The Households Below Average Income statistics published today by the Department for Work and Pensions provide further evidence of the previous government’s mixed record on poverty. The good news is that both child and pensioner poverty fell in 2008/09 compared to the previous year.
Child poverty fell by 100,000, bringing the number of poor children down to 2.8 million (when income is measured before housing costs). This is very welcome news after increases in child poverty in the two previous years. However, this small fall only brings us back to where we were in 2005/06 and it is clear that the target of halving child poverty by 2010 will have been missed.
The figures also show a continuing rise in the proportion of poor children whose parents are in work, despite rising unemployment. Just under 60 per cent of child poverty is now found among working households, compared to 49 per cent in 1998/99.
The number of pensioners living in poverty fell by 200,000, bringing the total number of poor pensioners down to 2.3 million. Pensioner poverty has followed a similar pattern to child poverty in the last few years, with an increase in 2006/07, no change in 2007/08 and now a small fall in 2008/09. Taken together, these figures mean that are now 600,000 fewer poor children and 500,000 fewer poor pensions than in 1998.
Progress on pensioner and child poverty also means that poverty in the UK fell overall by 100,000 between 2007/08 and 2008/09, despite the recession. This is probably because the employment effects of the recession only had a limited effect on the incomes of pensioner households.
Increases in benefits for families with children announced in 2007 and 2008 will also have fed through into higher incomes for these families in 2008/09, demonstrating that where government develops specific measures and puts in the necessary investment, poverty can be tackled.
However, today’s statistics also reveal a worrying increase in poverty among working-age adults. Poverty for this group is up 200,000 on the previous year and there are now 5.8 million poor working-age adults. Not only does this represent an increase from the previous year’s figures, but it also means that poverty among working-age adults increased by 800,000 over the course of the Labour government.
Adults without children were not a focus of the previous government’s anti-poverty strategy so it is not surprising that no progress has been made among this group. However, it is worth noting that the risk of poverty among working-age adults remains below that of children and pensioners, at 16 per cent compared to 22 per cent for children and 20 per cent for pensioners.