More than one in five of the UK population now lives in poverty, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), with improvements made among vulnerable groups, including pensioners and children, over the last 20 years starting to come undone.
‘UK Poverty 2017’ – which says it’s the first report of its kind to assess rates of poverty and how they are changing - claims that 14 million people across the UK do not have enough money to have an acceptable standard of living.
That 14 million is made up of eight million working age adults, four million children, and 1.9 million pensioners.
JRF says that while poverty levels have substantially improved over the last two decades among those that are traditionally seen to be most at risk – pensioners and certain families with children – poverty rates in these groups have started to increase again.
In 1994/95, 30% of pensioners lived in poverty. By 2011/12, this worrying figure was down to 13%, however since then it has risen to a current level of 16%.
Improvements made since the mid-90s have been attributed to increased state support for single low-income pensioners through the pension credit guarantee and rising levels of home ownership, which meant that these groups’ wealth was not affected by rising rents. However, the JRF suspects that these trends are now being reversed by rising rents and the pension credit’s failure to keep up with inflation.
The group most at risk from poverty, however, is single parent families and families with three or more children. Despite improvements made since the mid-90s – when 58% of lone parents lived in poverty – this trend has started to reverse. In 2010/11 poverty rates in this group had fallen to 41% but has since risen to 46%. JRF says that although tax cuts and minimum wage growth has helped this group, the benefits have been outweighed by reductions in more targeted support through the benefit and tax credit system.
The reported highlighted that growing poverty amongst working age groups was also storing up problems for the future. Looking at the poorest fifth of the population, only 30% are paying into a pension. This compares to 67% in the richest fifth.
‘Hundreds of thousands more are struggling to make ends meet’
Commenting on the report, Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says: “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.”