Headlines: December 1st, 2004

Poverty is declining and fewer British families and pensioners are living on low incomes but new research shows that the number of childless working-age adults now below the poverty line has increased.The findings are published today by the New Policy Institute for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in “Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2004”, which takes stock of 50 different indicators including income, employment, education, health, housing and crime. Today’s results show improvements over the past five to six years on 18 of the indicators. Eight show the position getting worse.

The report suggests, though, that a number of positive trends have stalled, including progress in reducing low achievement in schools. That means that taken over just the last year there is improvement in only 10 indicators. In the same 12-month period, seven have worsened.

The number of working-age adults, without children, who are now living below the poverty line showed an increase of 300,000 to 3.9 million in 2002-03 compared with 1996-97. The figures, the report says, are supported by the fact that Income Support for childless adults has risen only in line with prices for the past decade and has increasingly fallen behind earnings.

The review highlights concerns over the number of economically inactive people who want work. It says that while work reduces the risk of poverty, it does not eliminate it. Two out of five people living in poor working-age households include at least one adult who is in paid work. The report also points out that progress in reducing the number of young people with few qualifications in the mid to late 1990s has stalled.

Overall the monitoring shows that 12.4 million people, equivalent to 22 per cent of the population, were living in households with net incomes below the ‘poverty line’, which is defined as 60 per cent of median household income after deducting housing costs. That total is based on figures for 2002-03 and compares with 14 million people who lived in low-income households in 1996-7.