Photograph by William Warby

Hard work is the way to lift your family out of poverty, or so some would have you believe. However, the reality in modern Britain is that as wages continue to fall behind inflation – people simply do not earn enough to escape poverty.

These conclusions were made by the government’s own “social mobility tsar” Alan Milburn in his report published today, where he found that two thirds of Britain’s poor children are in families where at least one parent works.

Wages continue to fall behind inflation, leaving poor and middle-income children facing the possibility of being “worse-off” than their parents.

Whilst those in work are struggling with having to tighten their belts ever faster, and nearly a million young people remain unemployed, the government continues to protect the benefits of wealthy pensioners such as free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance.

We should not forget that the pensioners of today have paid into the scheme for many years, and those in need of these state subsidies should not be left behind. However, as the government moves to deny jobseekers allowance to those under the age of 25 for budgetary reasons, we are in a situation where rich pensioners are getting free travel and TV licences whilst young people in need are being stripped of their living support.

Even those that have found work at minimum wage are struggling to make ends meet, and Milburn is right that as this continues we cannot ring-fence one group from the austerity and cuts that are facing the rest of the country. David Cameron may have pledged to safeguard such benefits, but by doing so he is maintaining a “fairness deficit”.

The UK is already expected to miss its target of ending child poverty by 2020 by a wide margin according to the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, with the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recovery widening the gap between rich and poor ever further.

Milburn’s State of the Nation Report makes some good recommendations on how to deal with these problems facing society, by recommending to increase minimum wage, improve learning and earning opportunities for young people, and reallocating childcare funding from higher rate taxpayers to help those on Universal Credit – but the government needs to act now.

But a spokesman for David Cameron said: “The prime minister believes it is right to make commitments to pensioners in relationship to state provision.”

The government has pledged to safeguard such benefits until the next general election.

‘Fairness deficit’
In its first report, the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission warned the target of ending child poverty by 2020 would “in all likelihood be missed by a considerable margin” – leaving as many as two million children in poverty.

Poverty is defined as having a household income that is less than 60% of the national median income.


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