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Bleak prospect for poor, says report

20 December 2013


Pre-State: unemployed men from across Great Britain crowd into Hyde Park, in London, to draw attention to poverty, in November, 1936 

Pre-State: unemployed men from across Great Britain crowd into Hyde Park, in London, to draw attention to poverty, in November, 1936 

THE pressure on the poorest in society has not been as bad as this since before the birth of the Welfare State in the 1940s, a new report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) warns.

The annual report by the New Policy Institute, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion, published this month, makes a "bleak" forecast for the future. "For those not working, the price of state financial support is discipline and demonisation," the authors write. "The real value of that support, already low . . . continues to fall."

The authors note that, for the first time since 1996, when the data series started, there are more people in working families living below the poverty line (6.7 million - an increase of 5000,000 on the previous year) than in workless and retired families combined (6.3 million).

"Hard work is not working," the chief executive of JRF, Julia Unwin, said. "We have a labour market that lacks pay and protection, with jobs offering precious little security, and paltry wages."

The poverty line is set at 60 per cent of median income, and is currently £128 per week for a single person, and £357 for a couple with two children. The proportion of those below this line - 21 per cent - is the second lowest since the mid-'90s. The authors note that the statistics are two years old; also that the relative measure of poverty means that a family could be lifted out of poverty simply because the median income had fallen.

The report is not uniformly negative. Pensioner poverty is at its lowest level for 30 years -14 per cent - and the authors suggest that it is "quite possible" that this is the lowest it has ever been. Child poverty has fallen to 27 per cent, the lowest level for almost 25 years. The authors also note that the labour market is stronger in 2013 than it was a year ago. The proportion of households that are workless - 17 per cent - is the lowest since 1996.

They warn, however, that these "small" developments "cannot in any way be seen as 'balancing' reforms that have cut the incomes of some of the poorest people in the country".

Low pay alone does not guarantee poverty, the report says: factors such as family size and housing costs have an impact. It also says that even working full-time with a Living Wage may not lift a family out of poverty. Among the causes, the authors suggest, are "the behaviour of both financial and non-financial corporations", and the "laxity of regulators".


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