Alan Milburn says child poverty 'no longer problem of the workless and work-shy'


Social mobility tsar Alan Milburn said his report shows "work is not a cure for poverty"

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Working parents in Britain "simply do not earn enough to escape poverty", the government's social mobility tsar Alan Milburn has warned.

Two-thirds of poor children are now from families where an adult works, his report found.

Many low and middle-income children face being "worse off" than their parents because of falling earnings and rising prices, Mr Milburn added.

Wealthier pensioners' benefits should be cut and minimum pay raised, he said.

The former Labour health secretary suggested some benefits currently protected from cuts - such as free TV licences and winter fuel allowances for pensioners - could be means tested in order to share the burden of austerity more fairly.

But a spokesman for David Cameron said: "The prime minister believes it is right to make commitments to pensioners in relationship to state provision."

The government has pledged to safeguard such benefits until the next general election.

'Fairness deficit'

In its first report, the government's Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission warned the target of ending child poverty by 2020 would "in all likelihood be missed by a considerable margin" - leaving as many as two million children in poverty.

Poverty is defined as having a household income that is less than 60% of the national median income.


"Britain remains a deeply divided country" - a stinging line from the Social Mobility Commission's first annual report.

"Being born poor often leads to a lifetime of poverty", say the authors, and higher social mobility has become "the new holy grail of public policy".

The report warns social mobility is "flat-lining" after big shifts in the middle of the last century and "could go in to reverse", with the young paying the highest price.

Alan Milburn's recipe for improvement has praise for some government initiatives and strong criticism of others. It calls for higher minimum wages and more universal help so poor working families get help as well as those out of work.

Universities and employers are chided to do more to "open up social elites" and there's a call for older people to be made to dig deeper into their pockets to help future generations.

In an age of austerity, the authors suggest creating a fairer society will be far from pain-free.

The latest government figures on poverty, released in June, show the median UK household income for 2011/2012 was £427 a week - 60% of that figure was £256 a week.

In that year, 17% of children, or 2.3 million, were classed as being in poverty while 15% of working-age adults, or 5.6 million, were in poverty.

For pensioners, meanwhile, that figures was 16% - or 1.9 million.

The report said Britain still had "high levels of child poverty and low levels of social mobility" with a rising number of children in "absolute poverty" coming from working families.

Two thirds of children officially deemed as being poor now came from a family where at least one parent was working - and in three out of four of those cases, at least one of their parents was working full time, the report found.

It also said the "twin problems of high youth unemployment and falling living standards" were storing up problems for the future.

Among its key recommendations the report urged the government to:

  • End long-term youth unemployment by increasing learning and earning opportunities
  • Reduce in-work poverty by asking the Low Pay Commission to deliver a higher minimum wage
  • Reallocate childcare funding from higher rate taxpayers to help those on Universal Credit

"Just as the UK government has focused on reducing the country's financial deficit it now needs to redouble its efforts to reduce our country's fairness deficit," the report said.

'Sharing the burden'

Single mother Judith Healy, who works from home as a telemarketer, said that, while her wages had not gone up, her expenses had continued to increase.

Judith Healy: "There are so many people in my position - we're not heard any more"

She said she was worried about paying energy bills this winter.

"We didn't ask to get in this situation, we are doing the best that we can in the circumstances that we have and that's really what it's about - it's survival now," she told BBC News.

Mr Milburn told the BBC: "Today child poverty is a problem for working families rather than the workless or the work-shy."

Around five million people in the country, mainly women, were earning less than the living wage, which is about £7.45 an hour outside of London, he said.

"These are the people frankly who do all the right things, they go out to work, they stand on their own two feet, they look after their families - they're the strivers not the shirkers - and yet they're all too often the forgotten people of Britain and I think they desperately need a new deal."

Mr Milburn said that while ministers and employers could do more, it was unrealistic to expect the government to continue topping up low pay using working tax credits.

Start Quote

As the commission states, there is an urgent need to rebalance the distribution of resources so that the burden of austerity is more equally shared”

End Quote National Children's Bureau

He advocated a scheme for pairing bright children with the best teachers in an effort to raise attainment.

Mr Milburn has previously said social mobility - the idea that individuals can better themselves in terms of educational opportunity, job prospects and salaries from one generation to the next - is "flat-lining".

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg welcomed the report, but warned that "punishing pensioners isn't going to help a single child achieve more in life".

Enver Solomon, of the National Children's Bureau charity, said the report was "a wake-up call for all political parties by stating that our country is dramatically polarised between the haves and have- nots".

"As the commission states, there is an urgent need to rebalance the distribution of resources so that the burden of austerity is more equally shared," he said.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said the "powerful report" showed "ordinary families' living standards [were being] squeezed and social divisions [were] deepening as a result of this government's decisions to put a privileged few first".

On Wednesday, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the number of unemployed people in the UK fell by 18,000 to 2.49 million in the June-August period.

