Welcome from Kevin Hollinrake MP, Chair APPG on Poverty
Fundamentally, poverty is the direct result of an absence of choices and opportunities and a violation of human dignity.
When we talk about poverty in the UK today we rarely mean the levels of malnutrition or squalor of previous centuries or even the hardships of the 1930s before the advent of the welfare state. ‘Poor’ people are those who are considerably worse off than the majority of the population – a level of deprivation heavily out of line with the general living standards enjoyed by most people in one of the most affluent countries in the world.
Low income is just one 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.
There is much for this APPG to do. We need a credible long-term plan to make work more secure, build more affordable homes and lower essential household bills.
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.
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 The one-dimensional view of the role of government has largely been replaced by an understanding that poverty comes about for a multitude of reasons, and therefore must be dealt with in a multidimensional way.
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.
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.
The APPG on Poverty is here to support a dialogue between policy makers, civil society, businesses, trade unions, charities and consumer groups. In order to identify effective strategies for reducing poverty, it is important that these different groups are bought together to connect company success and growth with social progress.
It is crucial that we look at ideas from both sides of the House so that there is a complete strategy towards poverty reduction. Rather than playing political football with a sensitive issue like poverty, we need to build a stronger political consensus on tackling poverty and inequality in order to bring about long term policy stability.
Poverty remains one of the most troubling issues facing our society. It is a privilege and indeed a responsibility to be the Chair on the APPG on Poverty. I am confident the development of consensus around the issue, bringing together a multitude of different thoughts and opinions from colleagues on both sides of the House, will bring a great momentum behind the goal of eradicating poverty in the UK.