We are entitled to expect a better quality of reporting than this from the BBC:
The proportion of households in the UK where no-one is working is at its lowest point for over 20 years, the Office for National Statistics says.
The figures show 14.3% of households containing working-age adults are “workless” – down 0.2% compared with the same point last year.
Fewer children were living in families where no-one was currently working.
The employment figures show a picture of rising levels of work in the 21 million households with people aged between 16 and 64.
There are fewer workless families now than at any point in a data series going back to 1996.
If you’re wondering what’s wrong with it, the answer is simple: No mention is made of the fact that there is more in-work poverty now than at any time in the UK’s recent history, due to the pay-less policies of the Conservative government.
In a tweet responding to the biased BBC report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation stated: “Work should be a route out of poverty. It’s not right that despite the percentage of workless households being at a 20 year low, the percentage of households in poverty is at a 20 year high.”
The BBC’s bias is all the more shocking because the corporation claims to make a point of presenting both sides of any story.
What a fawning failure – sucking up to the Tories again.
A project aiming to define an ‘adequate’ income in the UK has shown that the National Minimum Wage falls far short of what is required, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The organisation’s research is based on what members of the public think is enough money to live on, to maintain a socially-acceptable quality of life, examining changes in living costs and the tax and benefits system. It compares incomes on benefits and on the National Minimum Wage to the ‘Minimum Income Standard’ (MIS).
According to the JRF, the cost of a decent standard of living, as defined by the public, has stopped rising for the first time since the recession began – but the gap between people’s incomes and the amount they need to cover their essential costs has widened greatly since 2008.
The figures generated by MIS are used to calculate the Living Wage outside London and assess the impact of public policy on people’s living standards. JRF research has also used it to explore how far Universal Credit will help people reach an adequate income.
Of particular interest will be the following image, showing the lie being fed to us by the Conservative Government with its benefit cap. It seems a couple with two children need to receive £20,000 each to meet the Minimum Income Standard – while the Tories say £23,000 in total is enough.
For completeness, here’s the JRF’s graph showing how far short the system falls, for people on particular out-of-work benefits:
The numbers speak for themselves: Under ‘Adequacy of safety-net benefits’, EVERY SINGLE INCOME GROUP has lost out. While others have suffered a great percentage drop, single working-age people remain the least able to make ends meet.
“How much money do you need for an adequate standard of living?”
That is the question posed every year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – and every year the organisation calculates how much people have to earn – taking into account their family circumstances, the changing cost of these essentials and changes to the tax and benefit system – to reach this benchmark.
A lone parent with one child now needs to earn more than £27,100 per year – up from £12,000 in 2008. A couple with two children need to earn more than £20,200 each, compared to £13,900 each in 2008. Single working-age people must now earn more than £16,200, up from £13,500 in 2008;
Despite social and economic change, the list of goods and services different families need to live to an adequate level is very similar to that of the original study in 2008 – but people’s ability to afford them has declined. Overall the cost of a basket of essential items has risen by a massive 28 per cent over six years – much higher than the 19 per cent rise claimed by the official Consumer Price Index – while average wages have increased by just nine per cent and the minimum wage 14 per cent;
Increased tax allowances have eased the pressure somewhat for some households, but the freeze to child benefit and ongoing cuts in tax credits have outweighed this for low-earning families with children.
Out-of-work benefits have fallen further and now provide just 39 per cent of what single, working-age people need to reach a Minimum Income Standard.
On the other hand, pensioner couples who claim all their allowances receive 95 per cent of the amount required.
The bottom line is that the Conservative-led government has been hammering the working poor and people on benefits, while claiming to be helping them. The minimum income necessary for an adequate living standard, according to JRF research, is no less than two-and-a-half-times what people on benefits receive. That is an appalling disparity in the sixth-richest country in the world.
It also creates a danger that more people will look to loan suppliers like the government’s favourite (Wonga) for short-term help – at the cost of going into disastrous long-term debt.
Slow earnings growth and price increases have made all households worse off on average, relative to the MIS, the report has found.
The conclusion is a disaster for the Coalition’s “hardworking” people: “In the past six years the more important determinants of whether low-income households can afford the minimum budget have been the increasing cost of living relative to earnings and benefit cuts for households in and out of work.
“For working families with children, if these cuts continue, the opportunity to reach an acceptable living standard may not improve, even as wages start rising again in real terms.”
Iain Duncan Smith wants to talk about child poverty – but how can we take him seriously when he starts the discussion with a lie?
