We’re Failing Families: worrying new inequality and poverty figures

Today’s news that that median incomes have finally returned to pre-crisis levels is welcome, with the average household income reaching £473 a week in 2014/15. But that’s one of the only good things to come out of today’s government statistical release, Households Below Average Incomes.

It reveals that the Government has failed to tackle the income gap, with the Gini measure of inequality stuck at 34 per cent. If we were in a more equal country, a lack of movement in the Gini might be seen as positive prevention of economic divisions. But in the UK, one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, a verdict of ‘no movement’ is a sign of abject failure rather than steady success.

So, a plea: whenever anyone claims the current level is somehow ordinary or ‘stable’, ask to see changes since the late 1970s. These put into context just how much inequality rocketed through the 1980s, and how it has stayed at such an unacceptably high level ever since.

Looking at inequality between the top and bottom offers no cause for celebration, either. A family in the richest tenth has an income before housing costs more than six times that of a family in the poorest tenth, very slightly up from the previous year. After housing costs, this ratio is even bigger, at ten times, also a slight increase on the previous year. But even these numbers fail to capture the outrageous economic differences between people living in this country. For example, it would take a FTSE 100 CEO about 11 minutes to make the £473 that an average household receives each week, and the wealth increase alone of the richest 1,000 people in Britain last year would pay for over a million average-wage jobs.

The new figures also reveal the shocking fact that in 2014/15, there were 200,000 more kids in relative poverty than the year before, the first rise in a decade. That’s around 8,000 additional classrooms’ worth of children growing up feeling different to their peers, and unable to share in the same experiences. The Government’s measures of material deprivation lend further reality to these numbers. Eight per cent of children in the poorest fifth of households don’t eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day, and twenty per cent of parents in these households can’t afford to keep the house warm. Surely we aren’t willing to accept that in this country there is even one child who goes without a warm winter coat?

And while some of us are quietly dismayed that our pound won’t go as far on our summer holiday due to the currency effects of Brexit, 58 per cent of kids in the poorest households don’t get to enjoy a week’s holiday away from home with their family. This compares to just 4 per cent of children in the richest households.

Those who question whether these items and experiences are important, or scoff at the idea that their absence counts as deprivation, should ask themselves why some children are deserving while others are not. The same question can be asked of people of all ages right across the income spectrum. Why are some deserving of dignity and security while others are not?

With more kids falling into poverty right under our noses while the rich enjoy swelling pay packets and accumulate wealth out of all proportion with how the rest of us live, it’s urgent that we don’t just put the brakes on this divide, but that we reverse it. Too many of the ‘households below average income’ are families we’re failing.

Lucy Shaddock, Policy and Campaigns Officer