Poverty in the UK is increasing after two years of heavy welfare cuts have helped to push hundreds of thousands of people below the breadline, according to an independent study of the coalition government’s record.
Although middle-earners saw incomes rise marginally after 2013, policies including the bedroom tax and below-inflation benefits rises have reduced incomes for the poorest, pitching an estimated 760,000 into poverty since the last official figures were produced, according to the New Policy Institute (NPI) thinktank.
Child poverty showed the biggest increase, with 300,000 youngsters moving into hardship, reversing a fall in the headline figure recorded in the coalition’s first year. NPI estimates 29% of UK children are in poverty after housing costs.
The study challenges Tory claims that child poverty has been reduced by 300,000 on the coalition’s watch. While that figure is officially correct, NPI says, the data on which it is based only applies to the three years between 2009 and 2012.
“The clear conclusion is that poverty in the UK is rising among all age groups,” the NPI’s research director, Tom MacInnes, told the Guardian.
“The trajectory over the second half of the coalition’s term has been a bad one. The next government, whoever wins next week, will be dealing with worsening, deepening poverty.”
NPI undertook the study after the government refused to bring forward the publication of official data which would have shown the impact on poverty figures of the major welfare reforms introduced in 2013, and enabled the coalition’s record to be properly scrutinised before the election.
Official poverty data for 2013-14 will not be published until June, while figures showing the coalition’s record in the final year of the parliament will not be available until June 2016.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group charity said:
“This important analysis shows the weakness of the claim being put about by ministers that they have got child poverty down despite making wide-ranging and deep cuts to benefits and tax credits.”
Responding to the report, a Conservative spokesman repeated the claim that there were fewer people in poverty compared to 2010.
“The truth is that the best route out of poverty is work, and there are now a record number of people in work – 2m more since the last election and 700,000 fewer workless households.”
Labour’s shadow welfare minister, Helen Goodman, said:
“This report shows that increasing levels of poverty under this Tory-led government are leaving millions of families struggling to make ends meet.”
Child poverty fell in the first year of the coalition, under the tax and benefits framework inherited from Labour, and remained stable for two years as median incomes fell, the study says. It started to rise again after April 2013 when a series of benefit cuts were introduced, alongside increases in tax allowance.
The median weekly income fell from £425 in 2009-10 to £392 in 2012-13, inching up to £395 by the end of the parliament, says NPI, largely as a result of increased tax allowance and rising employment. But the weekly income of the poorest 10%, which was £174 five years ago, has fallen to £160.
The upward trend in relative poverty over the past two years has affected all groups, the study finds, including working families and pensioners, while the numbers of people identified as being in severe poverty also rose.
The Child Poverty Act requires the government to reduce relative child poverty to below 10%. Latest official figures, which differ from the NPI model in that they measure poverty before housing costs are taken into account, show that 17% of children are below the breadline.
Labour says it will keep the target, though admits it is “very unlikely to be met”.
The Conservatives say they will “work to eliminate child poverty”.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that child poverty will rise to 23% by 2020.
A person is defined as in poverty if their household income is below 60% of the median, while “deep poverty” refers to people in households where income was less than 50% of the UK median.
The study, using a model developed by NPI, estimates income and poverty levels for 2013-14 and 2014-15 using 2012-13 data adjusted for changes in population, employment, earnings, benefits and prices.
According to NPI, the government said the decisions on publication dates were not political. But a spokesman for NPI said:
“Given the significance of recent policy changes and welfare reform to the poverty landscape, not publishing official statistics before the election is also political”.
Source – The Guardian, 29 Apr 2015
Oxfam Press Release: Big rise in UK food poverty sees 20m meals given out in last year
Food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves – a 54 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.
Below the Breadline warns that there has been a rise in people turning to food banks in affluent areas. Cheltenham, Welwyn Garden City and North Lakes have seen numbers of users double and in some cases treble. The massive rise in meals handed out by food banks and food aid charities is a damning indictment of an increasingly unequal Britain where five families have the same wealth as the poorest 20 per cent of the population.
The report details how a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities. Food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent in the past 8 years. During the same time the poorest 20 per cent have seen their disposable income fall by £936 a year.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the Government not looking into this?
“We truly are living through a tale of two Britains; while those at the top of the tree may be benefiting from the green shoots of economic recovery, life on the ground for the poorest is getting tougher.
“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The Government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren’t left behind by the economic recovery.”
Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty said: “Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of Government. Most of us assume that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in, and prevent us falling into destitution and hunger. We want all political parties to commit to re-instating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system, and draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry.”
Chris Mould, Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: “Trussell Trust food banks alone gave three days’ food to over 300,000 children last year. Below the Breadline reminds us that Trussell Trust figures are just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, which is a national disgrace.
“The troubling reality is that there are also thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help, as well as a large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.
“Trussell Trust food banks are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.”
The report will feature on tonight’s Dispatches, to be broadcast at 7.30pm on Channel 4. The documentary, Breadline Kids, will follow three families in their daily lives as they struggle to feed themselves.
In total, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that the three main food aid providers – Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle – gave out over 20m meals in 2013-4, up from around 13m, a year earlier. The Trussell Trust, the only robust source of statistics showing how many people actually visit food banks, reported in April that 913,138 people were given three days’ emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 – the equivalent of over 8 million meals.
Benefit sanctions is one of the major factors contributing to the increase in food bank usage. Since the new sanctions policy was implemented in October 2012, over 1 million sanctions have been applied.
A recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that “DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479.pdf; p.29)
Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system.
Source – Welfare News Service, 09 June 2014