I was pleased to be at the well-attended event, ‘The definitive picture of poverty in the UK’ early on Monday morning at Central Hall Westminster where the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and New Policy Institute’s report ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion’ was discussed. It seemed there’s a pattern of poverty running from childhood right through to supposed home buying age and that the lack of affordable homes is the main problem. Tom Mac Innes, Research Director at the New Policy Institute, gave a good overview of the top-line findings. Average incomes are only 2% higher than a decade ago; 21% of people are living in poverty this year after housing costs; and there are more under 25s in poverty than over 65s.
Tom also discussed how the term ‘in-work poverty’ has become well recognised and 21% of children are at risk of poverty in this category, even though unemployment is down to 2008 levels. Furthermore, children from families living in temporary accommodation will have their education affected by not getting at least five good GCSEs.
The problem doesn’t improve as young people reach working age as youth unemployment is also long-term problem which isn’t taken into account in recent employment figures. The trajectory of poverty continues after the first job you get says Julia Unwin, CEO of Joseph Rowntree Foundation. If you start working on a low wage, you’re more likely to stay in that bracket, especially if you work in a certain sector such as hospitality which doesn’t always pay employees the Living Wage. Shiv Malik, Investigative Correspondent for The Guardian, spoke about changing our strategy on asset building as under 45s won’t be able to buy homes like our parents did. Peter Kenway, Director of the New Policy Institute, added that people born after 1983/1984 are more likely to follow their great-grandparents who most likely didn’t own their homes either. That means I’m not likely to be able to afford my own home anytime soon!
Mark Littlewood, Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told the audience about how some families spend up to 50% of their income on rent or a mortgage. His most memorable quote was about how the UK’s cities are some of the most unaffordable cities to live in and that it’s “more affordable to live in Seattle than Swansea”. He continued that people need to go to foodbanks because of the knock on effects of the high cost of housing.
Dr Peter Kenway highlighted the social effects of poverty not captured in the report such as the stigma of simply being poor. As such, we live in a world where you’re expected to work your way out of poverty yourself. What’s more there’s an assumption in the government that if you work hard, you won’t be poor and can buy your own house. Unfortunately, the report highlights the levels of in-work poverty and the increasing number of people who cannot afford a mortgage.
One of the solutions Mark Littlewood points to is to liberalise the use of green-belt land, including who currently owns it, as there’s enough in the vicinity of tube and Overground stations in London to build one million new homes according to a report by the IEA. Shiv Malik said “to rent here is like being a third class citizen”, referring to the fact that after six months of living in a private rented property in the UK, the landlord can throw you out, even if you haven’t committed a fault. He suggested turning current legislation on its head by creating private rental contracts which could not be broken if the tenant does not cause fault, for example by not paying the rent. He also pointed to building on new tracts of land to create new cities so “people don’t have to be poor and pay through the nose for Victorian housing”. Mark Littlewood added the impacts of the cost of living such as the tax on low-cost alcohol should be taken into account in government policy.
The discussion was so interesting we ran over time and I know I could have sat and listened to the panel and interesting questions raised for much longer. For tweets and comments from the day, use #MPSEUK15 on Twitter.