We have grown accustomed to hearing that Britain is steadily growing richer. But while this may be true for the majority in this country, research that will be presented to the Rowntree Foundation's centenary conference today shows that thousands are being left behind.
The report by Donald Hirsh, special adviser to the Foundation, is a geographical analysis of poverty by council wards. It shows that 70 per cent of Britain's poorest children are concentrated in Manchester, London, Merseyside and Glasgow. Within these sprawling conurbations are to be found "concentrations of disadvantage" characterised by widespread drug abuse, crime and family breakdown. The children of these communities are born into a life of poverty, from which it is extremely difficult to escape. The vicious cycle of poverty thus rolls from generation to generation. Despite the fact that there have been countless Government initiatives to improve the quality of life in these areas over the years, they seem incapable of improvement. Some have found it hard to resist the conclusion that certain places are, in fact, beyond redemption.
The existence of such enclaves of misery is well known. But a striking finding in the report is that the poorest 10 to 20 per cent of the population have seen little or no improvement in their real incomes for a generation. This is despite the fact that, on average, Britons are now about 50 per cent better off than they were in 1980. The poor, and the children of the poor, are not sharing in our nation's increasing prosperity.
The report makes it clear that it will be impossible for the Government to attain its goal of halving child poverty unless it can find a way to improve life in Britain's most deprived areas. The pledge to reduce child poverty is one of Gordon Brown's political mantras. Yet, as this report shows, despite seven years of a Labour government and repeated Treasury-sponsored interventions, the most wretched layer of society remains just as poor as it has been in decades. Mr Brown can, of course, point to his successes since becoming Chancellor. But, even so, he will find it difficult to evade the charge that Britain in 2004 is still very much two economic nations: one of growing wealth and one of perpetual poverty.