Poverty is now costing the government £78bn a year, according to new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
And that’s just the financial cost that can be estimated. Across all government departments, we are paying out large sums to alleviate growing poverty levels, including:
- £29bn on treating health conditions related to poverty;
- £10bn on school-based initiatives such as free school meals or the pupil premium;
- £9bn on higher crime rates in more deprived areas;
- £7.5bn on children and early years provision;
- £4.6bn on adult social care;
- £4bn on housing.
Yet at the same time, budget cuts and continuing pay freezes are pushing more and more children and families into poverty. Over 800 SureStart centres have been closed under this government and the coalition before it. Some 28% of children are now living in poverty and half of those are in working families.
At our UNISON conference in June, we heard from members who face the reality of in-work poverty. One school kitchen assistant brought delegates to tears, telling how she shopped at night so she could buy discounted food, and that at work “I see children every day who depend on their meal at school, because there is nothing at home for them.”
Whether they are working to support children and families, or facing low pay themselves, UNISON members know the human cost of poverty.
Today’s report shows that there is also a huge financial cost to the government – and to us as taxpayers. If the government is serious about tackling our economy and getting it working for all of us, it needs to focus on real solutions to inequality and poverty – including a strategy to raise pay levels that have been artificially frozen.
Poverty levels such as this, in a prosperous nation, are a shameful indictment of our society. Now we can see the financial cost too. Instead of just spending more and more money to treat the effects of poverty, it is time to invest in society to tackle the root causes.