Intended for healthcare professionals


Poverty in the United Kingdom: from bad to worse

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 12 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3192
  1. Graham Watt, Norie Miller professor of general practice
  1. 1University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 9LX, UK
  1. graham.watt{at}

By design and drift the UK has become more unequal, less inclusive, and less caring

In 1973 the National Children’s Bureau published Born to Fail, which described how large numbers of children in the United Kingdom were being born and brought up to fail—first in the educational system and then in employment and the wider economy.1 In 1980 the Black report on inequalities in health recommended that “above all, the abolition of child poverty should be adopted as a national goal for the 1980s.”2

In 1979, 10% of children were being brought up in households with less than half of average income—the definition of child poverty at that time. A decade later, it was 30%. A Unicef report on child neglect in rich countries laid the blame firmly at the door of the laissez faire market based policies introduced by most Anglo-American countries as they sought to extricate themselves from recession.3 An editorial in The BMJ put it succinctly: “Markets fail children.”4

UK governments have been struggling ever since to reduce child poverty. Using comparable statistics, the National Children’s Bureau estimates that the number of children in poverty increased from two million in 1969 to 3.5 million in 2013.5 …

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