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I bet Iain Duncan Smith was praying nobody would produce any statistics disproving his rant at Owen Jones during the BBC’s Question Time last week.
Some of us were praying for the opposite, and it turns out that our God is quicker than his.
I know the new report released today (Monday) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, showing that more working people are living in poverty, will be just another document that the UK government will blithely ignore.
But some of its findings bite deeply into Department for Work and Pensions policy, and the claims of the man who runs that department.
For starters, in 2012, 18 per cent of working-age households were workless, but in only two per cent of households had nobody ever worked. More than half of adults in ‘never-worked’ households were under 25.
Therefore, when Iain Duncan Smith told Owen Jones on Question Time last week, “I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration,” he was spouting false information. Two per cent of the population is not two and a half million people, and under-25s cannot have been unemployed for more than 10 years.
The report, Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2012, makes it clear that the proportion of ‘never-worked’ households has increased recently – most particularly since the current government came into power? – and is most likely a manifestation of high and rising young adult unemployment rather than a fixed number of people “parked” on the dole.
We all know that a million young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in the first half of 2012.
There is a weakness in how the Government has assessed the impact of welfare changes, by looking at them individually rather than as a whole, the report states. The Department for Work and Pensions’ impact assessments show that some benefit changes will produce large cuts for tens of thousands (such as the total benefit cap for workless households), and some will produce small cuts for hundreds of thousands (for example lowering the amount of local housing allowance claimable). But some households, mostly already in low income, will be hit more than once through cuts to both housing-related and non-housing, income-related benefits.
One reform is to replace Disability Living Allowance (designed to meet the actual costs of living with a disability) with the Personal Independence Payment, cutting the caseload by 20 per cent. But disabled people are more likely to be workless, so may have other benefits cut as well.
Government ministers have spent months telling us that their benefit reforms mean work will always pay; but the report makes one thing perfectly clear: It doesn’t. More than half of children and working-age adults in poverty live in a working household.
So what are they achieving by depressing benefit payments, other than condemning those who rely on state payments, who have paid into state systems throughout their working lives, and who have reason to expect those systems to support them during hardship, to destitution, health risks and possibly death (for reasons explored in other articles on this blog)?
Not a lot.
“The ‘low-pay, no-pay’ jobs market keeps millions in poverty and holds the economy back,” states the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report. “Work should always be a route out of poverty but it is not. Changing the benefits system will not solve problems such as in-work poverty, increasing underemployment and rising health inequalities.”
It states that 6.1 million working households are in poverty, so in-work poverty now exceeds workless poverty, which stands at 5.1 million households. That’s 11.2 million households – family groups – earning below 60 per cent of average income. Could that mean maybe a third of the total population is in poverty, due to current government policies?
The proportion of working age adults without children in poverty has risen steadily, from seven per cent in 1981 to 20 per cent in 2010/11. The number of working-age adults in low-income, in-work households has also increased. As pensioner poverty is now at low levels, the rate of in-work poverty is the most distinctive characteristic of poverty today.
Of those in work, 6.4 million lack the work they want. There are 1.4 million part-time workers who actually want full-time work. This is the highest figure in 20 years. You won’t hear a government representative talking about this when they trumpet their latest employment figures, and it’s always up to the news organisations to sift out how many jobs are part-time.
Only 18 per cent of people are said to be in low income at any one time – but an entire third of the population experience at least one period of low income within any four-year period; 11 per cent are in low income for more than half of that time.
Poverty is no longer concentrated in the social rented sector – people who bought their houses, thinking their wages would be able to support this, have been proved wrong as salaries have tumbled.
The number of underemployed people in the first half of 2012 was 6.4 million, comprising unemployed people (2.6 million); economically inactive people who want work (2.4 million); and people working part-time because they cannot find full-time work (1.4 million). Underemployment increased since 2009 due to a rise of 500,000 in the number of people working part-time but wanting full-time work.
Most jobs are short-term now; around 42 per cent of Jobseekers’ Allowance claims from the first quarter of 2012 were made within six months of a previous claim.
Unemployment has remained static in the last three years – despite government claims – because employees have been willing to take fewer hours. This means they have accepted less work, and therefore less pay, in order to keep their jobs. How does the government reconcile that with its claim that it is making work pay?
Real people, experiencing these real deprivations, have a different view. As Jane Walters commented on a different article in this blog: “Employers … are making huge profits out of paying people less wages than they need to live on.”
Oh, and even though the disabled are more likely to be out of work than able-bodied people, more disabled people were in work than in the past. Considering the way the government has painted the disabled as workshy scroungers since it came into office, I believe the appropriate expression is “That’s really p*ssed on Iain Duncan Smith’s chips”.
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