Despite Brexit chaos, employment in Britain has reached records highs.
The Office of National Statistics reported that employment is at 76.1%, the highest since 1971. This has been presented as a positive by both the government and the majority of the media.
The two main positives:
- 130,000 more women in work between Nov 2018 and Jan 2019
- Unemployment fell by 34,000 to 1.34m (lowest since 1975)
HOWEVER, these figures are misleading.
They don’t represent the lived experience of what high employment means, particularly for those in the increasingly low-paid and insecure labour market of Britain.
Yes, employment is at a record high but fourteen million people are living below the breadline with 4.1 million children living in poverty (most of which are in working family households).
The government tend to conflate high employment with good living standards.
It’s a common soundbite of the Tories to quote ‘highest levels of employment’ whenever they are questioned about poverty and austerity in the UK.
Even in the media there is a lack of any in depth analysis on what ‘high employment’ actually means for real people.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that IN-WORK POVERTY is now rising faster than employment.
It is MISLEADING and DANGEROUS to suggest that the record levels are an all-round good thing for British people. Why?
Well, as I said, CHILD POVERTY is on the rise, HOMELESSNESS is hitting record levels and in Scotland recent report highlights the severity of FOOD POVERTY.
A 2017 report by the British Medical Journal also linked Tory austerity to over 100,000 deaths. A figure that is set to rise to over 200,000 by 2020.
What is child poverty?
By definition it means growing up in a family without the resources to ‘obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and having the living conditions and amenities’ which are considered the norm in 21st century Britain.
- 30% of children in the UK live in poverty (4.1 million)
- Almost 1 in 4 children in Scotland are officially recognised as living in poverty (230,000)
- 67% of children in poverty live in a family where at least one person works
- Child poverty costs wider society £29 billion a year
Many people are led to believe that employment (and high levels of it) are a guaranteed route out of poverty.
But it’s clear this isn’t the case.
As these figures show, the majority of children in poverty are in working households.
In spite of high employment, child poverty is set to rise to 37% by the end of 2019. https://www.bigissue.com/latest/child-poverty-in-the-uk-will-hit-a-record-high-in-2019/
By 2022 there is estimated to be 1.5 million more children living below the poverty line.
These levels have not been seen since the 1990s.
Unsurprisingly the government has responded to reports on the increase of child poverty with denial.
‘A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We disagree with this report, and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty since 2010, including 300,000 children.”’
Homelessness has been on the rise since 2010 – the year the Tories brought in their sweeping welfare reforms and ramped up austerity.
- There is an estimated 4,751 people rough sleeping on any given night in England alone
- 320,000 adults and children were homeless (in temporary accommodation, shelters or rough sleeping) in Britain in 2018
- 16% of those who are homeless are EU nationals and only 4% are from outside of the UK
- Around 700 people who were homeless died in England in 2017 (latest available figures)
- Deaths of people who are homeless have increased by 24% in the last 5 years
The fact that so many people are homeless, and dying because of this, in one of the world’s richest nations is absolutely disgusting.
It is shockingly clear that Tory policy has caused an increase in homelessness.
How then, in a country where employment is at its highest, has this been allowed to happen?
(See housing crisis, austerity, in work poverty, precarious work and lack of secure jobs)
FOOD POVERTY IN SCOTLAND
Between April 2017 and September 2018 at least 480,583 emergency food parcels were given out across Scotland.
There has not been a similar study across the rest of the UK but it’s likely there’s a similar increase across the rest of the UK.
The Trussell Trust (the biggest network of foodbanks across the UK) have linked a 15% increase in foodbank use in Scotland directly to UNIVERSAL CREDIT.
See my previous blogs on austerity for info on universal credit, a benefit which has been widely condemned by organisations and politicians alike.
Again, the rise in foodbanks and their use is directly linked to precarious work (zero hours and temporary contracts) and Tory welfare reform.
Research by the Scottish Government found that 1 in 5 single parents had gone hungry in 2018.
Users of foodbanks are diverse: nurses, students, those in employment, those not, refugees and asylum seekers, those in between jobs, people affected by delays to benefits (the list goes on).
Whilst I wholeheartedly believe that foodbanks should not exist, unless there is a change in government, they are fast becoming an unacceptable norm.
To summarise, 4 million children in poverty, 100,000s of deaths linked to Tory austerity and over 300,000 adults and children without homes in Britain in 2019.
High employment means nothing if that employment is not well paid, secure and has the opportunity for people to progress.