The Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) recently noted this trend when it welcomed the reduction in unemployment . “The announcement that unemployment has fallen is extremely encouraging. However, employment alone is not enough to tackle rising levels of UK poverty. Catholic charities are reporting more and more families who are in work seeking their assistance as they struggle to meet even the basic e of living,” said Liam Allmark, the public policy officer at CSAN. “With two-thirds of children living in poverty coming from working households and almost 5 million people earning below the amount necessary to meet basic living costs, more must be done to tackle the scandal of in-work poverty”
Many suspect that what is being created in this country is a low wage economy with the squeeze on benefits being used to force people into any type of work. This work is increasingly low paid and part-time in nature. So more people are employed but they earn less and less.
A look at the British labour market makes for some startling reading. A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Trust found that 6.1 million people living in poverty came from households where at least one person was working. Just 5.1 million of those living in poverty came from workless households.
Some 14 per cent of the total number of people in in-work poverty live in households where all of the adults are in full-time work.
One-earner couple families make up 25% of adults and children in in-work poverty; the majority have children but a sizeable minority do not.
Another element of in-work poverty is the growth of the people termed as self-employed. The JRT research found that almost a quarter of those in in-work poverty lived in households where at least one person is self-employed.
28% of poor working couples with children and 32% of couples without children live in households where at least one of them is self-employed.
Self-employment has a public profile of entrepreneurs with their own small businesses but it has become more and more just another way for employers to get around responsibilities like providing holidays and sick pay.
The care or hotel worker can just as easily be classified as self-employed thereby allowing the employer to get around the statutory obligations.
The rising levels of in-work poverty are also having an impact on children, with those living below the poverty line now twice as likely to come from working families struggling on low incomes and falling wages than those whose parents are unemployed.
The number of children growing up in absolute poverty increased by 300,000 last year – an annual rise of 2 per cent, representing the biggest rise in two decades – according to Department for Work and Pensions figures.
The rise means a total of 2.6 million children are now raised in poverty. After housing costs, the number is even higher, with 3.5 million in families whose incomes are significantly lower than the rest of the population.
The freeze on wage levels for those in work is resulting in ever more people turning to the money lender to bolster up their lifestyles. A move that makes the churches intitiatives to counter loan shark lenders and support the growth of credit unions all the more important.
The JRT suggest that paths out need to be found for those in low paid work in areas like hotels, catering, care and retail. They need to be able to get better paying jobs. Skills need to be improved via training for those on low pay. They also suggest business models that reward higher skills and productivity.
What also is required are stronger trade unions to represent people in these low paid areas. Catholic Social Teaching has always been strong in urging workers to become members of unions and chiding those employers that seek to stop this happening.
The Church has also played a major role in community organising groups like London Citizens and Citizens UK helping unions to get into difficult low paid areas like security and cleaning.
The Church has championed the living wage, which is another means to lift millions of people out of poverty pay. Little is said in the ongoing debate on welfare about the amount going to big businesses that pay low wages to employees in order that the shortfall can be made up via tax credits funded from the public purse.
So there are ways in which people can be lifted out of in-work poverty. What is for sure is that as the support net of the welfare state is being gradually removed pressure needs to be brought on employers to pay higher wages and provide more employment. Failure to do so will simply add to the number of those in work but also living in poverty