Four million British workers are now living in poverty, according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), a figure that has risen by over half a million compared with five years ago. Since the government’s introduction of Universal Credit – replacing six benefits with one single monthly payment – rough sleeping and demand at food banks have risen. This is less of a ‘turning-point’ for poverty in the UK than a re-turning point. Surveying British history since the 20th century for my recent book Divided Kingdom. A History of Britain, 1900 to the Present, my most shocking discovery was that the extent and causes of poverty were much the same now as in 1900. Charles Booth’s massive survey of social conditions in 20th-century London found that about 30% of Londoners lived ‘in poverty or in want’.

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