Increased household bills push most vulnerable into poverty

11 June 2008 / by Rebecca Sargent
There has been a steady increase in the number of vulnerable people facing poverty, new statistics from the Government's Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have revealed.

The figures show that the number of children in poverty rose by 100,000 to a total of 2.9million and the number of pensioners facing the same fate rose by 300,000 to a total of 2.5million in 2006/2007 – the first increase since 1998.

The figures are above original predictions and expectations because, according to the DWP, figures over the last decade show substantial falls in the number of children and pensioners living in poverty.

Experts have put the increase down to the credit crunch that has forced food and fuel bills to rise and stretch the budgets of those already at their financial limits. Wholesale gas and electricity prices are up as much as 76 per cent, forcing utiltity providers to pass the increases on to their customers.

Responding to the figures, Secretary of State for the DWP, James Purnell, said: "We have made significant progress on child and pensioner poverty, lifting 600,000 children out of relative poverty and halving the number of children experiencing absolute poverty in the last decade.

"We've also lifted 900,000 pensioners out of relative poverty and 1.9million out of absolute poverty. Had the Government done nothing other than simply up-rate the tax and benefit system, we estimate there would have been 1.7million more children and 1.5million more pensioners in poverty today," he added.

However, leading elderly and child charities think the Government has made insufficient progress. "This is the second consecutive year without movement towards child poverty targets," said Hilary Fisher, director of End Child Poverty. "This reflects both the size of the challenge but also that the Government still needs to make further financial commitments to achieve its goal."

And, according to Gordon Lishman of Age Concern: "It is a national disgrace that pensioner poverty levels have begun to rise. The Government is failing those that need their help most and the progress they have made on pensioner poverty to date is in danger of unravelling."

Mr Lishman continued, commenting on the effects the rising cost of living has had. He said: "Older people have been hit particularly hard as living costs have gone through the roof – half of those affected by fuel poverty alone are pensioners."

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