Five big questions we’ll be asking about new UK poverty stats

With progress on poverty faltering and more families struggling to make ends meet, JRF will be keeping a close eye on new Government stats – and it’s vital they’re not overlooked, says David Leese.

This Thursday, the Government releases the latest set of statistics covering 2017/18 showing how many people in our society are being locked into poverty.

We all want to live in a country where everyone has the opportunity for a decent life, yet last year’s figures showed 14 million people trapped in poverty, more than one in five of the population. The story of the past five years is that progress on poverty has faltered, with rates rising for children and pensioners for the first time in a long while.

At a time where one issue dominates politics, it’s vital that Thursday’s numbers are given the attention they deserve, so we don’t forget those who have been left behind. But what kinds of questions will JRF be looking out for later this week?

Will child poverty continue to rise? What will happen to in-work poverty?

Children are the most likely group to live in poverty; 4.1 million on last year’s figures, and a rise of over 500,000 in the past five years.

Record employment rates are welcome news but have so far not loosened the grip of in-work poverty. Nearly all the increase is accounted for by children in working families. Currently two-thirds of children in poverty are in families with adults in paid employment and there have been especially big rises for families with single earners.

While income tax cuts and minimum wage rises have been beneficial for some, for many low-income families these gains are undermined by reductions in the more targeted support to households provided by social security. The benefits freeze (which will have its first meaningful impact in this year’s data), and the two-child limit are especially important here.

In February, analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggested that, under current forecasts and policies, child poverty is likely to rise to the highest level in 30 years by 2023/24. It goes against our common values of compassion and justice that so many children are having their prospects harmed by poverty.

Will the falls in pensioner poverty be retained?

Poverty can be solved. Over the last 20 years as a society we have successfully reduced poverty among pensioners. At the turn of the century, three in ten pensioners lived in poverty. That rate more than halved, falling to 13% in 2012/13.

However, this proud record is in danger of unravelling. Since then, pensioner poverty has risen to 16%, with particularly big rises for those living in rented accommodation.

What will the Government’s response be to the poverty statistics?

These vital figures are coming at a time when there is a real danger they will be overshadowed by Brexit. It is widely recognised whatever the new data shows, large numbers of people’s living standards are demonstrably getting worse.

The Government has stuck to the line that poverty has fallen in absolute terms, but if this is no longer the case on Thursday, they will have to think again.

It is not right that anyone should have to experience poverty in the UK. We all want to be part of a society that shows compassion towards those in need; but this cannot happen until we collectively take bold action to tackle this burning injustice.

What action can be taken to loosen the grip of poverty?

  • Ensure the support available to families keeps up with the cost of living by ending the freeze on working-age benefits and tax credits before its final year kicks in on 8 April 2019.
  • Bring forward an emergency stimulus package of funding and support for jobs and skills in parts of the country with low employment and pay; those that are particularly exposed to the potential impacts of disruption to trade caused by Brexit.