According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) UK Poverty 2019/20 report, the number of workers in poverty has increased in recent years, from 2.3 million in 1996/97 to four million in 2017/18.

Just under half of workers in poverty are full-time employees, the report points out, while just over 30% are part-time employees and around 20% are self-employed.

Despite improvements in pay for those on the lowest wages, low pay remains endemic in the UK’s economy, the JRF reports.

Once in a low-paid job, it argues, it is difficult for many workers to move to a better paid one. However, poverty and low pay do not always go together — the vast majority of low-paid workers live in households where the income of the people they live with (such as a partner or parents) mean they are not in poverty.

“Too many people are stuck in low-paid, insecure jobs, with little chance of progression and too few hours of work to reach a decent living standard,” the report states. “Workers need more security, better training and opportunities to progress, particularly in part-time jobs. In-work poverty must be seen as a critical issue for our economy and given high priority by economic policy-makers.”

The 100-page report is available at https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2019-20.

It has been welcomed by the TUC with claims that it shows the need for a crackdown on poverty pay and unfair forms of employment.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government must crack down on business models based on poverty pay and insecure jobs. No more excuses — zero-hours contracts should be banned. And the minimum wage must go up to at least £10 an hour right away”.

JRF’s research was also welcomed by the Young Women's Trust (YWT) which pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by the factors driving poverty.

“We know from our own research that nearly 40% of young women struggle to make ends meet every month; a third of young mums say they are always in debt and over half are unable to take a job because they can’t afford childcare,” YWT Chief Executive Sophie Walker said.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director of Advisory Kate Palmer

Few would argue with many of the recommendations set out in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report: the need for people to be in good jobs; an increase in the availability of low-cost housing; and for in-work poverty to be given a higher priority.

But the answer cannot be achieved merely by abolishing zero-hours contracts.

Indeed, previous research has shown that many workers on such contracts are satisfied with their jobs and welcome the flexibility they provide. The Government’s Good Work Plan — with many measures coming into force in April this year — aims to ensure that all work should be “fair and decent”.

And then there is the elephant in the room.

With new methods of flexible working and automation, including the use of AI, on the immediate horizon, it could be that many white-collar jobs could soon go the way of blue-collar ones in the previous century.

Last reviewed 14 February 2020