One-sixth of Britain's children living below the poverty line

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The Independent Online

More than two million British children are having to go without two or more necessities such as adequate clothing or three meals a day, an extensive report on poverty reveals.

More than two million British children are having to go without two or more necessities such as adequate clothing or three meals a day, an extensive report on poverty reveals.

The report, by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, also said that almost 17 per cent of adults believe they are living in "absolute poverty" - those questioned said they could not afford basic human needs, among which they included certain food, prescription medicines, housing and heating.

"Absolute poverty" has been defined by the United Nations to assess poverty in the developing world; the researchers said they were "shocked" to find that so many people in Britain said they could not afford what were considered necessities the world over.

Just over one-quarter of all households in Britain were said by researchers to be "poor", with a further 10.3 per cent "vulnerable to poverty". In the Nineties, more than 60,000 households - equivalent to the number of homes in a city the size of Brighton or Milton Keynes - joined the poor each year.

The findings also showed that 70 per cent of those on income support were "poor". Sue Middleton, of the Centre for Research in Social Policy, at Loughborough University, said the working families tax credit, heralded as a means of helping single parents go back to work, was set too low to meet basic health and food needs.

In an initial survey, 90 per cent of those questioned for the 1999 Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey said that everyone should be "able to afford and not have to do without": bedding, heating in their living areas, a damp-free home, a visit to a friend or relative in hospital, two meals a day and prescribed medicines. More than half considered as "necessities" a television, washing machine, fridge, freezer, and an outfit for social occasions.

From a second survey, the researchers calculated that approximately 9.5 million people were unable to afford to keep heat their homes adequately, or keep them damp-free or in a "decent state of decoration".

About eight million were not able to afford one or more essential household goods; about four million were not fed properly, defined as not being able to afford fresh fruit or vegetables at least once a day, or two meals a day; and more than 6.5 million adults did not possess essential clothing such as a waterproof coat, the study said.About four million children are going without at least one essential item, such as adequate clothing, a healthy diet, or items to help their educational development, the report said. One in 50 does not have shoes that fit and does not eat fresh fruit or vegetables every day. More than one in six children, equal to two million, goes without two or more "necessities" such as adequate clothing, three meals a day, and toys.

The study, by researchers from four universities, has been compared with two Breadline Britain surveys carried out in 1983 and 1990. Between those years the number of poor households increased by almost 50 per cent. In 1983, 14 per cent of families were said to be living in poverty; this grew to 21 per cent in 1990 and is now above 24 per cent.

Dr David Gordon, of the University of Bristol, one of the authors of the report, said: "This rapid increase in poverty occurred during a period when the majority of British households were becoming more and more wealthy... During the Nineties poverty grew at a rate equivalent to all the households in a city the size of Brighton or Milton Keynes becoming poor each year."

Another of the authors, Jonathan Bradshaw, a professor at the University of York, said: "Britain now stands at a crossroads in terms of adopting effective measures to stop and to reverse the damaging structural trends that have increase poverty and social exclusion in the past 20 years."

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