by William J. Pomeroy
London. April 6 (By airmail). Studies made recently in Britain all point to the same conclusion: poverty is steeply on the increase and the gap between higher and lower income groups is steadily widening.
While the wealthiest 1 percent of the population have had their holdings diminished to some degree since World War II, the concentration of riches in the hands of the following 9 percent has actually increased: today three-quarters of total personal wealth is held by the richest 10 percent, while the poorest 50 percent possess literally no savings.
Prof. Peter Townsend, leading Labour theoretician on social welfare problems, estimates that those with income within the poverty range number around 3,500,000 or nearly 7 percent of the population.
The poverty range includes the long-term unemployed, old-age pensioners, the disabled, and fatherless families, but the most-pertinent statistics are of families in which the father is engaged in full-time work.
The problem of rising child poverty (600,000 children) has drawn much attention in recent years.
Those suffering in officially-defined poverty (3,5 million) are only a portion, however, of the people whose lives hover in deprivation. A study made in 1966 by the Ministry of Social Security showed that in addition to those considered as poverty-striken, there were more than twice as many whose incomes were less than $-5 above the official poverty line. This would bring the total of very poor to over 10 million, or about 20 percent of the population.
Some of the worst off are the old-age pensioner. Such social security pensions in Britain average between $6 to $12 per week which is about one-fifth of the average industrial wage.
Over half of old people live alone in miserable rooms, with incomes that cannot be stretched to cover food, rent and heat. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 old people die each winter from lack of heal.
In the British economy there is a sharply increasing tendency to push people into retirement, which is a policy of helping to finance a higher paid class in 1919 only 47 percent of men retired at 65, but in 1969 the number jumped to 70 percent.
Other studies reveal that price rises of 8 percent a year in Britain hit the poor harder than the rich. Between 1955 and 1966 prices on items bought by the poor increased by 43 percent more than prices on items bought by the rich. The price rises were highest of all, proportionately, for the pensioner.
These trends have been studied for the years of the last Labour government. Under the present Tory government the tendencies are infinitely worse. Unemployment, by deliberate policy, has gone up by around 200,000 since the Tories took office last June, and now stands at nearly 800,000: it is generally forecast to hit one million by the end of the year.
The Tory government also deliberately fosters price rises while at the same time slashing social welfare items (such as eliminating free milk in schools and increasing the price of school meals). (Daily World, 1971)