· News

Millions fall further below poverty line

The poverty gap has grown wider

Nearly two thirds (64%) of adults in poverty lived in working households from 2021 to 2022, an increase of 3% from the previous year, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

Paul Kissack, group chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is now 20 years and six prime ministers since there was a sustained fall in poverty. Over the last two decades we have seen poverty deepen, with more and more families falling further and further below the poverty line.”

The poverty gap, or the amount of money needed to bring the incomes of people in poverty to the poverty line, has grown wider.

Analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics found the average person in poverty has an income 29% below the poverty line, with the gap up from 23% in the mid-1990s.

The average income of people in 'very deep' poverty is 59% below the poverty line. 

More than one in five people in the UK (22%) were in poverty in 2021/22.

This equates to 14.4 million people in total, with 8.1 million working-age adults, 4.2 million children and 2.1 million pensioners living in poverty.

Read more: Low-income households skip meals due to cost of living

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said regulators and policymakers must make urgent changes.

He said: “I warned at the start of the energy crisis that I was out of tools to help many on the lowest incomes. Now we have hit the stark reality that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, even after they’ve had professional help from money charities, are still deficit budgeting – so their income is less than their minimum necessary expenditure.

“And let’s be plain, once people are in the deepest mire, it’s not a Money Saving Expert you need, its policy makers and regulators to sit up take note and address these deep rooted problems – which is exactly what I hope they do with this Joseph Rowntree Foundation report highlighting the situation and calling for change.” 

The JRF is calling for an ‘essentials guarantee’ to be introduced into universal credit, to ensure that everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials like food and household bills.  

Kissack said: “This year will be a year of choices, and any political party wishing to form a new government must set out a practical and ambitious plan to turn back the tide on poverty in the UK. That plan – to ensure the dignity and respect of every member of our society – will be essential for achieving any broader ambitions for the country.”   

Read more: Real wage stagnation will deepen poverty in the UK

Rebecca Westaway, D&I engagement manager at consultancy Huma Qazi Limited said employers also have a role to play in reducing working poverty.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “I've observed the growing challenge of in-work poverty, fuelled by stagnant wages, fluctuating employment, changes in welfare and increasing costs of living and childcare. 

“It requires changing the system, and this is done through active participation from everyone in their respective workplaces, especially those with greater access, influence and privilege. Actions such as advocating for fair pay, offering mentorship and sponsored education to develop new skills, are essential.

“These steps, taken more regularly and by more people, can create more opportunities for colleagues, as well as the communities that we live and work in, especially those from under-represented groups."