Rising levels of in-work poverty have contributed to an “unacceptable” increase in the number of UK children trapped in poverty, according to a damning new report published today.
In their new report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) warns of a “relentless” rise over the last five years in the number of working families who are struggling to make ends meet, resulting in around one in five UK children living below the breadline.
The annual state of the nation report highlights how improvements seen in recent years in the numbers of people in work have been outpaced by soaring in-work poverty rates. A staggering eight million people living in poverty today come from households where at least one person is in work.
According to the report, there are now four million working people in the UK who are trapped below the official poverty line, who come from households whose annual earnings are less than 60% of the UK average.
JRF says the rise in in-work poverty is driven by parents becoming trapped in low-paid and insure jobs, increases to the minimum wage outweighed by tax and benefit changes, and a growing shortage in the number of genuine affordable homes.
The thinktank is calling on the UK government to end the freeze to working age benefits, invest in at least 80,000 affordable homes, and also encourage employers to pay workers the Real Living Wage.
“Hazel Ratcliffe, a working lone parent from Fife, said: “Life can feel like a hamsters’ wheel: I am working and pushing myself so hard, but feel like I’m stuck. Every week I have school dinner money to give the boys, diesel for my car, food for the house.
“Most weeks I manage, but it involves rigid meal planning, then going around the supermarket with a calculator to ensure I stay within budget. Clothes, shoes and food are so expensive.
“I live in private rented accommodation. Benefits should loosen the constraints of low pay and high rents. I think the government needs to increase benefits to match the rate of inflation.
“The minimum wage needs to be more like the living wage and make sure work is a route to a decent quality of life.”
“Campbell Robb, chief executive of the JRF, added: “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 MP, said: “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.
“Increasing numbers of children are growing up in poverty as their parents are unable to escape insecure work and low pay.
“Labour will end the social security freeze, introduce a £10 per hour Real Living Wage and build the affordable housing so desperately needed to lift people out of poverty.”