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Government urged to put more effort into alleviating poverty

Published 06/09/2016

A fuel voucher being given out at a foodbank
A fuel voucher being given out at a foodbank

Poverty could be effectively eliminated for the "Brexit generation" by 2030 if the Government puts more effort into helping the poor, a think tank has said.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) insists ministers need to tackle the "poverty premium" which sees people on low incomes pay more for goods and services such as fuel and credit which can add 10% to household budgets.

The "Brexit children" starting school this autumn could come to adulthood in a transformed country if ministerial priorities are changed, according to the think tank.

The JRF called for a switch to "responsible capitalism" which by the end of the next decade would see l ess than one in 10 of the population in poverty at any one time, and n obody in poverty for more than two years.

Tolerating high poverty levels costs Britain dear with £69 billion a year being spent on dealing with the impact of inequality, and a further £9 billion a year lost potential tax revenue, the foundation said.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of JRF, said: "It's shameful that in the 21st century, 13 million people in our wealthy country are living in poverty.

"A new 'long-term deal' to solve poverty is urgently needed so the first generation of 'Brexit children' starting school this week grow up in a country where no matter where they live, everyone has a chance of a decent and secure life. Previous approaches have been too piecemeal, failing to deal with issues such as the high cost of living.

"Poverty divides communities and generations; it harms people's potential and strains families; it drains the public purse and holds back our economy. The Prime Minister has made a promise to make Britain work for everyone and reform capitalism.

"As Westminster reconvenes this week, I urge her to deliver on this promise. If we don't take action now, poverty is set to increase for children and working-age adults. Poverty is the biggest social evil of our time - we must act now."

The JRF says that b y age three, a child born into poverty is significantly behind in their cognitive development - a gap that widens by the time they are five.

And among working age adults, four out of five low-paid workers fail to escape low pay completely after 10 years, while someone born in a deprived neighbourhood will die an average of nine years earlier than a child born in a wealthier area.

JRF wants the Government to invest an extra £1 billion a year to build 80,000 genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy in England.

It also wants to see changes to universal credit to make work pay and provide a strong safety net, and r eform job centres to support people into secure and better-paid work - not just any job

The think tank says that polling shows the country backs its approach with 90% seeing national government as having an important role in dealing with poverty, compared to 85% for local government, 71% for people living in poverty themselves, and 70% for businesses.

The survey found that 71% say poverty is a big problem for the country, including the wealthiest people with 64% of people earning more than £62,000 a year agreeing with that statement.

Over two thirds of the public believe that poverty has increased in the past decade, while half the public think it is harder to escape poverty now than it was a decade ago. Three fifths of the public feel that poverty will rise in the next 20 years.

A Government spokesman said: "This Government is committed to building a country that works for everyone - no matter what their background or where they're from.

"Work is the best route out of poverty and since 2010 we've made real progress: 2.7 million more people in our country have a job, we've given a pay rise to a million of the lowest paid with the National Living Wage - and we've overhauled the welfare system so it pays to work rather than claim benefits.

"But there is still much more to do, not just for those on the margins of society, but for families up and down the country who are just getting by. With Theresa May as Prime Minister, we will do what is needed to keep our economy strong and build a country that works for all of us, not just the privileged few."

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