12 December 2008
By Julie Read
The government's work-focused anti-poverty drive could be derailed by rising unemployment as the economy worsens, a group of social policy experts have warned.
The government was far more successful in its first five years in office than it had been since, said the report, Monitoring poverty and social exclusion, by the New Policy Institute for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Until 2002, 30 of the 56 poverty indicators showed improvement, and only a few worsened. Since then, only 14 of the indicators have improved and 15 have worsened.
According to the report, published on December 8, the government was far more successful in its first five years in office after 1997 than it had been since. Until 2002, 30 of the 56 poverty indicators – including housing, education, health and crime – showed improvement, and only a few worsened. Since then, only 14 of the indicators have improved and 15 have worsened.
It stated that the government's successes included: an increased number of homes meeting the government's decency standard; a halving of the number of 11-year-olds failing to achieve Level Four at Key Stage Two tests; and a reduced pay gap between low-paid women and men.
But it added that too many pensioners still did not claim the benefits they were entitled to, the value of in-work benefits for adults without children had fallen by 20% in the past decade, and there had been no increase in the proportion of disabled adults in employment.
The report's 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.'
Prime Minister Gordon Brown used last week's Queen's Speech to put the government's pledge to eradicate child poverty on a statutory footing, but the JRF report said the emphasis on children had narrowed the government's approach.