Headlines: December 17th, 2002

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has called for further Government action to reduce poverty. A new report by the Foundation highlights how changes have helped low-income households, such as falling unemployment, rising school achievement and better housing, but calls for extra measures to raise the incomes of the poorest families. New evidence shows that without further action the Government will have difficulty meeting its commitment to reduce child poverty by a quarter by 2004The report shows that out of 50 key indicators of poverty and social exclusion, 24 have improved over the past five years, while only six have grown worse. Increased spending on public services such as health and education has also tended to benefit the poor more than people on higher incomes.

In 2000/01 there were 13 million individuals living in homes with incomes below the Government’s main poverty threshold which is defined as 60 per cent of the median household income after deducting housing costs. This was 1 million fewer than in 1996/7, but was still almost double the number 20 years ago. The number of adult workers paid less than the national minimum wage has dropped from 1.5 million before its introduction in 1998, to 200,000 in 2001. Fifteen per cent of families on low-incomes live in homes without central heating, compared with 25 per cent in 1994/5. Poorer families are now more likely to have central heating than the population as a whole.

There are 3.9 million children living in homes below the poverty threshold. This is 500,000 lower than in 1996/7, but similar to the level throughout the first half of the 1990s. Children continue to be more likely to live in low-income households than adults.

The number of pupils leaving school without basic qualifications has decreased. In 2001, a quarter of GCSE students failed to pass any subject with grades A to C compared with a third ten years’ previously. Similarly, one in four 11-year-olds failed to achieve the target ‘Level 4’ in English in 2001, compared with more than four out of ten in 1996. The improvement in primary schools serving high proportions of low-income children was at least as good as the national average.