The changing face of poverty ñ low real wages and lack of opportunity causing younger workers and working households to be worst affected

The legitimacy of the economic recovery the UK is seemingly undergoing has had shadows cast over it by foreboding findings showing people in work are more likely to be below the poverty line than retirees due to the woeful state of wages today.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) captures the true bleakness faced by UK society today, embodied by an unhinged labour market teeming with zero hours contracts, underpaid young workers and rising self-employed individuals ñ the last of which rake in 13% less than they did in 2009.

Yet the last decade has seen soaring numbers of pensioners rising above the poverty line, however this is partly due to the extent that line has dropped with the most destitute taking home 10% less than they were 10 years ago.

To be thought of as living in relative poverty, a household income must be 60% under the average, which for 2 adults and no children stood at just over £27,000 earlier this year, according to figures from the treasury. Roughly 13m people in the UK can count themselves amongst this company.

The JRF noted that post-recession trends has seen age become the most discerning variable when it comes to workersí wealth with young people particularly affected, despite climbing employment levels across all ages.

Young people, categorised as those under-25 with respect to the research, living in poverty correlates with clear increases in self-employment and part-time work both, pointing to the increasing lack of opportunity for the majority of this group in an increasingly competitive society typified by rising house prices, falling real wages and an exponentially growing population.

Over-inflated housing costs has tied young workers hands, forcing them to seek refuge in the exorbitantly priced private rental sector or else suffering likely disillusionment from being compelled to reside in their childhood homes for too long.

JRFís report states that an individualís inability to continue paying their private landlord rent is the most common way in which one becomes homeless.

Since the recession, average salaries for both men and women have fallen by £1 to £12.90 and 50p to £10.30 respectively, yet pensioner poverty is at its lowest level since records began.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of JRF, said: ”This year’s report shows a real change in UK society over a relatively short period of time. We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty. It is a risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.

”A comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle poverty in the UK. It must tackle the root causes of poverty, such as low pay and the high cost of essentials. This research in particular demonstrates that affordable housing has to be part of the answer to tackling poverty: all main political parties need to focus now on providing more decent, affordable homes for people on low incomes.”

Employment has so often been painted as the sure-fire way for people to attain a suitable level of comfort in life, yet the JRFís latest report questions the security individuals have taken as a given of regular work. The reality is falling incomes in real terms, a rise in zero-hours contracts to almost 1.4m and a lack of affordable housing are synthesising an unavoidable, irrefutable poverty trap.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: ìThis comprehensive analysis paints a bleak picture. Families have long been told by politicians that work is the answer but are finding that it isnít. As long as the only work they get is insecure and low paid, they will continue to face hardship and financial misery.î

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