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Young Working People are Now More Likely to Live in Poverty Than Old People in the UK

The face of poverty in the UK is changing. Fast.
November 24, 2014, 3:00pm

All aboard the poverty train. Photo via Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!

This post originally appeared in VICE UK

Hey, are you young? Well enjoy being lithe and sexually viable, then, because an influential new study has found under-25s are now more likely than pensioners to be living in poverty. Take that, old people! Best hope someone spells "WANKERS" out on Countdown soon so you've got something to talk about, right? Because young people are poor as fuck.

New research from the Joseph Rowntree F​oundation (JRF) has found that—thanks to the rise of ​zero-hour contracts and general doom—those in the 16-to-25 year age bracket are finding it harder to cobble together a living wage than they did in 2003. The poverty rate in 2013 was 31.5 percent. Ten years ago it was 25 percent. The pensioner poverty rate—16 percent—is the lowest on record, but under-25s are getting pretty shafted right from the off.

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Should probably clarify here: No one on this earth wants to see an OAP huddled over an electric bar fire, swaddled in every single blanket they have collected in their life. So let's not begrudge over-65s—they pump a substantial amount of money into the economy just from ordering slippers out of the back of Reader's Digest, plus they vote as regular as clockwork. Let's leave them to their hustle.

But what the JRF study does show is that having a job is no longer a means to work your way out of poverty, which is doubly worrying when the figures show that half of all people in poverty now live in a family with someone in paid work. It's now thought that 40 percent of adults in employment are now also in poverty.

Poverty isn't dirty-faced Victorian children cheerfully offering to shine your shoes while hacking their consumptive lungs up into a shredded hanky: It's happening to people you know.

"This comprehensive analysis paints a bleak picture. Families have long been told by politicians that work is the answer but are finding that it isn't," Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said of the study. "As long as the only work they get is insecure and low paid, they will continue to face hardship and financial misery."

A hopeful image of a UK Job Centre. Photo via quixotic54

Which is weird, because UK employment rates are currently at a record high.  ​DWP figures published in July found that the employment rate now stands at 73.1 percent, with 30.6 million people in work—1.8 million more than there were this time in 2010.

But the advent of zero-hour contracts and the employees who take advantage of them means thousands of people are technically employed—ticking a box for the government while they are at it—but struggling to get enough work to scrape together a living wage, all with a complete lack of job security.

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Add to that the rising cost of food, travel and bills, and the fact that many are living in rented accommodation (which comes with it's own insecurity—there were 17,000 landlord repossessions in 2013 compared to 15,000 mortgage repos) and boom: you're one boinged paycheck away from oblivion.

The great looming specter of any debate about poverty is somehow the idea that those who can't find work are suckling at the great, milky teat of the benefits system and are too busy wearing jogging bottoms or screaming their heads off on  Jeremy Kyle to actually go out and get employment.

What the JRF study shows, though, is that now,  with declining wages failing to keep pace with costs, the number of people who are working but also claiming housing benefits is on the rise. In the past 12 months, two-thirds of those who had moved from unemployment into work have failed to make a living wage. Also, those claiming benefits are more likely than ever to be punished—i.e. by having said benefits suspended, which seems only a couple rungs up from water-boarding on the "cruel and unnecessary punishment" scale"—for not attending things like welfare-to-work sessions.

The benefits system is an increasingly vital safety net that happens to be stuffed inside a bear trap.

It's not like this problem is brand new, either. Earlier this year VICE covered the UK's increasing h​idden homelessness problem, and the a hom​elessness epidemic in London. A broken working culture in the UK means call center​ supervisors regularly time their employees' piss breaks, and the lack of decent prospects for young people means holding up a sign at a train station is now a legitimate recruitme​nt tactic. Eating 22 p​ackets of ketchup for £20 ($31) is a pretty good source of income and nutrients when you're fucking broke. Going to the Wa​tford job fair isn't.

Obviously, unless you're Myleene Klass getting mad about mansion tax and the possible cost of water, this all makes for exceptionally grim reading. And with the report not just suggesting, but signaling in big, looping swirls of fire, that young poverty isn't going to get better without tackling core  problems such as low pay and the high price of essentials (including housing), the near future sounds like a barrel of shit for us.

Still, at least there is an election next year, right? Which will definitely sort all those problems out forever? Yeah?

Follow Joel Golby on ​Twitter.