More than four million children in the UK are growing up in poverty as a greater number of parents are “pushed to the brink” despite being in work, a major report has revealed.
An investigation by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that in-work poverty has risen faster than employment in recent years, with working parents the hardest hit.
Researchers discovered that while almost one-in-five of the UK population are in poverty – around 14.3 million people – eight million of those live in families where at least one person has a job.
It means that a typical British classroom of 30 children now includes nine living on or below the breadline.
“More families are trapped in impossible situations: struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table and dealing with the terrible stresses and strains poverty places on family life,” said the Foundation’s chief executive Campbell Robb, calling the situation “unacceptable”.
“It’s time for us to decide what kind of country we want to be. As we leave the EU, we must tackle the burning injustices of poverty and make Britain a country that works for everyone.”
While the research revealed that many parents are stuck in low-paid jobs in hotels, bars and restaurants, it emerged that they are still being forced to pay expensive private housing costs due to a lack of social housing and shortfalls in housing benefits.
Changes to tax credits and cuts to benefits that top up low wages were also found to be a major issue, with the changes outweighing gains from the national living wage and cuts to tax.
“Life can feel like a hamster’s wheel,” said Hazel Ratcliffe, a single mother living in Fife. “I am working and pushing myself so hard, but I feel like I’m stuck.
“Every week I have school dinner money to give the boys, diesel for my car, food for the house. Most weeks I manage, but it involves rigid meal planning, then going around the supermarket with a calculator to ensure I stay within budget,” she added.
Dalia Ben-Galim, director of policy at single-parent charity Gingerbread, said the figures in the report were “unsurprising” to those who work in the sector.
“Each day, we hear from single parents in work and still struggling to make ends meet,” she said, adding that almost half of children in single-parent families live in poverty.
“This figure is set to rise to 60% by 2022 - just four years away – unless drastic action is taken.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has called on the government to build at least 80,000 “genuinely affordable” homes each year while demanding that ministers also end the current freeze on benefits and tax credits - a move researchers said would help 200,000 people out of poverty and boost the incomes of 14 million low paid workers.
Employers must play their part by paying the real living wage, the report added.
“We have an opportunity to fix this situation and ensure everyone can reach a decent standard of living,” Robb said. “It is one we must seize to make the country work for everyone after Brexit.”
But a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We disagree with this report, and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty since 2010, including 300,000 children.
“With this Government’s changes household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, taxes are down for families and businesses, and there are fewer children in workless households than ever before, boosting their prospects in life.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual ‘state of the nation’ report comes just weeks after the United Nation’s special rapporteur on poverty accused the government of inflicting “unnecessary misery” with policies like austerity and Universal Credit.
After a 12 day tour of the UK, Professor Philip Alston said: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.