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Children in low-income families most at risk of poverty, says JRF

24 January 2020


NEARLY three-quarters of children in single-parent families are growing up in households without enough money to meet a minimum standard of living, a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found.

The minimum income standard is based on what the public think is a minimum acceptable living standard in the UK today, and the National Living Wage is based on it.

The report, published this week, shows that 19 million people are now having to survive on incomes below this standard. Pensioners are least likely to be subsisting on an inadequate income, though there has been a rise in the number of single-pensioner households — often retired women who were adversely affected by the increase in the state pension age. There has also been a rise in households with someone in full-time work, but who still fall below the threshold. Families with children remain the most at risk, owing to wage levels and the benefits freeze.

The study compares the data with figures from ten years ago. In 2008-9, 67 per cent of single parent families lived on inadequate incomes — in 2018-19, this had risen to 72 per cent. This is more than twice the rate for children in two-parent households.

There has also been an increase in the number of households living on very low incomes: that is, 75 per cent or less of the minimum standard. A quarter of children are now living in homes with very low incomes.

The study suggests that full-time employment is not protecting families from falling below the threshold. The latest study found that 17.8 per cent of low-income households have all adults in work; this compares with 11.8 per cent in 2008-09. More than half of single-parent families in which the adult is in full-time work are still not earning enough to lift them above the threshold.

The authors of the report, Matt Padley and Dr Juliet Stone, conclude: “The prolonged benefits freeze — affecting incomes — in tandem with the increasing costs of essentials such as public transport and energy, is likely to mean that certain groups will continue to fare badly: lone parents are particularly exposed.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, speaking to the BBC, said that government policies, such as the two-child limit for Universal Credit, were driving the rise in child poverty.

“If you are growing up poor, your diet is worse, your housing conditions are worse, and that impacts your physical health; and your mental health and your life chances are diminished.”

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