The working poor is one of those phrases you expect to encounter in a Victorian novel. Unfortunately for a growing number of families it describes the situation they find themselves in and frames the struggles they face every day.
Figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions(DWP) last week and largely ignored by a media preoccupied with the internal squabbles of the Labour Party show just how bad things have become.
The number of children living in poverty after housing costs has risen from 4million to 4.1million, 67% of those children are living in families where one or more parent is in work.
The risk of families falling into poverty has also risen significantly, for families where one or more parent is self employed it has gone up from 30% to 33%, lone parents now face a 49% chance of falling into poverty and households with three or more children a 42% one.
Responding to the DWP figures Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group said, ‘four million children are below the official poverty line, how many more will follow before the government accepts that cuts to vital financial support are leaving families with too little to live on?’
Campbell Robb of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said, ‘it’s totally unacceptable that so many working households are locked in poverty’.
He added that beyond the statistics ‘poverty restricts people’s choices, meaning that families are having to make impossible decisions such as whether to heat their homes of pay their rent'.
Alison Garnham criticized prime minister Theresa May for ‘coming into office with a pledge to protect living standards for ordinary families,’ adding that the figures released by the DWP showed the government was ‘in denial' about the extent of child poverty.
They should, she said, ‘sound a warning bell that if we fail to invest in children we will damage the life chances of a generation and the long- term prosperity of the country'.
The JRF is urging the government to restore the working allowance within Universal Credit to its original level, so that people on low incomes can keep more of what they earn. This, they argue, will help to lift over three million households out of poverty
They also warn that the number of people living in poverty could increase by a further three hundred thousand by 2020/21. Something that is not reflected in this latest set of figures.
For Mrs May and her government, the persistent failure to lift the country’s low wage families out of poverty is a problem that refuses to go away. It calls into question the pledge she made to build a Britain that works for everyone, if you are poor or a single parent in many respects; just now, it very much works against you.
That has to change, as Campbell Robb says this government and the ones that follow it have ‘a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to build a better life. The government must act to right the wrong of in-work poverty'.