May urged to adopt plan to tackle poverty following Brexit

6 Sep 16

Theresa May has been urged to implement a long-term plan to tackle poverty in order to meet her pledge to make Britain work for everyone and boost the life chances of the first generation of children born after Brexit.

Setting out what it called a ‘long-term deal’ to end poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said ministers should set a target where the generation of children starting school this year will enter adulthood in 2030 in a UK where no one is ever destitute and nobody is in poverty for more than two years.

Highlighting its calculation that poverty costs the UK public finances around £78bn a year, JRF set out five key areas where action should be taken.

These include boosting incomes and reducing costs, including ending the poverty premium where people in poverty pay more for everyday goods and services. There should also be a more effective benefit system through a rebooted universal credit scheme, and improvements to education standards and skills.

The review also called for stronger families and communities, including an expansion in childcare, and it highlighted that devolution could help to create long-term economic growth that benefits everyone. In particular, the strategy called for mayors and town halls to be given the incentives, powers and budget to help create more and better jobs and connect people in poverty to economic opportunities

JRF chief executive Julia Unwin said it is shameful that in the 21st century, 13 million people in our wealthy country are living in poverty.

Previous approaches to tackle the issue have been too piecemeal, failing to deal with issues such as the high cost of living, she stated. Households in poverty are four times more likely to be behind with at least one bill and pay as much as 10% more on household running costs.

“Poverty divides communities and generations; it harms people’s potential and strains families; it drains the public purse and holds back our economy,” Unwin said.

“The prime minister has made a promise to make Britain work for everyone and reform capitalism. As Westminster reconvenes this week, I urge her to deliver on this promise. If we don’t take action now, poverty is set to increase for children and working-age adults. Poverty is the biggest social evil of our time – we must act now.”

To mark the launch of the report, JRF has teamed up with Big Society Capital, to work towards raising up to £20m of social investment to tackle the ‘poverty premium’. The initiative is intended to help charities and social enterprises to develop solutions.

Big Society Capital chief executive Cliff Prior said it was a scandal that thousands of people living in poverty can pay up to £1,000 extra each year for even the most vital services such as gas, electricity and loans.

“Big Society Capital is keen to work with JRF and our co-investors, to support charities and social enterprises in financing ventures that can provide fair and affordable alternatives,” he stated.

“We want to prove that people on lower incomes can be served fairly, and to encourage companies, government and regulators to do the same.”

Responding to the JRF strategy, Nick Forbes, senior vice chair of the Local Government Association, acknowledged there are parts of the UK where there is more to be done to raise people out of poverty.

“Councils are best placed to lead the way but need the financial freedom and powers to coordinate services and help everyone fulfil their potential,” he stated.

Devolution deals are offering local areas the chance to do more to improve services for the most disadvantaged or vulnerable in our communities, and it is vital that momentum around localism is not lost under the new government, Forbes added.

“All local areas need to be able to integrate support to tackle drug and alcohol abuse, youth offending and prevent homelessness and given powers over national employment and skills schemes to smash through the significant barriers that prevent people finding and keeping a job.

“Councils can also play a lead role in building desperately needed affordable homes – to buy and rent - which are crucial for enabling people to gain the skills to find and progress in employment.”

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