24 Nov 2014

Young, working and renting? The new face of poverty in UK

Young adults and those in work are more likely to be in poverty than pensioners in Britain, a new report reveals.

Young worker

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), a fifth of working-age adults without children are living in poverty, while poverty among pensioners is at an all-time low.

The think-tank said that despite improvements in the poverty rate among pensioners and children, the fact that more under-25s were living under the breadline was a “very worrying” trend.

Although unemployment levels appear better than they were during the recession five years ago, the JRF cautions that the type of work being done shows “worrying signs” with growth in insecure employment, such as those on zero-hour contracts, as well as stagnant wages.

Housing, food and energy bills account for a large proportion of the poverty, the report written by the New Policy Institute (NPI) said, as costs of some essential items have risen faster than inflation and much faster than wages.

The rental property market fares as precarious, with as many people in poverty in the private rented sector as the social rented sector. The figures suggest the number of private rental repossessions is now higher than the number of mortgage repossessions.

As young people struggle to get on to the property ladder, homelessness continues to increase because of the end of private rented sector tenancies, with as many as 17,000 private landlord repossessions in 2013 to 2014.

‘Tackling root cause’

Julia Unwin, the charity’s chief executive, said: “This year’s report shows a real change in UK society over a relatively short period of time. We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty. It is a risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.”

We will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet. Julia Unwin

Ms Unwin called for a comprehensive strategy to tackle poverty in the UK: “It must tackle the root causes of poverty, such as low pay and the high cost of essentials. This research in particular demonstrates that affordable housing has to be part of the answer to tackling poverty: all main political parties need to focus now on providing more decent, affordable homes for people on low incomes.”

‘Wider scope’

NPI research director Tom MacInnes said: “This report highlights some good news on employment – but earnings and incomes are still lower than five years ago, and most people who moved from unemployment into work can only find a low paid job.

“Government has focussed its efforts on welfare reform, but tackling poverty needs a wider scope, covering the job market, the costs and security of housing and the quality of services provided to people on low incomes.”