Record employment and government-created child poverty

By Bernadette Meaden
April 12, 2017

When will the government take responsibility for its own role in actually creating poverty?

Unemployment is at a record low, and the employment rate is at a record high, according to figures released today by the Office for National Statistics.

Of course we know that these headline figures mask the reality for many people – a reality of insecure low paid jobs, zero-hours contracts, sham self-employment, and people working part-time who really want a proper full-time job. But the government is happy to take these employment figures as a sign of its success.

That being the case, the government can’t have it both ways. It can’t celebrate a record employment rate but continue to use ‘worklessness’ as its standard explanation for rising poverty. The one figure it conspicuously doesn’t boast about is the record number of working families now living in poverty. More than two thirds of children in poverty live in a household where at least one parent works.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that child poverty will rise steadily in the next few years, and says, “This increase is entirely explained by the impact of tax and benefit reforms over this parliament.”

Nevertheless, in complete defiance of reality, the government continues to insist that the root causes of poverty “are not financial”  but the personal failings and shortcomings of individuals. One would like to see a Minister express this opinion to someone working very hard in a minimum wage job who has just had their benefits cut.

The government needs to stop implying that the reason people are poor is because they can’t be bothered working, don’t try hard enough, or behave in an irresponsible way. It needs to accept that the growth in homelessness, foodbank use and child poverty is not generally attributable to lifestyle choices, failure to budget, or any other factor within the control of individuals, but to deliberate policy decisions made by government.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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