More working families in Wales are now living in poverty compared to the number of out of work families, according to a new report published today (19 September) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
Almost 700,000 people in Wales live in poverty – nearly a quarter of all people in the country, but its starkest finding shows that those who are working and live in poverty now exceeds the number of those who are not in work. 51% of working-age adults and children in poverty are from working families.
The research, by a team at the New Policy Institute (NPI), blames the rise of in-work poverty on underemployment – where people lack the paid work they want – and low pay. 30% of families working part-time live in poverty, compared to 7% for full-time working families. Meanwhile, a quarter of employees earning less than the Living Wage of £7.45 per hour are in poverty, compared to only 3% of those earning more.
The report highlights the regional differences of both in-work and out-of-work poverty across Wales. The West and North West have proportionately high shares of in-work poverty, pointing to greater levels of in-work poverty in rural areas.
The report calls on governments in Wales and Westminster to focus relentlessly on job creation and not just welfare reform, and work with public services and employers towards paying a Living Wage. Policy makers and public services must also ensure poorer families can access essential services – currently, some areas needing the highest levels of medical and social care receive the worst.
Peter Kenway, Director at NPI, said: “This report shows there are not enough jobs, not enough hours and not enough pay for people in Wales. These are families who are going out to work but still have so little they are living below the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet. Low pay and low hours go hand in hand: job creation is a priority, but this must lead to better pay and more hours to tackle in-work poverty.”
Aleks Collingwood, Policy and Research Manager at JRF, said: “The Welsh government deserves credit for its Tackling Poverty Action Plan, but it must address low pay as well as low hours. Shielding families from further hardship is crucial, but policy makers must also ensure public services meet the needs of those who struggle to access them. Poorer working families may lack time as well as money, so that means making sure they can access things such as childcare and doctor’s surgeries.”
The report points out that because a higher proportion of its working-age population is disabled (24% compared with 20% for England), Wales will be hit harder by the welfare reforms targeted at disabled people. The idea that disabled people need stronger incentives to enter work is challenged by the report’s finding that disabled people make up 4 in 10 of those in Wales who want jobs but can’t get them. Being hit by hefty benefit cuts will only increase their hardship in the short term.