A record 32.75 million people are now employed in the UK, and we have the lowest unemployment rate since 1974, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in July 2019. Wage growth, which has been stubbornly subdued, is now an inflation-busting 3.6%.
However, the persistent problem of poverty remains. The House of Commons research briefing, Poverty in the UK: Statistics, published in July 2019, found that in 2017/18, an estimated 14 million people were in relative low income after housing costs, down from 14.3 million the previous year. Eight million of these are working-age adults.
As the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, I am always looking to increase the understanding of poverty among parliamentarians, and to work towards finding solutions. For example, a report to be published this autumn will explore the ‘poverty premium’, whereby people on low incomes pay more for consumer goods and services.
Businesses can help in so many ways; for example, by paying higher wages, encouraging their employees to save, and providing access to hardship funds, which are loans to be repaid through salaries. Employers can also alter working hours to allow more flexibility; inflexible hours can put people off seeking work, so offering flexible-working hours will help incentivise people with children, in particular, to re-enter employment.
For organisations that can afford it, paying the real living wage is a simple solution. Early supporters include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who, as Mayor of London, promoted the higher voluntary wage as a best-practice hourly rate that was good for society.
Government has addressed poverty through the introduction of the national living wage and the tax thresholds, which means that a full-time worker on minimum wage is now £4,500 per annum better off than in 2010. However, it needs to go further and faster to remove the problem of poverty in our society.