Map showing levels of child poverty in the UK. Highest areas are Tower Hamlets in London, Manchester, Belfast, Derry, Middlesbrough and Glasgow

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  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    768. Walk the Warwick Road
    The rich get taxed more under the Tories than Labour! A fact people refuse to acknowledge!
    Now we've established that Labour tories aren't much better than tory tories can we collect the tens of billions of uncollected taxes and legislate against tax scams- we're far too poor to ignore the problem any longer and Cameron's faux moral posturing achieves nothing

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    I'm pretty certain that those on the lowest rated comments section have lost the right to call themselves human.

    Whatever they are, we need to rid ourselves of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.


    You are perfectly correct and that is where Thatcher did all the damage , she fooled the nation into taking o service economy as the model instead of a production/ knowledge based economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    839. Poddy100
    These 'Rich' people are rich because they are educated and have taken the risks. Why cant u
    Where's the risk in bailed-out subsidised banking, running a regional water monopoly, selling gas to consumers? Clue: none at all
    No one objects to quality, self-made, self-starters who have done well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    Time to tax the rich far more than they are and force employers to pay a minimum wage of £8 per hour.
    Why should the tax payer help these firms turn a profit via working tax credits when they won`t pay there employees a living wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    "Alan Milburn says child poverty 'no longer problem of the workless and work-shy'"

    News flash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    @ 715. Billythefirst

    "The workfare/sub prime job scam is a reflection of a govt".

    What are you talking about?

    The sub prime crisis hit the world's economy in 2008, 2 years before the Tories were sort of elected and while, if memory serves, Labour were enjoying their longest ever period in government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    I sometimes think this country never left the feudal system behind, a few controlling the many who just like battery hens when they stop laying ,should be dicarded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.

    866 Its the old line if Bill Gates walks into a McDonalds anywhere the average income in that Mac Donalds is over £1 Million pounds. You can do anything with stats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    However the issue is far wider as far as I am concerned than just wages, there is a real problem brewing with housing and prices of buying and renting and the fact the average house is over 6 times the average wage.

    We have to look at cost of living, rent, mortgages, fuel and much more need to change. We have to start saying no and prices will fall, they take advantage of us because we let them

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    A significant reason why people who work still can't get by is because our economy relies too much on services. Think of your local town centre, I bet a month's salary that the most common "shops" are charity shops, banks, estate agents, cafes, pubs and coffee shops. None of these generate wealth (bringing new money into the country), all pay relatively poor wages and rely on part time workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 885.

    Problem 2:

    People living many years longer than in the past, yet no meaningful increase in the retirement age. If an increasing proportion of national income is spent on subsidising people who are capable of work but the government has deemed don't need to, then it's not surprising the rest of us feel squeezed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 884.

    Unfettered capitalism is the problem. So long as "the bottom line" is seen as more important than peoples health, dignity and welfare there will be no change. I'll not hold my breath...

  • rate this

    Comment number 883.

    SR 466
    Wrong, wealth increases in countries which are highly regulated e.g. China now, US 1880s, UK 1800s. Extreme capitalism leads to crashes e.g. US 1920s, US & Eur 2000s Jap 1990s. Raising the minimum wage helps people in service industries (you can't serve a coffee from India) and saves the welfare budget £10Bn (IFS Figures). Large Corps get subsidised labour and you & I pay the difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 882.

    All you have to do is answer one simple question to resolve our needs in this country, are the rich getting richer, answer yes.
    Anybody who works should be able to afford a holiday, eat well, remain warm in the winter, pursue a hobby, raise a family, run a car and live in a comfortable home. Anything less is a betrayal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 881.

    Nothing like stating the obvious. Working at minimum wage(falling in real terms) will never allow a family more than just a minimum level of existence. Businesses are pushing more people into this environment because they know the Govt. tops up so why should they bother. This costs the taxpayer £300Bn a year to subsidise businesses. Put the minimum wage up by £1.50hr to a living wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 880.

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the payday loan, utility/energy company, landlord etc

    The smug and comfortable need to realise that giving people hope and a basic standard benefits everyone

    When people are desperate and have little hope or choice ... then it might be a rude awakening

  • rate this

    Comment number 879.

    "work is not a cure for poverty"

    Great News Alan! You won't need to tax my work to relieve child poverty then.

    Child poverty is a problem for the parents and family of that child.
    If you can't afford another child then don't have one. For the child's sake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 878.

    808. Its the ever widening gulf between above and below average that is the issue. And this COALITION government demonises anyone that needs a helping hand, including working people, whilst handing £100k tax cuts to those that don't. Ever read the Sunday Times Rich List...most obscene publication ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    Re; 771.
    11 Minutes ago

    Try reading the article

    "Two-thirds of poor children are now from families where an adult works"

    Despite working they are unable to escape poverty.
    As I assume you are a retired surgeon on a huge publicly funded (NHS) pension you will have no idea of what it's like.
    Though I suspect you may have operated on the morbidity of it.
    Ivory towers and all that?


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