JRF calls for increased remit for OBR as poverty set to reach one in three children by 2020

With one in three children and nearly one in four working-age adults forecast to be living in poverty by 2020, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) today calls for a powerful independent watchdog to hold the Government to account for its record on poverty.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) should be required to monitor and forecast levels of poverty, and Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) should have its remit extended to hold the government to account for its record on poverty, across all age groups. 

The proposals are outlined by JRF in A UK without Poverty launched today ahead of the three main party conferences. 

JRF says successive Government’s attempts to tackle poverty have not been good enough, with overall levels of poverty similar now to what they were 25 years ago. This is a waste of human potential, a strain on the public purse, and it means the UK economy does not function as well as it could – child poverty alone costs the country £29 billion a year. 

The ideas contained in JRF’s publication would help to ensure momentum is given to poverty reduction among all age groups, and lock in commitment beyond the life of each parliament.

Stagnant wages and benefits, the rising cost of essentials and the hollowing out of the labour market means poverty is forecast to rise, prompting JRF’s call for a different approach.  Past strategies have focussed too heavily on the tax and benefits system or single policies in isolation. A comprehensive strategy is needed to address four areas:

  1. Boosting household incomes through higher wages and improving work incentives under Universal Credit.
  2. Improving people’s life chances by closing the attainment gap in education and businesses leading attempts to tackle in-work poverty.
  3. Preventing people from sliding into poverty, through wider access to advice and relationship support services, and personalised support for people with complex needs. 
  4. Access to essential goods and services and sufficient supply of affordable housing.

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive at JRF, said: 

“Poverty is a cost the UK cannot afford. It wastes people’s potential and drains public finances, hampering economic growth – child poverty alone costs the UK £29 billion a year. 

“If we don’t act poverty is likely to increase: the parties’ manifestos are the last chance to stem the rising tide of poverty before 2020. We need governments to adopt proper strategies to address poverty in the UK – not simple lists of policies, with no road-map to its eradication.

“A seismic shift needs to happen: we have to move from treating the symptoms of poverty to fundamentally tackling its causes. This shift needs to happen now and requires political consensus, commitment and ambition. 

“A comprehensive approach involving Government, business, individuals, business, markets, civil society and communities is required. This must be backed up full and independent scrutiny from the OBR and the SMCPC.

“Poverty is real, but it is not inevitable. Looking at the dramatic long-term falls in pensioner poverty should provide some optimism for what can be achieved. We can – and must – do something about it.”

JRF will publish the UK’s first costed, evidence-based anti- poverty strategy (for all ages) at the end of 2015, with specific activity for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to follow in 2016.