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In-work poverty on the rise, study finds

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Rates of poverty in the UK are lower than Scotland than elsewhere, but the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said action must be taken

In-work poverty is continuing to rise across the UK, a detailed charity investigation has found.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found poverty’s grip on some parts of the country, some families and among renters shows the scale of the challenge faced by the government in its attempts to “unite and level up” the UK following years of political turmoil around Brexit.

The research showed Scotland has 19% of households living in poverty, compared to a rate of 24% in Wales and 22% in England.

The charity’s State of the Nation study reported 56% of people in poverty are in a working family, compared to 39% 20 years ago. Of the 14 million people living in poverty, four million are disabled and a further three million live in a household with someone who has a disability. Seven in 10 children in poverty are now in a working family, the charity’s annual UK poverty report found.

Single-parent families have been the worst affected by the trend of wages falling behind living costs, it added. Working single parents accounted for three in 10 households in poverty in 2018, compared with two in 10 in 2011.

Claire Ainsley, executive director of the JRF, said: “The new government has an historic opportunity as we enter the 2020s. Past successes in recent decades show that it is possible for the UK to loosen the grip of poverty among those most at risk. But this progress has begun to unravel and it will take sustained effort across the country and throughout the governments of the UK to unlock poverty.

“Millions of families care for each other, raise their children and work hard without any guarantee that they will escape poverty - governments, employers and landlords all have a role to play in changing this. It’s not right that so many are unable to build a firm foundation to their lives because their jobs are insecure or they can’t find a home they can afford.

“Without a better deal for working families, and a social security system that provides a public service for all of us, the UK faces further division and deeper poverty. That better deal needs to encompass the basics we all need – from building new homes to funding social security and bringing better jobs to all parts of the country.

“If the next decade is to see true levelling up it will be because we have broken the grip of poverty and unlocked the UK’s potential, not because we invested in eye-catching schemes. As a nation we have made progress before and we can and must do so again with this new government and a new settlement after Brexit.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government.

"We know that getting into work is the best route out of poverty and there are more people in work than ever before. Wages are outstripping inflation and absolute poverty is lower than in 2010.

"We know that some need more help, which is why we spend over £95 billion a year on working-age benefits. Millions will see their benefit payments rise further from April and we're also boosting the incomes of pensioners each year through the triple lock."

The charity has also called on the Scottish Government to go further in its attempts to stem child poverty.

Jim McCormick, the JRF's associate director for Scotland, said: "On most measures, poverty in Scotland is lower than in the UK as a whole.

"But that is cold comfort to the growing number of families caught in a rising tide of in-work poverty, especially those in low paid work, with limited hours and facing UK social security cuts.

"While the new Scottish Child Payment will help, now is the time to invest further in affordable housing and good work if we are to meet ambitious child poverty targets in four years."

Communities secretary Aileen Campbell said: "The Scottish government invested more than £1.4bn in support targeted on low-income households in 2018-19, including £100m to mitigate the worst impacts of UK government welfare cuts, and we expect a similar amount to have been spent last year."

She also highlighted Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, which will offer £10 a week per child to low-income families, and the investment of £3.3bn to deliver 50,000 affordable homes.