybe a pensioner hunched over an electric fire trying to keep warm?

The reality is a bit different.  About one in five of all households in Wales live in poverty, with about one in eight of households where people are working being poor, as are a third of single, childless women and a quarter of single men.  Poverty can affect any one, at any time, and is undoubtedly in a street near you.

That said, some people are at much greater risk of being in poverty than others: disabled people, for example, or Bangladeshi and Pakistani people, are particularly likely to have low incomes not least because they are much less likely to work than other people.

Some people being very much better off than others is not an accident, random or a matter of luck.  A new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Welsh Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD) shows in great detail just how people’s income and wealth are shaped by who they are as well as what they do. Characteristics people can do nothing about – their gender, ethnicity or disability for example – play a big part in how well-off they are.

For example, people living in white households are found to have a median household income £71 a week higher than people in black households. Women workers typically earn 84p an hour less than men – a gap that soon mounts up over a week.

The report doesn’t make any recommendations, but it’s clear that with inequality on this scale the Welsh Assembly Government, local authorities and all the other bodies that provide public services need to sit up and take notice.

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