People often think that a low income is the best indicator of poverty but it’s not the whole story. Issues of poverty can include access to decent housing, community amenities and social networks, and assets. Somebody who lacks these resources can be said to be ‘poor’ in a wider sense.
We need a credible long-term plan to make work more secure, build more affordable homes and lower essential household bills. The APPG for Poverty, of which I am the chairman, is looking at ways of increasing the understanding of poverty amongst parliamentarians, as well as looking for solutions.
Businesses can play a big part in this. There are currently 5.2 million businesses in the UK, employing 236,000 who earn less than minimum wage. Of the 13 million people who live in poverty in the UK, over half are in employment. Therefore, it is vital that we address the issues of in-work poverty, trying to find a way to balance objectives of economic growth while providing sustainable employment.
We need to work with businesses to ensure employers’ practices enable people to progress in their job, are properly trained and are paid enough to help them avoid poverty. Paying the Living Wage, for example, is just one way in which business can enhance the quality of life for staff and improve recruitment, retention and absenteeism.
Government can do a lot to address social problems but it cannot do it alone. The one-dimensional view of the role of government has largely been replaced by an understanding that poverty comes about for a multitude of reasons, and therefore must be dealt with in a multidimensional way.
Since the financial crisis, wages have not risen in line with inflation and many are working in jobs which are low-paid or do not give them the hours that they need. We cannot simply assume, therefore, that reducing unemployment will in itself reduce poverty.
Poverty remains one of the most troubling issues facing our society and something that urgently needs to be addressed.