A critical lack of social housing has played its part in delivering a “relentless” and “unacceptable” rise in child poverty as Britain heads towards Brexit, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
Rent rises in the social sector aren’t helping either, the anti-poverty thinktank also noted, but these are only a part of a syndrome that has dumped more children into poverty — half a million more in the last five years — despite their parents being in work.
With more families living in the expensive private rented sector, often stuck in low paid jobs, and with changes to the welfare system leaving them with less support towards housing costs, it has become an increasingly harder struggle to make ends meet, according to the JRF’s latest ‘state of the nation’ report.
Overall, one in five of the UK population (22%) are in poverty — that’s 14.3 million people, according to UK Poverty 2018. Of these, 8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million are children and 1.9 million are pensioners. Eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is in work.
In-work poverty has been rising even faster than employment, the JRF claims, with nearly all of the increase among working parents. There are now four million workers in poverty, around one in eight in the economy.
“We are seeing a rising tide of child poverty as more parents are unable to make ends meet, despite working. This is unacceptable,” said Campbell Robb, the JRF’s chief executive. “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.”
The chief reasons cited by the UK Poverty 2018 report for rising poverty include:
- Parents getting stuck in low-paid work with little progression, especially in jobs in hotels, bars, restaurants and shops
- Gains from the National Living Wage and tax cuts being outweighed by changes to tax credits and benefits that top up low wages
- The struggle to pay for housing: rising social rents, more low-income families with children living in the expensive private rented sector, along with growing shortfalls in Housing Benefit, are forcing parents to use other income to cover their rent, leaving with them less money to cover other essentials
To tackle this rise in poverty, the organisation is calling for reforms to social security, housing and the jobs market “so more people build can build a better life”. It is recommending:
- Ending the freeze on benefits and tax credits a year early next spring to “anchor” people against low pay and high costs. As well as helping 200,000 people out of poverty, JRF says it would increase the incomes of nearly 14 million people on low incomes by an average of £270 in 2020/21
- At the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government invests in building at least 80,000 genuinely affordable homes a year
- More employers play their part in solving poverty: by paying the real Living Wage and training their workforce so they can progress into higher-paid roles
“This report highlights the significant pressures and challenges faced by many of the families and children to whom councils provide services,” said Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, in response to the JRF’s report.
“As well as facing a £3 billion funding shortfall for children’s services alone by 2025, councils are housing more than 120,000 homeless children in temporary accommodation, increasing at a rate of over 900 extra homeless children a month in recent years.
“This is making it even harder for us to prevent and deal with the wider factors impacting on low income families, as well as being financially unsustainable for councils.
“To tackle the issue, including the worrying growth in in-work poverty, Government needs to resource and fully engage with councils to prevent homelessness and support people into jobs to lift themselves out of poverty.
“Welfare reforms also need to be adapted to reduce the risk of homelessness and councils need more powers to build more affordable homes.”