“Recent analysis reveals that children are three times as likely to be in poverty in a workless family and there are now fewer children living in workless households than at any time since records began, having fallen by 274,000 since 2010,” according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ press release on the new consultation.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during the 2010-2015 Parliament – around 24 per cent of all the children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per centof all children in the UK.
Under the Coalition government, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty – at 6.7 million – has exceeded the number in workless and retired families who are in poverty – 6.3 million – for the first time.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has measured poverty, using several indicators, for more than 15 years; its figures are far more likely to be accurate than those of the government, which is still defining poverty as an income of less than 60 per cent of median (average) earnings. Average earnings are falling, so fewer people are defined as being in poverty – but that doesn’t make the money in their pockets go any further.
“The previous government’s target to halve child poverty by 2010 was not achieved,” states the DWP press release. Then it comes out with more nonsense: “The government is committed to ending child poverty in the UK by 2020 and the draft child poverty strategy sets out the government’s commitment to tackle poverty at its source.” From the JRF figures alone, we know that government policy is worsening the situation – or has everyone forgotten that 80,000 children woke up homeless last Christmas morning?
Let’s look at the government’s plans.
The DWP claims “reforming the welfare system through Universal Credit… will lift up to 300,000 children out of poverty, and cover 70 per cent of childcare costs for every hour worked”. But we know that Universal Credit is effectively a benefit cut for everyone put onto it; they won’t get as much as they do on the current benefits, and the one per cent uprating limit means falling further into poverty every year. Also, we found out this week that the housing element will be subject to sanctions if people in part-time jobs cannot persuade their employers to give them more hours of work. The claim is ridiculous.
The DWP claims the government will will increase investment in the Pupil Premium, provide free school meals for all infant school children from September this year, improve teacher quality, fund 15 hours of free early education places per week for all three- and four-year-old children and extend 15 hours of free education and care per week to two-year-olds from low income families. None of these measures will do anything to “tackle poverty at its source”. Tackling poverty at its source means ending the causes of poverty, not putting crude metaphorical sticking-plasters over the effects – which could be removed at any time in the future.
The DWP claims the government will cut tax for 25 million people by increasing the personal tax allowance, and cut income tax for those on the minimum wage by almost two-thirds. This means people will have more money in their pocket – but will it be enough, when benefit cuts and sanctions are taken into account? Will their pay increase with the rate of inflation? There is no guarantee that it will. And this move means the government will collect less tax, limiting its ability to provide services such as poverty-reduction measures.
The DWP claims the government will reduce water and fuel costs, and attack housing costs by building more homes. The first two measures may be seen as responses to aggressive policy-making by the Labour Party, and the last will only improve matters if the new dwellings are provided as social housing. Much of the extra spending commitment is made for 2015 onwards, when the Conservative-led Coalition may not even be in office.
These are plans to prolong poverty, not end it.
It is notable that the DWP press release repeats many of the proposals in an attempt to pretend it is doing more. Take a look at the list and count for yourself the number of times it mentions fuel/energy bills (three times) and free school meals (twice).
In fact, the only measures that are likely to help reduce the causes of poverty are far down the list: Increasing access to affordable credit by expanding credit unions and cracking down on payday lending (at the very bottom – and we’ll have to see whether this really happens because payday lenders are generous donors to the Conservative party); and reviewing – mark that word, ‘reviewing’ – the national minimum wage, meaning that the government might increase the minimum wage in accordance with Low Pay Commission recommendations.
The DWP press release quotes Iain Duncan Smith, who said the consultation re-states the government’s commitment to tackle poverty at its source, “be it worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction or debt”.
The measures he has proposed will not improve anybody’s chance of finding a job, nor will they prevent family breakdown, or addiction. The plans for education have yet to be tested and may not work. The plan for debt involves annoying Conservative Party donors.
The JRF has responded to the consultation diplomatically, but there can be no mistaking the impatience behind the words of Chris Goulden, head of poverty research. He said: “Given that it has been over a year since the initial consultation on child poverty measures, we are disappointed that the government is now going to take even longer to agree what those indicators will be.
“With one in four families expected to be in poverty by 2020, a renewed strategy to address child poverty is vital. Any effective strategy should be based on evidence and contain measures to reduce the cost of living and improve family incomes. However, until those measures are agreed, it is difficult to see how the government can move forward.”
Don’t be too concerned about moving forward, Chris.
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