Social Justice

700,000 more children and pensioners living in poverty, says charity

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation calls on the UK government to build affordable homes, unfreeze benefits and boost skills to tackle five-year rise

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is calling for a change.

The number of children and pensioners living below the poverty line has risen by 700,000, according to a damning report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [JRF].

The UK Poverty 2017 report, produced by the in-house JRF Analysis Unit for the first time, found that 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners have fallen into difficulty since 2012/13.

Of the 14 million people living in poverty in the UK, one in five of the population, four million are children with a further 1.9m pensioners also accounted for.

Even working-age adults have not seen improvements with “very little progress” in reducing poverty for the eight million people workers across the country while the same number live in families where at least one person is employed.

The JRF warns that while there has been dramatic reduction in the number of people traditionally at risk of slipping into poverty – namely pensioners and certain types of families with children – progress is beginning to unravel.

Falling state support for those on low incomes, increasing rents and rising employment has started to reverse the trend, according to the report, leading to a “stand-still generation”.

People on low incomes are trapped in work poverty with 40 per cent of working-age adults with no qualifications living below the line.

Almost half of the people on the lowest incomes – 3.2m people – now spend more than third of their income on housing while the growing rent market will see higher housing costs in retirement.

Since 2003, people in the poorest fifth of the population have experienced a higher rate of inflation than the rest of the country in every year except 2010 while 70 per cent of people working in the poorest fifth of the population are not contributing to a pension, around 2.3m people.

The turnaround has inspired the JRF to call for an end to the four-year freeze on working-age benefits and tax credits, warning that it is the “single biggest policy driver behind rising poverty”.

As we prepare to leave the EU, we have to make sure that our country and our economy works for everyone and doesn’t leave even more people behind

It also urged the government to invest in a more ambitious house-building programme that provides 80,000 new genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy every year while also asking businesses to drive up adult skills to meet all basic numeracy and literacy skill needs by 2030 so people can get on at work and progress to higher wages.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “These worrying figures suggest that we are at a turning point in our fight against poverty. Political choices, wage stagnation and economic uncertainty mean that hundreds of thousands more people are now struggling to make ends meet. This is a very real warning sign that our hard-fought progress is in peril.

“Action to tackle child and pensioner poverty has provided millions of families with better living standards and financial security.

“However, record employment is not leading to lower poverty, changes to benefits and tax credits are reducing incomes and crippling costs are squeezing budgets to breaking point. The Budget offered little to ease the strain and put low income households’ finances on a firmer footing.

“As we prepare to leave the EU, we have to make sure that our country and our economy works for everyone and doesn’t leave even more people behind.”

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird responded to the report by calling for an alliance to help tackle the causes of poverty.

“JRF is calling for a national mission to transform the prospects of people living in poverty. Only a bottom-up, people-powered revolution will make poverty truly historical,” said Lord Bird.

“I want to see a nationwide alliance – a coalescence of the most effective ideas, mechanisms and methods – that works to identify, analyse and dismantle the root causes of poverty.

“Poverty is preventable. But if we fail to shift our thinking, energies and budgets up-stream towards preventive policy-making, we will always be saddled, Sisyphean-like with an incapacity to cope with the symptoms of poverty.”

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