The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said Britain must decide if it is committed to fighting poverty
Britain is going into Brexit with half a million more children trapped in poverty, following a relentless rise in the number of working families struggling to make ends, a charity has said.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has highlighted that in a typical classroom of 30 children, nine are now living in poverty.
Its assessment comes in a state of the nation report by the foundation. UK Poverty 2018 examines how poverty has changed over the last 20 years, providing the most comprehensive and up to date picture of the challenges and prospects facing low income families.
Overall, one in five of the UK population (22%) are in poverty - 14.3 million people. Of these, 8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million are children and 1.9 million are pensioners. Eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is in work.
In-work poverty has been rising even faster than employment, with nearly all of the increase among working parents. There are now four million workers in poverty, around one in eight in the economy.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the JRF, described the situation as unacceptable.
He said: “It’s time for us to decide what kind of country we want to be. As we leave the EU, we must tackle the burning injustice of poverty and make Britain a country that works for everyone.
“We can do this by taking action on housing, social security and work to loosen the constraints poverty places on people’s lives. No one wants to see more families being pushed over the brink.
“We have an opportunity to fix this and ensure everyone can reach a decent standard of living – it is one we must seize to make the country work for everyone after Brexit.”
The report said the rise in poverty is driven by parents getting stuck in low-paid work with little progression, especially in jobs in hotels, bars, restaurants and shops.
It also highlights gains from the National Living Wage and tax cuts being outweighed by changes to tax credits and benefits that top up low wages.
The struggle to pay for housing is also a factor, leaving families with less money to cover other essentials.
To stem the rise in poverty, JRF is calling for reforms to social security, housing and the jobs market so more people build can build a better life. It recommends ending the benefits freeze, at least 80,000 affordable homes to be built per year across Britain and employers playing more of a role in helping people out of poverty.
"Life can feel like a hamster's wheel"
Hazel Ratcliffe, a young working lone parent from Fife, is one of those who faces in-work poverty.
She said: “Life can feel like a hamsters’ wheel. I am working and pushing myself so hard, but feel like I’m stuck. Every week I have school dinner money to give the boys, diesel for my car, food for the house. Most weeks I manage, but it involves rigid meal planning, then going around the supermarket with a calculator to ensure I stay within budget. Clothes, shoes and food are so expensive.
“I live in private rented accommodation. Benefits should loosen the constraints of low pay and high rents. I think the government needs to increase benefits to match the rate of inflation. The minimum wage needs to be more like the living wage and make sure work is a route to a decent quality of life.”