Any public inquiry into Covid-19 must examine the impact of the UK’s high poverty levels going into the pandemic on its health and economic impacts, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has demanded.
The call comes as newly released Government data shows a rise in child poverty and pensioner poverty prior to the pandemic.
Some 14.5 million people were trapped in poverty in 2019/20, including 4.3 million children, 8.1 million working-age adults and 2.1 million pensioners, according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ Households below average income (HBAI) statistics.
It also found that poverty among children and pensioners has been on a rising trend for the six years prior to Covid-19.
Around 31 per cent of all children in the UK are growing up in poverty, an increase of three percentage-points, or around 600,000 children, since 2013/14.
Some 18 per cent of pensioners are living in poverty, an increase of four percentage points or around 500,000 pensioners, since 2013/14.
Branding the statistics “indefensible”, Helen Barnard, director of JRF, said the UK had gone into the pandemic following “a decade of deprivation” as a result of policy decisions taken in previous years.
“Costs were rising and social security support had been cut or frozen,” she said. “The government’s decision to increase Universal Credit by £20 per week at the start of the pandemic illustrated that our systems of support were not doing enough to protect people from harm.”
Ms Barnard said it is of great importance that any forthcoming public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic is prepared for properly, as society can only learn the right lessons if it asks the right questions.
“The decisions taken last year and the way in which scientific and medical advice was acted on and when is clearly hugely important,” she said.
“But unless we also examine the link between the context in which we entered the pandemic and the enormously unequal impact it has had, we risk returning to the same situation.
“Instead, we must seize this opportunity to pursue a recovery that frees people from poverty.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, warned that the threat of pensioner poverty remains very much in place, as she called for urgent action from the Government “to prevent yet more pensioners slipping not just below the poverty line but completely off the radar.”
Picture: A young child suffering from poverty. (bodnarchuk).