Writing in the latest edition of Social Trends, ex-sociology Professor A. II. Halsey commented on the extent to which life in Britain had become increasingly market driven and 'Americanised', in terms of our dress, consumption and politics. He seemed to be lamenting the passing of a distinctive form of welfarist Britishness, which he claimed was more apparent in the 1950s, but he also argued that there had been many changes for the better over the past 50 years, as disposable income had increased and health and life expectancy had improved in Britain. For some British people, however, things have improved at a much slower rate than for others.
It is hard to deny that some national differences have been eroded over the past 50 years as international conglomerates now try to sell us the same products — Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Snickers — all over the world. As Halsey implies, this may not always signal change for the good. Recent research by Michael Wadsworth at the University College, London, medical school, concluded that children's diets in Britain in the food rationing period of the early 1950s were actually rather more healthy than many kids' diets today. This is because youngsters then were offered more milk, meat, greens and potatoes. Today's kids eat more fruit, certainly, but also more sweets and snacks and 'unhealthy' soft drinks. Although the general health of all children has improved, the diets of poorer British families, especially, seem to have suffered under the recent welter of advertising aimed at young consumers, as have their own declining circumstances as the 'new poor'.
Ö Task 3. Skim the second part of the article “Finding the Poor”. Use the information from the text to complete the “skeleton notes”.
Finding the poor
Where do these poorer, less healthy families live today? Recent evidence suggests that they are strongly concentrated in some 50 or so electoral wards around the country, and that the most deprived areas also account for the most 'vulnerable' families, in terms of family breakdown. Added to this, a recent study by the Institute for Policy Studies Research suggests that the UK has a higher percentage of poor kids per household than any other EU country. Lisa Harker, research director at the IPR attributed this fact to the rise in the number of single parents and the large number of workless households — where no adult had a job. Nearly 20% of all children in the UK now live in households where no adult works. In Britain, a disproportionate number of people with children are workless; four times more than in Germany, for example, where the unemployment rate is actually higher than it is here. The unemployed and single parents are the most likely to be poor in the UK, but almost one third of the UK elderly now live in poverty. For longer-term possibilities, it is also useful to note that the UK still does badly on the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in full time education. Becoming a self-sufficient adult at this age is also much harder today. Twenty years ago half of all school-leavers went straight into jobs; now the figure is under one in ten.
In Britain in 1999 about 40% of lone parents were in paid work. The new Working Families Tax Credit (an extra £24 per week) and a national childcare and pre-school education strategy will offer many more lone parents opportunities for training and employment and for paid childcare for their pre-school kids. The government hopes this — and the establishment of a minimum wage, plus the raising of child benefit — will encourage 80% of single parents out of the poverty trap and into paid work. The general government strategy of 'welfare to work' — moving towards no state benefits unless you are prepared to work — is also borrowed from the American 'workfare' experience, of course, where poverty levels are formidable and where help for the poor is more limited and dictated much more strongly by market forces.
! Task 4. Now skim the third part of the article and make your own notes. Use any techniques mentioned above which you find useful.