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In-work poverty causes anxiety for families, study finds

07 January 2022

St Vincent de Paul Society

The St Vincent de Paul Society is working to tackle poverty in all its forms

The St Vincent de Paul Society is working to tackle poverty in all its forms

POVERTY in working families is blighting the lives of millions of children with fear and insecurity, a new study suggests.

The Roman Catholic charity St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has combined existing data with interviews with children to study the effect on young people’s lives of poverty, when parents or carers are in work.

In-work poverty occurs when the income of a working household does not meet basic needs. One in six working households in the UK is now in poverty.

Although there is no single measure that calculates the number of children in poverty in working households, analysis suggests that 3.7 million children — more than a quarter of all children in working households — are now in poverty, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, and quoted in the SVP study.

The Trussell Trust has also reported an increase in the number of people using foodbanks for the first time since 2020.

The SVP study, Stealing Futures: In-work poverty and its impact on children and young people, acknowledges that unemployment levels were lower than expected when the pandemic first hit, and that wages are rising in some sectors, but says: “The reality is that rising housing costs, low wages, unaffordable childcare costs, compounded by growing inflation and the pandemic are leaving a rapidly growing number of working households in poverty.”

Interviews with more than 50 groups of children and young people aged between seven and 17 in these households, and with their teachers, in spring this year, found that a family’s struggle for money had a deep and long lasting impact on children. Many children also spoke of the additional impact of Covid on their mental and physical health, and were very aware of the strain on families to support them with both food and digital equipment for online learning during lockdowns.

Children spoke of their fears about not finding a job. One ten-year-old boy said: “I worry that when I grow up, I won’t find a good job, and that if I find a job that doesn’t give me much money, I will be poor and homeless.”

Young people also raised worries about achieving at school. Children as young as seven were aware of the need to get “good grades”, the report said.

“While this demonstrates ambition, it also reveals the very real anxiety increasingly expressed by younger children in terms of financial stability and employment. They displayed a real concern about ending up in low paid employment and spoke about their fear of homelessness as a result,” the report said.

The President of SVP, Helen O’Shea, said: “Growing up in a household experiencing in-work poverty has a deep and lasting impact on children. The experiences of the children and young people we heard from were striking.

“Many spoke about the extreme hardship of having to be almost entirely isolated due to Covid restrictions, and how that led to mental-health issues, anxiety and a deterioration in their physical health. Many children were also aware of the pressure on families living on low incomes who are struggling to afford food and digital equipment for school.”

“Of major concern is the fact that many of the young people we spoke with expressed a real fear of not being able to find a ‘good job’ which would allow them to be financially stable and ‘not homeless’.”

The charity is calling for provisions that ensure employees have access to suitable working arrangements such as flexible working from day one, and secure work arrangements that prohibit zero-hours contracts.

As child-care costs push families into poverty, the charity is calling for an extension of free child-care provision, the reinstatement of the £20 increase in Universal Credit, and the adoption of a real living wage to address in work poverty.

Ms O’Shea continued: “We believe that charity is not the solution to in-work poverty. We need a strong commitment from the Government to tackle this hidden crisis, including policies to tackle insecure work, the high cost of childcare and low wages. These measures will go some way to improving the quality of life and the opportunities for children and young people, and ultimately the health and prosperity of the nation.”

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