The poverty and destitution levels in the UK are the result of political decisions made since 2010, MPs have said.
A new report from the Work and Pensions Committee welcomes the Government’s decision to adopt the Social Metrics Commission measure of poverty.
This measure shows that about 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, with four million of them more than 50% below the poverty line.
The report criticises the Government for making ‘devastating, cumulative cuts’ to the incomes of the poor and urges it to lift the benefit freeze.
Most benefits for working-age people have been frozen since 2015/16. This means that already low benefit rates have become divorced from the costs of living.
The Local Housing Allowance freeze, for example, means that there is now a gap between housing benefit rates and rent prices in the private sector in the ‘vast majority’ of English local authorities.
Government plans to lift the benefit freeze in 2020/21 ‘will not be sufficient’ to reconnect benefit rates with the cost of living, according to the committee, nor will it allow those who have built up debts during the freeze to begin to pay them off.
‘The Government has shown that it can make target-busting savings through devastating, cumulative cuts to the incomes of the poor, by capping and freezing benefits that was begun under the Coalition Government,’ said Frank Field, chair of the committee.
‘Likewise, there is now no effective strategy to increase the life chances of poorer children. It has failed to recognise the unacceptably bleak picture emerging as it shreds our social safety net because it doesn’t really look.’
Responding to the report, the chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Resources Board, Cllr Richard Watts, said: ‘The Prime Minister needs to use the Spending Review to restore funding to councils for local welfare assistance schemes and increase the Local Housing Allowance, enabling councils to support tenants at risk of homelessness in the short-term and providing the local safety net needed to help those struggling to cope with welfare reforms, including the roll out of Universal Credit.’