Recession threatens faltering gains on poverty as ten-year poverty assessment published

The tenth anniversary edition of the independent, annual assessment Monitoring poverty and social exclusion, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation today (8 December), presents a comprehensive analysis of trends across the past decade.

The report, produced for the JRF by the New Policy Institute (NPI), looks at the government’s ten year record across a range of subjects. What stands out is that, after an initial burst of success, improvement in many key areas has slowed down or remained unchanged. Up to about 2002 the picture was strongly positive with over half (30) of the 56 indicators showing an improvement and only a few worsening. Since then, by contrast, only 14 indicators improved while 15 worsened (leaving 27 steady). This is a potentially fragile position to be in when entering a recession and the report is a timely reminder of the need to consider the possible impact on already vulnerable people.

Built around a set of indicators constructed using the latest official government data, the report assesses the record across a wide range of subjects includingunemployment, education, health and crime. This provides a picture of the state of poverty and social exclusion in the UK just before the onset of the recent economic downturn. Assessing key data in these areas is particularly important this year as we enter a recession which is likely to have a major impact on indicators such as repossessions and unemployment.

Successes over the ten-year period include:

  • increasing the numbers of homes that meet the government’s standard for 'decent homes' (e.g. warm enough and in a decent state of repair);
  • halving in the proportion of eleven year-olds failing to reach level 4 at Key Stage 2;
  • a reduction in the extent of the pay gap between low paid women and male median earnings;
  • a steep reduction in the number of low-income households without a bank account.

But in other areas, in spite of government efforts, the situation has remained unchanged or continued to worsen. For example:

  • the proportion of pensioners not taking up benefits to which they are entitled (e.g. council tax/housing benefits or pension credit);
  • the value of out-of-work benefits for adults without dependent children, relative to earnings (20% below level of a decade ago);
  • no progress in areas such as reducing the number of under-16 pregnancies;
  • no increase in the proportion of disabled working-age adults in employment.

But in other areas, in spite of government efforts, the situation has remained unchanged or continued to worsen. For example:

Report co-author Peter Kenway said: "The successes from the past ten years need to be acknowledged but the failures also need to be understood if they are to be properly addressed. The big concern now, however, is how well an anti-poverty strategy that has been centred on getting people into work is going to fare in the face of a recession. With the adult social security safety net worth no more in real terms than it was a decade ago, lots of people who lose their jobs have a long way to fall. Those already out-of-work are going to find it very much harder now to get a job."

Julia Unwin, JRF Director, added: "We see this annual check as vital to our work to monitor the impact of policy and the economy on the lives of people. As we enter a recession which may threaten the gains secured in the last decade, we must make sure that the needs of people living in poverty continue to be prioritised."