Queen’s Speech must support social justice for all after a third of UK population experience poverty

Responding to ONS figures today showing 3.9 million people in the UK are in persistent poverty, Julia Unwin, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said:

“The Queen’s Speech provides the Government with an opportunity to build on its plans for a Life Chances Strategy and deliver a more socially just country. The government needs a more comprehensive approach to ensure all people who experience poverty are supported.

“The ONS figures lay bare the true scale of the challenge if an ‘all-out assault on poverty’ is to be successful. Almost a third (32.5%) of the UK population experienced poverty at least once between 2011 and 2014, while nearly four million people experienced persistent poverty for two out of the last three years.

“We know that being in poverty for long periods of time is particularly damaging, so the fact that 3.9 million people are stuck in this state is of great concern. This shows poverty is a problem that holds back the potential of a substantial number of people, rather than limited to people experiencing problems with addiction or worklessness.

“From high employment to the National Living Wage, the government has been taking steps to secure a more prosperous society with lower levels of poverty. But these alone are not enough to provide a route out of hardship and fulfil David Cameron’s pledge to truly transform the life chances of the country’s worst off people and places.

“We know poverty is a waste of human potential and the PM could create a powerful reputation as a one nation, social reformer. To do so he needs to galvanise a much more comprehensive approach to providing security and opportunity, which involves a reshaped role for the state, the market and individuals themselves.”

To help people escape poverty, JRF believes the Queen’ Speech should include the following measures to support an ‘all-out assault on poverty’:

  • Industrial strategies for low pay sectors like retail, hospitality and care in order to increase productivity, and with it pay and prospects.
  • Make Universal Credit a poverty reduction tool, by making work pay.
  • Integrated hubs bringing together the employment support, local authority welfare and revenue services, and wider advice and support services.
  • A basic skills drive which takes a programmatic approach to learning focused on literacy, numeracy, digital skills and basic English for Speakers of Other Languages where needed.
  • Incentivise local areas to implement the above approaches and link economic growth plans to reducing poverty by rewarding them with the proceeds of reduced welfare claims.