The study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Trust is based on in-depth discussions with groups of people from across the income scale. The discussions were used to determine what constitutes a basic standard of living in contemporary society. The results show that a family of four needs almost £37,000 per annum to meet basic needs and a single person needs just over £16,000.
These figures imply that the majority of British people have incomes that are insufficient to meet their daily needs. Average income for working age households is £33,000. Whilst this figure may seem reasonably close to the study's estimate of the income needed for a small family, only those in the top third of society have average or above average income. In other words, the majority of the population have less than the income necessary to participate in society.
However, some people have questioned the methodology of the study and its findings. Eamon Butler, for the Institute for Economic Affairs, a right-wing think tank, pointed out on the BBC's Today
programme that people do not "need" cars and DVDs and computers (1.34).
Julia Unwin, of the Joesph Rowntree Trust, said
Families have a monumental task trying to earn enough to get by. Parents facing low wages and pressure on their working time have little prospect of finding the extra money they need to meet growing household expenses.
These differences of perspective are deeply rooted in British society, having a long history, stretching back for centuries. Yet, even the Finanical Times
, a newspaper that is not noted for socialist commitments, expressed the view that the report shows the:
impact of the recession and changes to the benefits system on working families...
And even the Daily Telegraph
, a newspaper generally recognised as promoting conservative opinions, covers the report in a positive manner, acknowledging that the recession and austerity measures have substantially increased the cost of living, especially for families. However, the Telegraph
also points out that the report notes that definitions of acceptable living standards do not fall as the population becomes poorer, rather more people become unable to meet socially accepted norms.
Leaving aside ideological debates about the minimum income a person needs to participate in society, it is undeniable that the report shows the position of the poorest members of society has significantly deteriorated since the economic crisis of 2008. The gap between minimum standards and minimum wage has been consistently increasing. This increase is mirrored at the opposite end of the economic hierarchy, as the income of the richest
has continued to rise far faster than for those on average. The report is one more study showing how British society is becoming more unequal.