13 Nov 2013

When work doesn’t pay: Breadwinners ‘living in poverty’

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

The traditional family model used to be thought of as the building block of society. But now a report finds those families make up a third of all those with children who live in poverty.

Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says having one parent earning does not offer a guaranteed route out of poverty – and other family members need help to find work.

Take Zoey Smith and Paul Duggan for example, the couple form Kent have two children aged five and three.

Paul works nights in a supermarket warehouse while Zoey is a stay-at-home mum, but the 45 hours he works provides the family with barely enough income to live on.

Payday concerns

His partner Zoey says they are struggling: “One of the worst things is payday because there is so much to pay out sometimes you worry whether you have actually got enough in the bank to cover all the expenses of just looking after the house and the children”

Paul says working nights to make more money is taking its toll on the family: “I don’t spend a lot of time at home in the family unit. Obviously that becomes somewhat stressful for me. I didn’t envisage that when I had children I would continuously be out.”

The couple are not alone, today’s research shows 31 per cent of so-called “traditional” families where there is a single breadwinner, are in poverty. But if both parents go out to work , that figure falls to 16 percent.

Currently, Zoey Smith says she has no choice but to stay at home. She relies on her parents to look after her three-year-old Tyreece and his sister Hope who is five, so she can volunteer and do a college course.

Although she receives 15 hours of free childcare for Tyreece, it is not enough to make it financially viable for her to work.

Paul and Zoey claim the situation has become worse, Paul says he feels they have gone backwards “Four years ago I wasn’t bad off, there was some reward for working. But now we can’t afford to live in the same manor we did four years ago, so then you ask yourself the question: Is it worth it?”

Income tax reforms

Paul’s experience is backed up by research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC). They found that workers have, on average, seen their pay fall by 6 per cent since the financial crash. In Kent, where Paul lives, the average worker is earning £32 a week less in real-terms than before the recession.

Today the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP was visiting a Tesco Superstore in West London to talk about and to hard working families.

He told Channel 4 News: “No one should be comfortable about any family in this country where the pressure on weekly and monthly household budgets is such that they are having to make these terribly difficult choices.

“So that is why in government I have championed probably one of the most progressive income tax reforms this country has seen in a generation”.

But the research released today by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found the traditional unit where one family goes out to work and the other stays at home now forms the largest group of households living in poverty.

It claims the best way of keeping families out of poverty is to make work pay for both parents. But critics ask where does it leave the question of choice for parents? Or for poorer families, it’s a luxury they can’t afford?