Have-nots getting a bigger slice of the cake

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The Independent Online
The gap between rich and poor continues to grow, but not as quickly. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, examines the latest figures.

A third of households in Britain have no one in employment, but the growth in the gap between rich and poor has begun to slow, according to official data released yesterday.

The gulf between the "haves" and the "have nots" accelerated rapidly in the Thatcherite Eighties, but the growth has started to wane, the survey of Households Below Average Income found.

The proportion of "workless" houses however has rocketed from 10 per cent in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, to 33 per cent now. The proportion of families containing a full-time employee has declined since 1979 from nearly two-thirds to just under a half.

The survey, published by the Government Statistical Service, showed that more than a third of children now live in families without a full-time worker. In 1979, around 20 per cent of children lived in unemployed families, which moved up to 25 per cent by 1994-5.

Real incomes rose over the period since 1979 by 37 per cent, but those at the lower end had seen much slower growth.

All was not lost for those who found themselves at the bottom of the heap, it was found. People in the lowest10 per cent of the earnings scale did not always stay there. Of those in the bottom group in 1991, 64 per cent had incomes estimated to be in a higher bracket four years later. The lifestyles of the overwhelming majority of pensioners and single parent families were found however to remain static. Generally, women and single- parent families were more likely than other groups in society to be found in the bottom 20 per cent of Britain's income distribution.

Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security, said the survey justified the Government's focus on single parents and the poorest pensioners. She pointed out that 55 per cent of the adults in the bottom fifth were women.

Ms Harman added: "The Government's new Social Exclusion Unit has been set up to tackle the problems of those groups that have been left behind. We will tackle poverty by ensuring that all those who want to work can, and all those who cannot, get what they are entitled to."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Security said that "history matters" when it came to looking at people's futures. "People with a history of low income are more likely to experience low incomes in future." Unsurprisingly, adults with no formal qualifications were more likely to remain in the poorest section of society, while those educated to degree level were likely to move swiftly out of the bottom section.