Time for Government to right the wrong of in-work poverty, says JRF

By agency reporter
July 11, 2018

British people are positive about work, with 59 per cent saying they would work even if they didn’t need the money. This year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), reveals that 83 per cent of people view work as good for physical health and 90 per cent for mental health. 

However a clear majority believe that government and employers are responsible for ensuring workers have an adequate income: 70 per cent think the government should top up wages of low earning single parents, 58 per cent think they should top up the wages of low earning working couples with children and 71 per cent want the minimum wage increased.

Support for an increase to unemployment benefits is also at a 15 year high, with 20 per cent saying the government should spend more.

There is particularly strong support among young people aged 18-25 for topping up wages, with 67 per cent wanting the government to top up low earning working parents wages, compared with 46 percent of respondents over the age of 65.  79 per cent of 18-25 year olds want low earning single parent wages to be topped up, against 57 per cent of those over the age of 65.

Younger people aged 18 to 25 and older people over the age of 65 also have quite different opinions about the welfare system.  Thirty five per cent of younger people agree that welfare creates dependency, compared to 50 per cent of older people. 65 per cent of young people are concerned that cutting welfare benefits would damage people’s lives, against 53 per cent of older people.

Researchers found that young people are the most likely to face unstable work patterns, but also that they are confident they could find a new job if needs be. Seventeen per cent of 18-25 year olds report having their hours changed at short notice, compared with five per cent of 36-65 year olds.

And looking to the future, people are still optimistic, at least about their own job prospects.

Seventy five per cent of people believe robots will take over many jobs in the next ten years. Those aged over 65 were most likely to think this was likely.

However, few people actually feel at risk themselves, with just 10 per cent of workers worrying that their job will be replaced by a machine or computer programme in the coming years.

Nancy Kelley, Deputy Chief Executive at the National Centre for Social Research, says:  “Despite increased instability in the work place and the decline of jobs for life, Brits continue to see dignity in work and place a value on employment that goes far beyond simply earning money.

"We feel strongly that work should pay enough to meet a basic standard of living, and want the government to step in to support working people, particularly those with children and single parents.

"Whatever automation means for the future of work, we are feeling fairly optimistic about our own working lives, and it seems likely that people will look to the government and employers to create new jobs to replace the old, rather than demanding fundamental reform of the welfare system.”

Responding to the survey, Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), said: “Politicians of all stripes can no longer ignore the grip poverty has on those locked out and left behind in this country. The British public have sent a clear message: the vast majority of people expect employers to pay a decent wage and the government to support those working but still struggling to make ends meet.

“We must right the wrong of in-work poverty and strengthen social security so it can act as an anchor to stop families being pulled further into poverty by the tide of low pay and high housing costs.

“These findings are a call to arms. As a country we believe in justice and compassion, so as we prepare for Brexit, the focus should be on building a country that works for everyone. Two years on from her burning injustices speech, the Prime Minister should listen to the public and act.

“As a first step, the Government should allow families to keep more of their earnings by restoring the work allowances under Universal Credit.”

* Read the Work and Welfare chapter of the survey here

* British Social Attitudes http://bsa.natcen.ac.uk/

* Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/

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