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A week of poverty statistics

It seems to be a week of poverty.

Median income is below its level in 2009-10.

  1. Work isn’t a route out of poverty.

Being in full-time work should mean not being in poverty. Yet the majority of those in poverty are in work. This is not relative poverty but absolute poverty – “severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information.” Of 300 000 children in absolute poverty, 200 000 are in working households. By 2015 we could have 700 000 children and 800 000 working-age adults in absolute poverty.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, says we need to look to other causes of child poverty. “Today’s poverty figures expose comprehensively the myth that the main cause of poverty is people choosing not to work.

“The truth is that for a growing number of families, work isn’t working. The promise that work would be a route out of poverty has not been kept as wages stagnate and spending cuts have hurt low-income working families.”

Government is focussing on work as ‘the’ route out of poverty, with the solution being to get people off benefits and into work. But work will not end poverty if it is poorly-paid.

  1. Poor people gain little from the increased personal tax allowance.

Universal Credit, unlike the current benefits system, is based on post-tax income. This means that tax-payers on Universal Credit lose two-thirds of the increase in the tax allowance to Universal Credit tapers. Or as the Resolution Foundation said, “Put another way, any tax cut will give with one hand and take away immediately most of the gains with the other.”

Gavin Kelly, the chief executive of Resolution Foundation said, “Given that nearly half of households with dependent-age children are expected to be on universal credit, we can, if things don’t change, lay to rest the well-worn notion that tax cuts are a good way of helping ‘hard-working families’ … Surely we can all agree that if the public are going to be sold tax cuts on the basis that they offer help to those who are struggling then all parties should have the decency to ensure that the money reaches them. Otherwise it’s mis-selling..”[1]

  1. Child protection is suffering under cuts.

Unison reported that unqualified staff are being asked to carry out assessments for children. Social workers are being allocated too many children – “impossibly high” caseloads –  even whilst it is reported that some departments are raising the threshold for referrals. Unison national officer Helga Pile said: “This survey highlights the huge problems building up in social services departments up and down the country. In many areas, an underlying crisis is being swept under the carpet that could erupt at any time.”

  1. Foodbanks are starting to take on the role of social security.

In recognition that three food parcels don’t remove poverty, ‘food stores’ are providing counselling, debt and health advice, outreach and life-skills training. At the Matthew Tree Project,[2] individuals can receive unlimited food parcels as well as other support as part of an agreement about the programme of support they will receive. The Project points out that, “By reducing the concerns about food spending, individuals have more scope to address the underlying causes.”

These are just four indicators of the struggle that the cuts are creating. Multiple services are being cut, each seemingly with the expectation that another service will pick up the fall-out or even that there won’t be any fall-out. Meanwhile, absolute poverty is increasing, wages are falling and there is no sign of a let-up any time soon.

[1] Gavin Kelly, The great tax swindle, The Guardian, 2nd April 2013

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