Boris Johnson told to focus on poverty instead of 'eye-catching schemes' as report reveals rise in working poor
Boris Johnson has been told to prioritise the fight against poverty instead of fixating on "eye-catching schemes" as a new report revealed that more than half of all those struggling to make ends meet now live in a family where someone works.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reveals that 56% of all those in poverty - defined as having an income below 60% of the UK average after housing costs - are part of a family where at least one person is in employment.
That is a 17% rise in 20 years, with the JRF saying workers' stretched pay packets and a lack of available hours had fuelled the problem.
Labour branded the findings a "wake-up call", but the Government said it recognised some people "need more help".
A total 14 million people - one in five of the overall population - are believed to be living in poverty in the UK on the measure used by the JRF.
And the number of children living in poverty hit four million in 2017/18, the JRF said.
Four million people with a disability were meanwhile recorded as living in poverty.
Households of a black, asian or minority ethnic background were also flagged a a higher risk of poverty than white workers.
The Foundation is calling on ministers to strengthen the benefits system and boost jobs for disabled people and carers, which it says is “still low” despite rising employment over the last six years.
Its report also flags stark regional differences across the UK, with higher rates of deprivation in London, the North of England, the Midlands and Wales.
JRF executive director Claire Ainsley said: “The new government has an historic opportunity as we enter the 2020s. Past successes in recent decades show that it is possible for the UK to loosen the grip of poverty among those most at risk.
“But this progress has begun to unravel and it will take sustained effort across the country and throughout the governments of the UK to unlock poverty.
“Without a better deal for working families, and a social security system that provides a public service for all of us, the UK faces further division and deeper poverty. That better deal needs to encompass the basics we all need – from building new homes to funding social security and bringing better jobs to all parts of the country."
Referencing Boris Johnson's vow to 'level up' the country, she added: “If the next decade is to see true levelling up it will be because we have broken the grip of poverty and unlocked the UK’s potential, not because we invested in eye-catching schemes.
"As a nation we have made progress before and we can and must do so again with this new government and a new settlement after Brexit.”
The research also discovered that working single parents were moving into poverty more quickly than before, with three in ten now struggling to stay afloat - compared to two in ten a decade ago.
Seizing on the findings, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “This report should be a wake-up call for the government.
“One in five of the UK population is living in poverty, more children and pensioners are in poverty now than five years ago, working single parents have been swept fastest into poverty and in-work poverty is on the rise.
“Too many people are trapped in low paid insecure work and all too often the social security system fails to give people the support they need.
“The government should make tackling poverty a top priority by providing a living wage of at least £10 an hour for all workers aged 16 and over and create a social security system that treats people with respect and is there for any one of us in our time of need.”
Food bank charity the Trussell Trust also backed the JRF’s findings, with chief executive Emma Revie adding: “For too many people it’s becoming harder and harder to keep their heads above water.
"At food banks, we’re seeing issues with our benefits system, like the five week wait for Universal Credit and payments not covering the cost of living, pushing more people than ever before to food banks. This isn’t right...
"As a country, we can’t shy away from the changes that would make a real difference to pull people out of poverty and ultimately, end the need for food banks in the UK. It’s in our power to make a change."
Labour leadership challenger Lisa Nandy also commented on the research, adding: "The rising risk of in-work poverty in the UK is a damning reflection on our wealthy country's broken economic model which means too many jobs are underpaid, insecure and cannot meet the cost of living."
A Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government. We know that getting into work is the best route out of poverty and there are more people in work than ever before. Wages are outstripping inflation and absolute poverty is lower than in 2010.
“We know that some need more help, which is why we spend over £95 billion a year on working-age benefits. Millions will see their benefit payments rise further from April and we’re also boosting the incomes of pensioners each year through the triple lock."