Hunger and cold: facts of life for 11 million Britons

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Around 11 million people - or one in five of the population - now live in poverty, representing an increase of 50 per cent in the last decade, British and Swedish social scientists claim.

Their report claims a definition of poverty that is both "scientifically accurate" and corresponds with public ideas of the minimum acceptable way of life in Britain. It takes the "Breadline Britain" survey as its basis. This considered poverty as a state when at least three possessions or activities considered necessary for a decent standard of living were lacking.

In the early 1980s, 14 per cent of households were living in poverty, but by the 1990s this had risen to 20 per cent. Roughly 10 million Britons cannot afford adequate housing; for example, their homes are unheated or damp, or their children have to share bedrooms. About 7 million go without essential clothing, such as a warm waterproof coat because of a lack of money.

There are approximately 2.5 million children who are forced to go without at least one item they need, such as three meals a day. And around 5 million people do not have enough fresh fruit and vegetables, or only have two meals a day.

"The conclusions of the report are clear," said the researchers. "Britain has become an increasingly polarised nation. The growth of poverty is the root cause of many of the social ills that are of public concern. There is considerable unease about the consequences of increasing deprivation and the lack of social justice."