Deprivation Britain: Poverty is getting worse - even among working families, according to major new study

 

Senior Reporter

The number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the largest study of deprivation ever conducted in the UK has concluded.

The research found that rises in the cost of living mean a full-time job is no longer enough to prevent some people from falling into poverty. One in every six adults in paid work is now defined as "poor".

Last night the Government’s poverty tsar Frank Field said the study’s stark findings proved the Coalition’s approach to the problem “isn’t working” and called for the leaders of all political parties to make manifesto pledges to reverse the rise.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion project, based on interviews with more than 14,500 people in Britain and Northern Ireland carried out by eight universities and two research agencies, reported:

  • More than 500,000 children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
  • 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions
  • 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities
  • About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing

The survey showed that the percentage of UK households which lacked “three or more of the basic necessities of life” has increased from 14 per cent in 1983, the year that Margaret Thatcher was re-elected (around 3 million), to 33 per cent (around 8.7 million) in 2012, despite the size of the economy doubling in that period. Researchers used the “three or more” formula as it is directly comparable with methods used to study poverty and deprivation in 1983.

Academics said the findings dispelled the myth that poverty is caused by a lack of work or by people shirking work. Almost half the “employed poor” were clocking up 40 hours a week in work or more.

According to separate research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), around half of the UK’s 13 million people in poverty are in a household where someone works. Between 2008 and 2014 the cost of essentials such as childcare, rent, food and energy have driven up the amount needed by almost a third, it said.

Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, which led the project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said the Government’s strategy of tackling the root causes of poverty had “clearly failed”.

Mr Field, the Labour MP who was tasked by David Cameron to examine poverty in 2010, said the study “sadly emphasises that working doesn’t now eliminate a family’s poverty”.

He added: “Tackling the causes of poverty is clearly the right strategy. This report shows that it isn’t working. Here, then, is a most major challenge to all the political parties – what is your manifesto going to say to reverse the horrendous rise in the numbers of poor?”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “There is strong evidence that incomes have improved over the last 30 years, despite the misleading picture painted by this report. The independent statistics are clear, there are 1.4 million fewer people in poverty since 1998, and under this Government we have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind.”

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