Home > News > Understanding Working Poverty

When we think of poverty, there are several misconceptions we might experience about what it consists of. You may expect someone impoverished to be on the street or without work.

However, one of the growing areas of poverty in the UK is people who are in paid employment, which has risen by over 10% in the last twenty years (1). As cost-of-living becomes more expensive, we must cast off the stereotypes we associate with poverty and understand that inflation and cuts to vital services are causing levels of deprivation beyond our expectations.

The increase in people struggling while in paid employment is because they are getting less for the money they’re earning. Wages aren’t keeping up with rises in inflation, meaning that even if an individual was to receive more money, it wouldn’t cover as much food, energy, petrol or rent. To try and solve this crisis, many working families are trying to find new ways to increase their income or decrease expenditure. At COTS, we regularly meet people who are working all the overtime available but can barely afford to feed their families each week. Their stress becomes enhanced as prices continue to rise, the most pressing concern currently being rises in rent as landlords attempt to cover changing mortgage costs.

There are few options for individuals in this predicament. Many resort to using food banks and over the last year, 90% of food banks have seen increased demand (2), and rise in demand means there’s a higher likelihood of people being turned away. Meanwhile, food banks are also struggling because lower disposable income levels mean people are less likely to make donations. Others are choosing not to work and claiming benefits so they can guarantee covering their rent and council tax. Once on benefits, many are doing cash-in-hand jobs to top up their money so they can afford necessities.

It’s a harsh environment. The people we interact with want to work, but when faced with decisions that impact meeting their basic needs, they must follow solutions that work best – and the limited and often dehumanising processes people are subject to when trying to engage with the benefits system is indicative of the lack of proper support given by the government to those in need. The UK has the sixth largest economy in the world (3), and there should be no reason for anyone to be in poverty or having to make such tough decisions to guarantee there’s enough food on the table.

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(1) www.health.org.uk (2) www.theguardian.com (3) www.investopedia.com