What exactly is poverty?
It has been defined by the United Nation as:
“lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited access to education and basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness, homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environment and social discrimination and exclusion.”
There are, conceivably, two types of poverty. Firstly, absolute poverty, where an individual is unable to sustain themselves physically. This is the type of poverty experienced in third-world countries. Secondly, relative poverty; this is measured on household incomes. It is believed that the UK is experiencing relative poverty.
Poverty is on the rise in the UK; with a government trying to manage economic climate problems and tackle the deficit from the recession, an increase in cuts to the public sector have to be made. In turn, households are affected financially and an individual’s health and well-being is jeopardised. So what exactly are the contributing factors?
Unemployment is, of course, also on the rise in our country, and the direct impact on an individual’s health from this has been evidenced. According to The Department of Health, the unemployed are more likely to take up unhealthy habits - smoking, alcohol consumption, use of illegal drugs and sexual risk-taking; and the longer an individual is unemployed, the higher the chance of lifestyle choices having an adverse effect on their health.
Inequality of access to healthcare for certain vulnerable adult must be considered; the homeless are perceived to be in absolute poverty and likely to be in poorer health due to their lack of access to a GP surgery - you need an fixed abode - so access is always via accident and emergency. Are we excluding the most vulnerable in society? Is this making more demands on the NHS in the long run?
With less GP surgeries being built in the most deprived areas, making primary healthcare available to those who might need it is a struggle. Yet, this is still the best way of reducing hospital admissions; who knows what the decrease in the state of one’s health might be if they have not previously had access to primary care in the form of a GP surgery.
Fuel poverty is a problem that has continued to worsen as gas and electricity prices continue to increase, making it hard for many households to afford heating, increasing dampness and encouraging poorer living conditions. Recent figures show that fuel poverty is accounting for increased rates of death in the winter, with almost 40,000 people affected. I have to say that I have noticed an increasing amount of elderly patients being admitted with pneumonia whilst I have been on shift. Are these basic needs to be expected in a developed country? Is the government doing enough to prevent people from being without fuel?
Nutrition is another factor which can have a tremendous impact on one’s health, with low income houses statistically more likely to have less dietary change; the issue of rising levels of childhood obesity has certainly been raised in the media. Food prices are continuing to rise also, and the effect on families’ healthy eating is evidential - it has been shown within the market that cheaper foods lack certain nutritional value.
So, is there a direct link here? And what ae your experiences with patients living in poverty?
Jessica Chiverton is a nurse in a mixed area of surgical and medical. She studied at King’s College, London.