The legally-binding goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is likely to be missed by a considerable margin, and progress on social mobility may be undermined by the twin problems of high youth unemployment and falling living standards. The Commission believes that the UK Government deserves credit for sticking to commitments to end child poverty by 2020 and for adding a new one of making social mobility the principal aim of its social policy. But while it sees considerable efforts and a raft of initiatives to make Britain a fairer place, it does not believe the scale and effort is enough for progress to be likely.
Entrenched poverty remains a priority for action but transient poverty, growing insecurity and stalling mobility are far more widespread than politicians, employers and educators have so far recognised. More low and middle-income families are being squeezed between falling earnings and rising house prices, university fees and youth unemployment. Many parents fear that when their children grow up they will have lower living standards than they have had. The nature of poverty has changed. Today child poverty is overwhelmingly a problem facing working families, not the workless or the work-shy. Two-thirds of Britain’s poor children are now in households where an adult works. In three-quarters of those households someone already works full-time. The problem is that those working parents simply do not earn enough to escape poverty.
The Commission argues that the missing piece of the policy agenda is a comprehensive approach to tackling in-work poverty. Today the UK has one of the highest rates of low pay in the developed world. The 5 million workers, mainly women, who earn less than the Living Wage desperately need a new deal. The taxpayer alone can no longer afford to shoulder the burden of bridging the gap between earnings and the cost of living. We call for a new settlement in which Government will need to devise new ways of sharing the burden with employers.