ONS figures reveal worrying poverty rates in the UK

The worrying statistics have been released by the ONS.
The worrying statistics have been released by the ONS.

Almost one in three Britons has spent time in poverty in recent years, according to new statistics.

Between 2012 and 2015, some 14.6% of people in the UK experienced one year of poverty, 7.1% two years, 4.1% three years and 4.4% four years - a total of 30.2% falling into poverty at some point over the four-year period - said the Office for National Statistics.

And 4.6 million people were recorded as being in persistent poverty, with incomes remaining below 60% of the national median average in three out of the four years studied.

At 7.3% of the population, persistent poverty in 2015 - the most recent year covered by the ONS - was up from 6.5% in the previous year.

But the ONS figures suggest that getting out of poverty is easier in the UK than in many other European countries.

While the UK ranked 13th out of 28 EU states for relative poverty in 2015 - with 16.7% of people on incomes below the poverty line - it was 24th in levels of persistent poverty, suggesting that people in the UK are more able than in other European countries to climb back out of poverty after a year or two of low incomes.

For the first time since 2010, the proportion of over-65s in poverty rose, from 9.1% in 2014 to 9.8% in 2015, according to the ONS figures.

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said the figures suggested that a "huge" number of Britons were repeatedly falling in and out of poverty.

"Today's figures show that while the UK thankfully had a relatively low persistent poverty rate in recent years, a huge number of us were at risk of poverty - and almost a third of us have spent at least one of the last four years in poverty," said Ms Garnham.

"So the story behind the headline figures is that we may be good at getting people into work in the UK, but we are struggling at preventing people from falling in and out of poverty repeatedly.

"Far too many of our families are in this position, where worry about how to afford basics for living is a daily reality.

"All this is set to get worse in the next few years as the effects of the benefit freeze and cuts to working families bite down harder."

David Finch, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said: "Having the lowest persistent poverty rates in Europe is both a desirable and achievable target for Britain.

"Getting there will require policy action to encourage more people into work and get to grips with our even bigger challenge of in-work poverty.

"The risk is that the coming welfare cuts could push our persistent poverty rates in the wrong direction."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "For all the Conservatives' talk, these figures show they just don't care and, sadly, I think poverty is going to get worse.

"These statistics chime with other recent reports which signalled a surge in levels of homelessness in Britain, found higher levels of inequality, and showed an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor."

Justin Watson, head of Oxfam's UK programme, said: "These figures suggest that millions of families in the UK are balancing on a tightrope above the poverty line, with nearly a third of the population at risk of being in poverty for at least a year.

"Whilst we welcome that the UK has relatively low numbers of people in 'persistent' poverty compared to the rest of the EU, it's still worrying that 4.6 million people in Britain are experiencing long-term hardship."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: "This persistent poverty data from the Office of National Statistics shows you can't trust the Conservative lie that poverty only affects a small, fixed group in our society.

"The high poverty rate of nearly 17% combined with the lower persistent poverty rate in this data shows that poverty can affect us all at different times in our life.

"We therefore desperately need a social security system which, like the NHS, is there for us all in our time of need."

A Government spokesman said: "Tackling poverty and delivering social reform is a top priority for this Government.

"Work continues to be the best route out of poverty, and there is now a record number of people in employment - almost three million more than in 2010.

"We're increasing the National Living Wage and taking millions of people out of income tax to make sure it always pays to be in work.

"We also continue to spend around £90 billion a year on working age benefits to ensure there is a strong safety net in place for those who need it."