WORK is not a cure for poverty in Britain, which
remains a "deeply divided" country, in which disadvantage still
strongly shapes life chances, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty
Commission reported last month.
The reportState of the Nation 2013is the first annual
report on the Commission, established by the Government last year.
The Commission is chaired by Alan Milburn, who served in the
Cabinet of the previous government.
Although the number of children in workless
households has fallen by 15 per cent since 2010, the report argues
that "child poverty is overwhelmingly a problem facing working
families". Two-thirds of poor children are now in working
households. The authors suggest that "a comprehensive approach to
tackling in-work poverty is the missing piece of the Government's
Responding to the report, the chief executive of the
Children's Society, Matthew Reed, said that families were being
"forced to make harsh choices between heating their home and
putting food on the table for their children. Rocketing fuel and
food prices are outstripping pay as the minimum wage hits its
lowest point for a decade this month."
The report warns that "the taxpayer alone can no
longer afford to shoulder the burden of bridging the gap between
earnings and prices", and calls on employers to "step up to the
plate by providing higher minimum levels of pay and better career
prospects, enabled by better skills". It also calls on the
Government to raise the minimum wage.
The director for employment and skills at the
Confederation of British Industry, Neil Carberry, said that
improving routes to high-skilled and better-paid work would "come
in part as growth returns and business investment picks up", but
"we also need to make sure people have ways to build up their
skills throughout their careers, including by boosting 'learn while
you earn' vocational opportunities. Simplifying the apprenticeship
system and making it more responsive to business needs will also
Mr Carberry argued that "a sectoral approach to
setting a higher minimum wage would be unworkable, because not
all companies working in the same sector operate on the same
margins. It would hit smallest companies the hardest. The best way
to raise living standards is by first securing sustainable growth,
which will then lift wages."
The Commission praises the Government for sticking to
the previous government's commitment to eliminating child poverty
by 2020, and acknowledges the "strong headwinds" of the financial
climate. It welcomes the "energetic focus
on school reform", and suggests
that the Universal Credit could be "transformative" in
encouraging people to work. Total employment is, it notes, at the
highest level ever recorded.
It concludes, however, that the Government has been
"too slow to act" on youth unemployment (one fifth of
18-to-24-year-olds are not in full-time education or
employment), and urges ministers to ensure "a fairer
intergenerational share of the fiscal consolidation pain", noting
that pensioners have been favoured over their children and
grandchildren. Pension costs are going up by 17.5 per cent during
the course of this Parliament, a sum equivalent to more than half
of the savings from welfare reform made to 2014/15.
The conclusion of the report is that the country is
not on track to meet its child-poverty target, which will be missed
by "a considerable margin". Social mobility "could go into
reverse", it warns.
The authors note that "the biggest taboo for public
policy - parenting - has been left largely untouched, even though
what parents do is the biggest factor in determining a child's life