The financial circumstances of the general populations have changed in the past few decades in the UK. Poverty and deprivation have disproportionate effects on people with mental health problems and on women in particular.
Poverty in the UK today
During the 20th century, huge improvements were seen in people's quality of life in the UK. Overall, standards of living, health, education and housing are better now than ever before. However, there were some significant changes in the later part of the century that are particularly relevant to women and women's lives.
From 1980 onwards, income inequality – the gap between rich and poor – dramatically increased. In the UK today, we seldom see absolute poverty, but there has been an increase in the numbers of people experiencing relative poverty (measured as an income of 60% or less of the median household income of that year): from 7 million people in 1979 to 13.8 million in 1997. In 2014, 13.5 million people, including 3.9 million children, were living in poor households (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2016; Tinson et al, 2016).
Despite some improvements in the 2000s, the situation has changed again since the 2008 recession. Although the UK has seen less unemployment than in previous recessions, wages have been stagnant and pay has fallen relative to prices. Now, having a job is no guarantee against being in poverty: of the 13.5 million UK households in poverty in 2014/2015, 7.4 million were families in which someone worked (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2016; Tinson et al, 2016).
Government targets set in 2010 to reduce the level of child poverty to 10% in 2020/2021 are unlikely to be met, and the predicted level of child poverty at that time is 24%. Housing costs have increased, there has been a rise in zerohours contracts and job instability, and more people are underemployed. In 2012, 4.8 million people earned less than the living wage. More people are in debt, payday lenders charge high rates of interest, and there has been an increase in people using food banks. The pressure being applied to the poorest members of society has not been as great since before 1945, and attitudes towards the poor have hardened in recent years. The government's austerity measures have particularly hit the resources of health and social services.