In-work poverty is rising, says Joseph Rowntree Foundation

07 December 2018

As Bishop Butler urges politicians to give working families more support

Birmingham Cathedral

Pupils and their head teacher at Wyde Green Primary School pose with a pile of coats and warm items collected for Birmingham Cathedral’s clothing appeal for the homeless, Wrap up Brum. The items collected from the school will mean that #WrapUpBrum has eclipsed last year’s record after only two weeks

Pupils and their head teacher at Wyde Green Primary School pose with a pile of coats and warm items collected for Birmingham Cathedral’s clothing appe...

FOUR MIlLLION adults are in poverty despite having a job: a rise of more than half a million in the past five years, a new report states.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) 2018 poverty report, published on Monday, says that in-work poverty is rising faster than employment. It means that one in eight workers are now in poverty. The report says: “Since 2004/05, the number of workers in poverty has increased at a faster rate than the total number of people in employment, resulting in workers’ being increasingly likely to find themselves in poverty.”

Half a million more children have also entered poverty over the past five years, the JRF report says, meaning a total of 4.1 million children in poverty. “This is much faster than we would expect based on population growth: the total number of children has risen by 3%, while the number of children in poverty has risen by 15%,” the report says.

“In the last five years, poverty rates have risen for every type of working family: lone-parent or couple families, families with full- and part-time workers, and families with different numbers of adults in work. This is the first period in the last two decades when this has happened.”

The rise in in work poverty is driven by an “increase in the poverty rate of working parents”, the study says, and a “working parent is now over one-and-a-half times more likely to be in poverty than a working non-parent”.

One-and-a-half million people were living in destitution at some point during 2017, including 365,000 children, the report says. It also states that seven per cent of the population — more than four-and-a-half million people — are in persistent poverty.

It concludes: “Rising employment alone is not delivering lower poverty. Rather, in-work poverty is increasing faster than employment. Many workers are caught in the middle of a series of moving currents: stuck in low-paid work, with little chance of progression, subject to high housing costs, and using a weakening social security.

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“It is these factors combined that are driving an unprecedented rising tide in poverty among working parents. And little attention has been focused on reducing poverty for working-age adults without children, with rates rising from 2004/5 until 2011/12.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that the rise in poverty among working families was “particularly concerning”. “In a just and compassionate society, we believe that children should be at the heart of the political agenda, not sidelined by politicians who think they have more urgent matters to attend to.

“With the publication of JRF’s State of the Nation report, we can no longer ignore the reality that child poverty is rising, and will continue to rise, unless urgent action is taken.

“The sharp rise in poverty among working families with children is particularly concerning. We can and must do more to support families who are trying to give their children the best possible start in life, but are locked in poverty by low wages, high rents, and inadequate benefits.”

The chief executive of the JRF, Campbell Robb, said: “We are seeing a rising tide of child poverty as more parents are unable to make ends meet, despite working. This is unacceptable. It means more families are trapped in impossible situations: struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table, and dealing with the terrible stresses and strains poverty places on family life.

“It’s time for us to decide what kind of country we want to be. As we leave the EU, we must tackle the burning injustice of poverty and make Britain a country that works for everyone. We can do this by taking action on housing, social security; and work to loosen the constraints poverty places on people’s lives. No one wants to see more families being pushed over the brink.

“We have an opportunity to fix this and ensure everyone can reach a decent standard of living. It is one we must seize to make the country work for everyone after Brexit.”

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood, said on Tuesday: “This report should be a wake-up call for the Government: there is something seriously wrong when the number of people in work in poverty is increasing faster than employment.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We disagree with this report, and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty since 2010, including 300,000 children. With this Government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher.”

The report follows the investigation by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, who said that the Government had caused “great misery” for British people, with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies (News, 23 November).


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