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Record number of UK workers living in poverty

Charity says job security and quality needs improving

The proportion of workers who live in poverty has reached a record high of 56%, up from 39% two decades ago, a report shows.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said although employment has increased, in-work poverty has risen because often people’s pay, hours, or both are not enough.

The charity’s report shows that of the 14 million people currently living in poverty, four million are disabled and a further three million live in a household with someone who has a disability.

Poverty rates are higher in London, the North of England, Midlands and Wales, and lowest in the South (excluding London), Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The report said two major drivers of differences in poverty rates are the availability of good-quality jobs and housing costs.

“People in every part of our country should be able to progress out of poverty, with access to a good job and a secure, affordable home,” the charity said. “The latest figures show you are much more likely to be in poverty if you live in these parts of the UK, in a family where there’s a disabled person or a carer, if you work in the hospitality or retail sector, or if you live in rented housing.”

The JRF is calling on the government to improve job security and quality, see the benefits system as an essential public service that loosens the grip of poverty, and help make more low-cost housing available.

Claire Ainsley, executive director of the charity, said that 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,” she argued.

Recent years have seen a variety of ad hoc attempts to loosen the grip of poverty one issue at a time. However

However, there hasn’t been a sustained period where all the four main drivers of poverty – jobs, earnings, benefit rates and rents – have gone in the right direction for 15 years.

JRF said at the beginning of that 15-year period, rents started rising, then during the Great Recession employment levels and earnings fell. Following that, benefit increases have lagged behind both prices and average incomes.

Of all family types, working single parents have been swept fastest into poverty, with three in 10 now struggling to stay afloat compared with just two in 10 a decade ago.

For families on low pay, insecurity is worsened by the cost and availability of transport and childcare, especially in employment sectors such as care, retail and hospitality where a largely female workforce is often required to work evenings and weekends, the charity found.

The JRF said employment among disabled people and carers is still low and too many people are stuck in low-paid, insecure jobs.