It's wrong that so many working families are trapped in poverty - it's time for action

The latest official poverty stats from the Government for 2017/18 make for grim reading again this year. But with all eyes on Parliamentary Brexit machinations, it’s likely that many are going to miss seeing these vital figures.

With 14 million people still locked in poverty across the UK, it’s shameful that this problem is not being tackled in the way it so sorely needs and deserves. There can be no more excuses for inaction.

Three in four children in poverty have a working parent

Despite record employment, the proportion of children in poverty with working parents has now reached an all-time high of 72%. Two decades ago that was barely half. These changes have very little to do with Universal Credit (for good or ill) because it’s not being received by enough people yet to show up strongly in the figures. But given the National Living Wage has been increasing each year and employment has been rising across the UK, why are so many families getting swept into working poverty?

Children in poverty by work-status of their household

Problems with jobs, housing and benefits

It’s a complex picture but the apparently contradictory trends on poverty and employment show there are wider problems in the jobs market above and beyond the rate of hourly pay and the numbers in work. Part-time jobs, insecurity and a lack of progression are all likely to matter too. High costs and a lack of availability for both childcare and transport in many areas of the country are preventing parents from being able to improve their and their family’s lives.

Alongside these problems affecting the labour market, cuts to social security – tax credits and housing benefit especially – are trapping families in poverty. Time is running out for the Government to take action on one of the main drivers here, by ending the freeze on benefits. If the freeze persists as planned into next year, then it will have pushed an extra 400,000 people into poverty.

The third factor is the cost of housing. It’s best to measure poverty after housing costs, so that rent and mortgage payments are taken into account when assessing whether someone has a decent disposable income. Poverty overall is higher by 3 million people once those housing costs are considered.

Prospects for the future

Brexit has been a huge distraction from domestic problems like poverty. To become the compassionate country we all want the UK to be, we have to address the underlying drivers of poverty in a sustained and strategic way. As well as urgent changes to Universal Credit to prevent it leading to severe poverty, we need an emergency stimulus of funding and support for jobs and skills in places where poverty is at its worst.

With even the Government’s preferred measures of poverty now going in the wrong direction, there really are no more excuses left.