The latest figures show that in the first year the coalition government came to power in 2010, an extra one million people were pushed in to absolute poverty in the UK.
In the Department for Work and Pension’s annual report on households living below average income, it was revealed that for two successive years real incomes have dropped by 3 per cent annually, meaning economic progress that had been made in previous year’s by those on low incomes had effectively been wiped out.
The report showed that the median income of a family was at £427 a week between 2011-12. When adjusted for inflation, this was slightly below the £429 in 2001-02 and well down on the £454 peak in median income in 2009-10 – the year before the coalition came to power.
The definition of absolute poverty is characterised by “severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information”. Classification depends not only on income but also on access to services – which in many areas are seeing planned closures such as libraries and hospital wards due to government spending cuts.
The data from the Department for Work and Pensions showing that working household incomes are at their lowest levels since 2000, coupled with a recent report from the Trussell Trust revealing that there’s been a 465 per cent increase in the amount of people having to use food banks, will no doubt cause a sense of unease within the coalition who are already facing scrutiny over the impact of their welfare reforms.
Within that one million estimate, around 300,000 children have found themselves living in homes now being defined as living in poverty, bringing overall child poverty numbers in the UK to about 3.8 million.
Speaking to the BBC, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the government’s aim was to get children out of poverty by getting more people in to work: “While this government is committed to eradicating child poverty, we want to take a new approach by finding the source of the problem and tackling that.”
However, bringing further embarrassment to the coalition, a detailed analysis of the government’s figures by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that in fact, two-thirds of those 300,000 children who are living in absolute poverty are in households where their parents aren’t the ‘scroungers’ or jobless of our society, but the ‘strivers’, the workers, the ones with jobs – the ones David Cameron promised to support.
However, the support doesn’t seem to be there and Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, says we need to look to other causes of child poverty. Speaking to The Telegraph she said: “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.”
When you consider that over the last 5 years household bills have risen by an average of 25 per cent, whilst average earnings have only increased by around 6 per cent, it can hardly be surprising that the result is an increase in absolute poverty figures. What is surprising however, are the absolute poverty projections that the IFS report are warning of, if changes aren’t made.
Researchers at the IFS predict that by 2015 we could see another 700,000 children living in absolute poverty and 800,000 working-age adults – bringing total numbers of households living in absolute poverty to 12.3 million.
In 2010 the coalition government made a pledge to end child poverty by 2020, however, these latest figures suggest that the government are a way off managing to fulfil this commitment.
Speaking to the BBC, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, MP Liam Byrne said: “The devastating verdict is in – in just one year this government has pushed a million people into absolute poverty and progress in tackling relative child poverty has completely stalled.” When numbers like this emerge, it is often easy for the government to point fingers and avoid the issue. However, this year the UK Government is hosting the G8, which has “addressing global hunger” on it’s agenda. Let’s hope that when the Prime Minister’s looking at ways to reduce global hunger, he bears in mind those that are going hungry in the UK too.