New report on UK poverty finds housing market is moving the goalposts

Changes in the labour and housing markets mean there has been a rise in the number of working people who live in poverty.

Changes in the labour and housing markets mean there has been a rise in the number of working people who live in poverty

Today the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released their annual report on progress in tackling poverty and disadvantage in the UK.

Written by the New Policy Institute, the report is designed to provide a comprehensive guide to the nation’s economic recovery and how it affects those living in poverty.

The findings show that there have been dramatic changes in the labour market, meaning that in the last ten years there has been a major shift in who is most at risk of poverty in the UK.

Overall, the report found a large rise in the proportion of adults under 25 in poverty, and a drop in poverty among the over-75s. One of the few pieces of good news from the report is that pensioner poverty is at an all time low.

Otherwise, things are getting worse. The percentage of people from working families living in poverty has increased, and one fifth of working age adults without children are now living in poverty.

There has been an increase in the number of people in poverty who live in privately rented housing as opposed to social rented accommodation, showing a change in the overall picture of what a life lived in poverty looks like.

A key finding of the report was that in 2014, getting a job does not necessarily mean getting out of poverty. Two thirds of the people who moved from unemployment into work last year are being paid below the Living Wage, and only a fifth of low paid employees have left low paid work a decade later.

Although unemployment levels appear better than they were five years ago during the recession, they have yet to return to pre-recession levels. There are currently around 1.4 million zero-hours contracts, with the same number of adults in part time work because they are unable to find full time jobs.

Furthermore, the report shows that incomes are lower on average than they were a decade ago, and this drop has been most pronounced for people who were already the worst off. For the lowest paid 25 per cent of people, pay has fallen by 70p an hour for men, and 40p an hour for women.

One factor that has had a hugely negative impact on people living in poverty is the housing market. The number of working people who are claiming housing benefits to cover their rent keeps rising, and the overall number of housing benefit claimants has risen by more than a million in the last ten years.

The end of a private rental tenancy is now the biggest cause of homelessness in the UK.

The study also found significant failures in the welfare system, best demonstrated by the finding that people who claim Jobseekers Allowance are now more likely to be sanctioned for not attending the Work Programme than to get a job through it.

The number of people receiving legal support for social welfare cases has plummeted; in 2000 – 2001, 810,000 cases were granted aid for legal advice. That figure was down to just 170,000 last year. This means that people are increasingly powerless to challenge incorrect decisions that have been made regarding their right to benefits.

Education was identified by the study as an area with the potential to make great changes for people in poverty – better educated people are more likely to find work and less likely to be in low paid jobs.

But the report found that in some English local authorities, three quarters of the children who are considered eligible for free school meals leave school with less than five good GCSEs. This has depressing implications for social mobility in Britain.

The 15 best local areas for GCSE results for the same group are all in London, meaning that while child poverty is highest in urban areas, children in cities are likely to get a better education. In the last five years, the proportion of schools rated as inadequate by Ofsted has increased in all areas except the capital.

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